Opinion, by Michael Royster
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – The Curmudgeon understands nothing at all about ecology or the environment, after all he’s a lawyer by trade, and lawyers are taught not to look at the real world too closely, it could be harmful to their health. What the Curmudgeon does understand is politics.
Rio + 20 is all about politics. Back in 1992, the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development was informally known throughout the world, as the “Earth Summit.” A Summit is a BIG deal politically, and 1992 was arguably the first time heads of state actually gave some prime time to the environment.
Today, with fewer than hundred days remaining till the kick-off of the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development (UNCSD) the Curmudgeon doesn’t think it’s going to be a very big deal at all. In fact, he’s pretty sure nobody of any importance is going to be here. Why?
For starters, nobody at the UN is referring to it as a “Summit Meeting.” They did that in 2002, when the “World Summit on Sustainable Development” was held in Johannesburg. We note that the official UN site (which nowhere uses the vulgar phrase “Rio + 20,” that’s a Brazilian thing) claims it will mark the twentieth anniversary of one Summit and the tenth anniversary of the 2002 Summit—but Rio + 20 is not a “Summit,” it’s just a Conference. It doesn’t even have a catchy nickname.
The site says attendees will include “Heads of State and Government or other representatives.” (emphasis supplied). “Eco 92,” as it was called here in Rio, attracted 108 Heads of State and representatives from a total of 172 countries, including then Senator and budding eco-geek Al Gore. You can bet the family farm there won’t be anything like that number of Heads of State and Government here in Rio next June. Why?
For one thing, time has passed by, and the environment has become a concern of a lot more people than was the case back in 1992. Unfortunately, this concern has engendered hosts of conferences, and conventions, and treaties, and accords, all dealing with the environment and its problems. It’s become overkill.
Politics trumps both economics and ecology. So, as a political matter, it makes no sense for countries to send their Heads of State to yet another Conference (not a Summit) so they can natter platitudes while, once again, taking no action at all.
For another thing, it is now decidedly the case that (a) developed countries (e.g. the U.S., UK and Japan), (b) “emerging” countries (e.g. Brazil, China, India) and (c) underdeveloped countries (e.g. Chad, Nauru and Timor) have nothing to say to each other.
The truly underdeveloped say they can’t afford to repair environmental damage; they’re right. The emerging countries say it wasn’t their fault that environmental damage began; they’re right. The developed countries say, “okay, we started it, but we’re cleaning up faster than you guys;” they’re right. And every single country in the world now says “we’re on a tight budget these days, we can’t afford it.”
That’s not right. And that’s a shame.
Michael Royster, aka THE CURMUDGEON first saw Rio forty-plus years ago, moved here thirty-plus years ago, still loves it, notwithstanding being a charter member of the most persecuted minority in (North) America today, the WASPs (google it!)(get over it!)