Yet another climate conference approaches. This is, we are told, a big one since it is the 20th anniversary of the famous Earth Summit of 1992. Since that summit of course, there have been numerous other conferences and summits. Yet all have failed to make anything like the level of progress required.
Should we expect anything more from this one? I suspect, sadly, that the answer is no. In spite of this conference having some pretty noble aims – including decent jobs, energy, sustainable cities, food security and sustainable agriculture, water, oceans and disaster readiness – it seems likely that, like previous events, there will be far more talk than substance.
Looking at the pages for the two themes of the conference – “Green economy in the context of sustainable development and poverty eradication” and “Institutional framework for sustainable development” there is much that is actually quite positive and hopeful to be found there.
But if we take, as an example, the latter of these two themes, a quick look already reveals significant problems. Here’s an extract from earthsummit2012.org entitles simply Context:
One of the two main themes for the Earth Summit is the ‘institutional framework for sustainable development’…this primarily refers to the system of global governance for sustainable development.
So far so good. But then:
The two main institutions governing sustainable development at the global level are the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), established in 1972 as a result of the Stockholm Conference, and the Commission on Sustainable Development, created in 1992 to ensure effective follow-up to the Rio Earth Summit.
Due to its limited mandate and status as a ‘programme’ rather than a UN agency, UNEP has lacked the necessary authority to mainstream environmental considerations throughout the UN system. There has also been a certain overlap of scope and mandate between the Commission on Sustainable Development and UNEP, encouraging competition rather than collaboration, yet with neither possessing the necessary status to accelerate the required global changes to achieve sustainable development.
So we have a situation where even the agencies created specifically to help push this forward have overlap and, presumably, duplication and have thus ended up competing with one another! All of this is also to no good in the end since neither agency has sufficient power to actually do anything about it.
As if that weren’t enough, it goes on:
Over the past decade and since the World Summit on Sustainable Development in 2002, little progress has been made in relation to the required institutional architecture that would propel global environmental and sustainable development issues into the 21st century. Whilst the World Summit on Sustainable Development (WSSD) heralded a new era of action-orientated ‘partnerships’ for sustainable development, it is recognised that despite the considerable success of some of these partnership programmes, they have not delivered the systemic change needed in global governance to deliver sustainable development.
Reading between the lines then, what we have is a lot of talk and not a lot of substance. If this is what they have achieved in 20 years, are we really to pin our hopes on a 3 day conference?
So why has it failed so badly and what are we to do about it? The truth is that, like those two agencies above, our political leaders are hamstrung by competition. Each fears for the competitiveness of their nation in the global marketplace. each is thus unwilling to give any ground unless others do likewise. Each fears giving a ‘free ride’ to any other nation that does not sign up to any proposal being made.
As a result we get nowhere. What should we do about it? There can be only one answer. We have to find a way for all nations to implement the necessary measures simultaneously. Then, we must find a way to drive political leaders and governments to do so.
I sincerely hope that I’m wrong, that all sorts of good results come out of the Rio+20 conference. But I also know that it is exceedingly unlikely.
It’s up to us, the people, to make it happen and Simpol exists as a means and a method to do precisely that.