Twenty years after the United Nations held an unprecedented environmental summit in Rio de Janeiro, political leaders, concerned citizens and scientists are returning to Rio for the Earth Summit, with the ambition to agree on principles that will mitigate the damaging effects of climate change. Rio+20, as the summit is also known, will run from June 20 to 22, 2012. Reflecting on decades of climate negotiations and flawed agreements that proved ineffective with the passage of time, the participants in the Earth Summit must create a new strategy to combat climate change – one that emphasizes a green economy and sustainable development.
In Europe, the United States, and to some extent in Asia, recovery from the financial upheavals of 2008 have eclipsed concerns for climate change. The failure to reach effective climate agreements, however, may substantially endanger the world economy in the near future. Climate change jeopardizes food, energy and water security and thereby threatens social disruption, as the 2008 shock increases in food prices demonstrated.
In preparation for Rio+20, government representatives and concerned citizens have been meeting to discuss targets for the Summit, and shared goals. These initiatives have revealed the importance of equity, governance, growth and interdependency.
Today, inequality in the distribution of income and wealth is pronounced and increasing in almost all nations outside Scandinavia, and between nations as well. The Planet Under Pressure 2012 initiative emphasizes the importance of economic and social equity and polycentric approaches to climate strategies. Social and economic equity are essential to social resiliency in response to the consequences of ongoing climate change. Through multiple layers of governance and participation, climate agreements can be effectively implemented.
The Field Hearings Initiative and the Global Civil Society Treaty also highlight the importance of economic and social equity, by arguing that inequality prevents society from developing collaborative solutions to the world’s most pressing problems. Additionally, inequity deepens social fragmentation and undermines the potential to reach climate agreements that are fair and equitable to all social classes, nations and generations.
Inequity and flawed climate negotiations reveal the importance of governance to ensuring a successful Summit. The Sustainable Governance Indicators (SGI) of the Bertelsmann Foundation, for example, outline the necessary robust democratic institutions of good governance that are critical not only to promote participation, social equality, transparency and accountability, but also to increase government’s ability to commit to sustainable development.
The initiatives mentioned above emphasize the importance of developing a new indicator for growth. They criticize the use of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) as an adequate measure of social well-being, since it prioritizes consumption over sustainability. As Planet Under Pressure 2012 describes, an economic indicator should be developed that is linked to green growth, thereby encouraging sustainable growth and prosperity.
Rio+20 initiatives such as the Global Civil Society Treaty, Race to Rio of the Natural Resources Defence Council and the State of the World 2012 of the Worldwatch Institute describe the importance of establishing market-approaches, such as payment for ecosystem services (PES) and Reduced Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD). These methods enhance sustainable development by quantifying the value of ecosystems and biodiversity, enabling policy-makers to weigh the trade-offs between exploitation, conservation, and sustainable development.
Finally, global interdependency, economically and environmentally, requires political leaders to cooperate on climate agreements. Any effective climate-change solutions will require thorough collaboration among all nations. If Rio+20 fails, the rate of change in our environment will continue to accelerate.
Rio+20 offers political leaders the opportunity to incorporate these themes into new governance strategies integrating unconventional actors, such as corporations. With innovative approaches and a multi-faceted perspective, the global community will translate knowledge into action and formulate strategies that are fair and equitable to nations and generations.
While it is difficult to measure the success of any one initiative, the conferences and treaties have a critical role in establishing shared principles between stakeholders. Initiatives provide a forum for discussion and enable stakeholders to present a spectrum of diverging opinions. Through this dialogue, stakeholders can use this multi-faceted perspective when constructing their nation’s environmental policies. While these initiatives are critical to developing a climate agreement of shared principles and values, society must not depend too heavily on an international governing body for relief. It is up to all of society to demand action for the future health of the planet.
(Written by Antonia Sohns)