From the UN: Facing and Eliminating Global Stresses
Dr. Sylvain Ehrenfeld
IHEU & National Ethical Service representative to the UN
Dr. Reba Goodman
Ethical Culture Society of Bergen County
In June 2012, the United Nations held a conference in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil to follow up the landmark Earth Summit of 1992 and raise world consciousness regarding the global stresses we face. The 2012 Rio conference brought together 50,000 participants and 100 heads of state (which however did not include American President Obama, British Minister David Cameron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel). The ecological and environmental hazards have become more devastating in the past twenty years. The outcome of the central main meeting was disappointing because delegates could not agree on enforceable commitments on climate change or any other global challenge.
In spite of disappointment, the formal conference did agree to set up a task force to replace the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), which will end in 2015, with a set of sustainable development goals (SDS). These are realistic targets that can be achieved and their success measured. Similar to the MDGs, it is hoped, and even expected, that goals targeted at energy, water, oceans, resource efficiency, land and ecosystems will energize concerned (NGO) groups and perhaps even countries.
Worldwide attention has helped make some significant differences. The extreme poverty rate is expected to fall below 15% thus meeting the target. The rate in 1950 was an astounding 50%. Some of the poorest countries have made great strides in education; child mortality from unpreventable diseases under age five has declined. Nearly 2 billion people now have access to clean water. Sanitation and maternal health, however, are still very bad. In summary, there has been some progress but poverty remains high, too many children die before age 5, and still too many mothers die unnecessarily during child birth.Action without the blessings of international agreements
Activity outside the main negotiating sessions produced hundreds of side agreements not requiring ratification or direct financing by governments. They offer hope of incremental but real progress. For example, Microsoft will go carbon neutral by 2030; oil giant ENI will reduce its flaring of natural gas. The most impressive agreement was from the eight largest development banks who committed $200 billion to finance sustainable transportation systems in the world’s largest cities.
Dr. Chan, WHO Director General, spoke at an important side event on Energy, Health and Women's Empowerment. She pointed out the crucial importance of a reliable supply of electricity, without which vaccines, blood and medicines cannot be safely stored or equipment properly sterilized to the serious detriment of surgical activity in operating rooms. Solar energy can provide cheap and reliable power for both households and clinics.
Exposure to indoor pollution from coal cooking stoves kills nearly two million people annually, mostly women and children. Cleaner energy could halve the number of childhood deaths from pneumonia and reduce the burden of more than one million who die each year from chronic lung disease caused by indoor air pollution. Clean cooking stoves and electricity can be a very major project for Humanists. There is a growing capacity of grass-roots organizations and corporations to provide environmental action even without the need for international agreements.
Over the last few years the US, Europe, and China have spent hundreds of billions of dollars on clean energy research and deployment. The price of solar and wind power has fallen sharply. Governments often play a crucial role in financing many of the most important technological innovations of the past century. Some other examples: semiconductors, radar, internet, radio, jet engine, and medical advances in developing antibiotics Where are we right now?
The world is grappling with economic stagnation and instability. We have both financial crises and ecological crises. The world's leaders must summon cooperation and political will now. Tomorrow is too late.