From the UN: Earth Summit of 2012 in Rio
Dr. Sylvain Ehrenfeld
Ethical Culture Society of Bergen County,[Submitted May 2012. For updated information on Earth Summit 2012 outcomes visit the Earth Summit 2012 website.]
IHEU, and the National Ethical Service of the AEU
Dr. Reba Goodman
Baltimore Ethical Society
Many heads of states are expected in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil June 20-21, 2012. In the two decades that have elapsed since the 1992 meeting, some of the issues marked for improvement in 1992 are worse than ever. The forthcoming summit has the daunting task of eradicating poverty, placing growth on a sustainable path, and developing measures to stimulate the green economy. There is recognition that poverty and the environment are linked. For example, desertification is not mainly caused by the expansion of existing deserts, but by overexploitation of dry land, production and overgrazing. These issues alone undermine productivity and are clearly connected with poverty. Delegates will once more discuss and debate the worldwide increase in global stresses and environmental hazards to examine and evaluate what has been achieved in these areas, and which recommendations have been followed and honored since 1992. What global stresses must be addressed?
Among the many problems resulting from human activity is climate change and its dire consequences; shrinking forests and increasing desertification, loss of biodiversity including varieties of animals, plants, their habitats and the genes on which so much of life depends. It is estimated that the current species extinction rate is 1,000 times higher than it would be if not for environmental hazards. Another concern is how to provide for the rapid rise of mega-cities as well as the need for increasing food supplies to a still growing world population.What has been achieved since Earth Summit 1992?
Although expectations were high in 1992, the outcome has been disappointingly low. In the upcoming Earth Summit meeting in Rio delegates will review progress. The delegates are expected to make definitive plans for moving forward especially because of the poor showing in the past twenty years. The Earth Summit in 1992 was a major environmental event attended by many world leaders. Consciousness was raised that current consumption and production patterns are not viable in the long run, and that global attention is needed to alter these. It increased the influence of the environmental movement.
There was underlying tension at the conference between developed and developing nations. The poorer developing countries use dirty energy since it is the cheapest. While all countries have a responsibility to protect the environment, rich countries got rich by using dirty energy like coal. The poorer countries argue, justifiably, that since they did not cause the pollution problem but are most at risk from it, the richer and more developed nations should foot more of the bill. However, the more affluent countries have backed out of this responsibility.Despite many disappointments, there was good news
The 1992 meeting had resulted in agreements on climate, biodiversity and desertification. The rich countries promised to provide money. However, the results of the agreements proved extremely disappointing with the exception of one item: ozone control. Rich countries did not deliver on their other promises, but there has been a very successful international environmental agreement for phasing out ozone-depleting substances. As of 2009 the consumption of 98 percent of all ozone depleting substances has been phased out, notably chloroflurocarbons (CFCs) which had been shown to be damaging the ozone layer in the atmosphere and increasing the amount of ultraviolet radiation.Where are we today?
Governments are allergic to making binding commitments but at the local level there are many environmental initiatives. According to a survey by the International Council for Local Environmental Initiatives (ICLEI) there have been more than 6,000 initiatives in over 100 countries. The United Nations gives the Equator prize biannually to acknowledge and advance community sustainable developments. There were 25 winners of the prize in 2012. They range, for example, from communities in Morocco's high Atlas Mountains, to deforested areas in northern Ethiopia to Nicaragua's northwest. For more details go to www.equatorinitiative.org
The growing world population is currently estimated at 7 billion, based on current numbers, and is expected to level off at 9 to 10 billion around 2050. Global food production will have to increase by 45%. Genetically modified crops have the potential to solve many of the world's food needs as well as helping to protect and preserve the environment by increasing yield and reducing reliance on chemical pesticides and herbicides. There is controversy in this area, however, because science tends to frighten the general public. This is due in large part because scientists do not explain their scientific data in simple layman terms. We must not ignore a technology that has potential benefit, especially when some who seem qualified to understand the science say there is evidence of dangers in its use.
Ultimately what is needed is a shift from current consumption and production patterns to more sustainable ones. Some governments and businesses are aware of this. In fact, they are investing many billions in renewable energy. For example, China has been pushing full speed ahead with investments and this excludes research and development of about $50 billion in 2010. Germany has invested $30 billion and the US about $30 billion. Currently China still generates 80 percent of its electricity from coal. It is also building dozens of new coal-fired power plants.
It is time to recognize that future development must be different from the past. The current business-as-usual approach is not feasible. Albert Einstein said, "the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results."