Where to From Rio+20?

Twenty years ago, Australian journalist Lenore Taylor was in Rio for the first Earth Summit.  I was nine years old. I knew – and cared – about environmental problems. But I assumed that by the time I was an adult, the grown-ups would have solved them.

It wasn’t just youthful optimism; I had evidence for my hope. Every politician, no matter what party, talked about leaving a better future for young people. They said they cared about our futures; that they’d do whatever it took to protect us.

After the first Earth Summit, Lenore Taylor’s headline was ‘Actions Must Now Match Words, Says UN Official’. Twenty years later, that headline could easily be recycled. We have not taken the actions that world leaders had waxed so eloquently on back then.

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Youth Walk Out of Rio+20 Summit; Australia Pledges Funding

Photo credit: Power Shift Canada

The Prime Minister’s office announced several new funding commitments today, in the lead up to her speech in the main plenary of the Rio+20 summit.

Speaking at the Women Leader’s Forum this morning, the Prime Minister announced Australia would provide $500,000 over two years to support the role of women in building and restoring peace in the Asia-Pacific region. Later she announced $97 million for the Civil Society Water, Sanitation and Hygiene Fund, and a further $50 million to the Global Agriculture and Food Security Program.

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‘Are You Here to Save Face, Or to Save Us?’

Prime Minister Julia Gillard and UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon (look how close I was standing at the press conference!)

In a surprise announcement, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon has just appointed Prime Minister Gillard as Co-Chair of a body set up to accelerate progress on the Millenium Development Goals in the two years remaining before the 2015 deadline.

But with the Prime Minister having just cut the aid budget through delaying Australia’s commitment to 0.5% of foreign aid by one year, is this a genuine commitment or just a play to get Australia a vote on the Security Council?

‘Actions speak louder than words’ is becoming the theme of frustrated civil society representatives here. Lofty words aren’t short on the ground, but commitments to new actions are scarce.

“At its simplest, sustainable development means having a decent standard of living, but also making sure that we are not compromising the standard of living or the natural environment of our children and the generations to come,” Prime Minister Julia Gillard told the small crowd of Australian media assembled at the Riocentro convention centre a few hours ago.

It’s a nice sentiment, but it’s not reflected in the substance of the document the Prime Minister has come to Rio to sign. And it sounds like even Gillard knows it.

“I am not pretending that the outcomes here are going to make a huge difference from tomorrow on,” she said.

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Final Text and Fossil Fuel Subsidies

Cross-posted from Crikey.com.au

The text of the Rio+20 declaration is finalised. After a marathon negotiating session that extended into the early hours of this morning, countries finally reached agreement on a 53-page document entitled ‘The Future We Want’.

With all the work done, all that’s left for world leaders to do during the three “official” days of the conference is to sign on the dotted line and hold a series of bilateral meetings.

But environment and development groups have responded to the final negotiated text with concern.

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A View From Across The Pond

One-On-One Interview with Helen Clark, former Prime Minister of New Zealand and current head of UNDP

At the Rio+Social summit on social media today, I had the pleasure of an interview with Helen Clarke, head of the United Nations Development Program and former Prime Minister of New Zealand. She had some very interesting things to say about fossil fuel subsidies, the Australian carbon price debate and the power of vested interests in politics. Here’s an excerpt from our conversation.

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Rio+20: Form Guide 101

Why is it called Rio+20? 

Twenty years ago, an historic international gathering was held in Rio De Janeiro, Brazil. Heads of State, government delegations and civil society organisations ascended on the Riocentro convention centre to forge a global framework designed to promote sustainable development: poverty eradication while protecting and restoring nature. The summit was responsible for creating most of the foundation stones of international environmental law.

What’s at Stake? 

Environmental crises have worsened in the two decades since the original Earth Summit. At a side event in Riocentro today, some of the world’s best scientists held a public workshop warning that the Earth is hitting ‘planetary boundaries’ (load-bearing limits on human activity related not just to climate change, but also biodiversity, chemicals dispersion, ocean acidification, freshwater consumption and other thresholds). According to the scientists, we are in danger of passing many of these limits.

In short: if we don’t figure out a way to truly shift the current model of economic growth and development that pits the planet against the economy, both the planet and the economy are going to crash and burn.

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Coalition Sabotages Australia’s Participation in Rio+20 Summit

Cross-posted from Crikey.com.au

‘The interests of the Australian public need to be a priority,‘ cited the Opposition Whip, Warren Entsch, as the reason for refusing to allow a Parliamentary pair that would allow Minister Burke to fulfil his commitments at the Rio+20 Sustainable Development summit in Brazil.

The Rio+20 gathering is 2012’s biggest international event. It has been dubbed by UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon as “too important to fail” and a “once-in-a-generation opportunity” to make progress on sustainable development goals.

Heads of State from over 130 countries will arrive in Brazil this week. Prime Minister Gillard will join the talks on Wednesday after the G20 Summit in Mexico.

The event comes twenty years after the historic ‘Earth Summit’ was held in Rio in 1992. The original summit, attended by former US President Bush and 107 other heads of state, resulted in two major global treaties – the Framework Convention on Climate Change and the Convention on Biological Diversity. Along with the 40-page Agenda 21 statement, the Forest Principles, and the Rio Declaration, these documents form the foundation of international environmental law.

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