There are 72 days to the Olympics, which is what many people are counting down to – but the planet will be much more interested in the Rio+20 conference in 36 days. This is the chance for world leaders to put global society on a sustainable path.
Three billion people living on less than $2.50 a day. One billion with insufficient access to clean water; about 2.4 billion people without a decent energy source; 1.2 billion suffering from chronic hunger – all this, said UN climate convention (UNFCCC) chief Christiana Figueres at the Barbara Ward Lecture in London, is “morally unacceptable”.
We already have population overshoot with current living standards, before we fix that which is morally unacceptable. The New Zealand Institute warns we’ve passed an environmental tipping point globally. But something must be done – morally and environmentally.
And we have other problems. The OECD warns of huge greenhouse gas rise. We’ve passed peak-conventional oil – and our governments are making global energy predictions that say we’ll massively increase use to improve our lifestyles while simultaneously massively decreasing our use to reduce climate change and because the oil and gas aren’t there to burn. We’re warned that even a “green” country like us isn’t doing near enough on emissions.
… climate change is one of the issues that threatens to exacerbate the situation – raising sea levels, increasing drought in drought-prone areas, reducing crop yields, and so on – a familiar list by now, I’d think, to anyone who follows these issues.
And the corollary: that however people are brought out of their various types of poverty, it mustn’t be done in a way that worsens climate change or pushes any of the other planetary boundaries beyond stretching point, because that would in time cancel out the gains.
There are those that are fighting against change from “business as usual” – extremists like the Heartland Institute who compared those who admit to global warming to mass-murderers, and other powerful interests like Rupert Murdoch’s Newscorp. Poland is holding back the whole EU with their climate-change denial stance.
On other issues proposals to regulate global fishing will meet resistance from strong fishing countries, and others will be unhappy about regulation of extractive mineral industries – both important items on the agenda at Rio.
On the other hand many countries and companies are making progress on their own. South Korea recently became the 34th country with an emissions trading scheme. Australia is working out how to link their ermerging scheme to ours. A proposal for a 500MW solar scheme in the Sahara to power Europe and North Africa continues. Scotland is investing in wave power; California is embracing renewable energy, clean fuels aand emissions trading; Ecuador has innovative schemes to protect it’s forests from drilling; China, the world’s biggest greenhouse gas emitter, is aiming to tackle energy consumption and CO2 emissions.
So where can Rio+20 get to, compared to where we need it to? It will struggle to reverse the 30% decline in global wildlife since 1970 – biodiversity is in some respects a bigger crisis than climate change. It’s unlikely to get binding commitments on anything in under a week – reducing poverty and inequality, our rampant resource overuse or greenhouse gases.
Our best hope is probably that they manage to set some progress measures so that pressure can be more focussed on governments, and that they can set the areas that need to be covered in a firm 3 year agenda to set the exact goals that will be aimed for – so that the goals can replace the Millenium Development Goals in 2015 when they end (mostly in failure).
It feels glacial, but – as Poland shows – those not on board can scupper the whole thing.