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Countdown: 36 days to go

Written By: - Date published: 3:36 pm, May 16th, 2012 - 11 comments
Categories: climate change, Conservation, Environment, sustainability - Tags:

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.

Sustainable development is not no development:

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.

Here’s hoping that the leadership deficit isn’t too bad and things go well in Rio


11 comments on “Countdown: 36 days to go”

  1. Afewknowthetruth 1

    ‘This is the chance for world leaders to put global society on a sustainable path.’

    ‘global society’ and ‘sustainable’ are mutually exclusive concepts

    CO2 is 396+ppm. After a short-lived decline, due to photosynthesis in the Northern Hemisphere, it will rise to 398ppm or 399ppm next April-May. (The acknowledged ‘safe; upper limit is 350ppm.)

  2. Afewknowthetruth 2

    ‘A proposal for a 500MW solar scheme in the Sahara to power Europe and North Africa continues.’

    I bet the people who are currently starving to death in Chad, Mali, Niger etc. will be very impressed.

  3. Afewknowthetruth 3

    ‘ South Korea recently became the 34th country with an emissions trading scheme. ‘

    The scam to make money out of emissions whilst doing nothing to reduce them is obviously working well for the moment.

    Just what will happen when the global financial system implodes over the next 3 years is anybody’s guess.

    • emissions trading scheme.
      Is like a fat person paying someone to run around a track, to lose weight, while eating donuts

      • Zorr 3.1.1

        Is a good analogy if the goal wasn’t the overall decrease of weight. If the fat corporate stays as heavy as usual but the person running round the track loses weight then that is a form of success. As a planet, we are only interested in the overall result, not the individual results (though individual effort DOES matter)

        • Draco T Bastard

          The fat corporate will get fatter while the people (usually the poor) running around the track will lose weight.

  4. Bill 4

    Free societies and us, the individuals within them, from the various strangleholds of the market and we might develop sustainable systems of production and distribution moving forward.

    But if, as the post suggests, the focus is going to be on the sustainabilty of societies rather than the unsustainability of the market, then forget it. All that will deliver (if anything) is a list of prescriptions for how societies might soften potential landings (assuming that when we hit the ground we’ll still be alive) while ignoring the very thing that has us in a death grip.

    The Heartland Institute and all the rest of them are nothing but so many shoals of red herrings we, as individuals and groups keep chasing. The stupid endless debate about whether that which is as clear as the nose on the end of my face is actual or not, is a mindless distraction that allows us all to defer decisive action.

    Simply? Either you do something or you don’t. Most people are choosing ‘don’t’. Which suits the market. And government. The Koch’s and their ilk express the rule rather than the exception. Anyone who has built up any position of privilege or power or even simply a given standard of living is going to be clinging on for dear life to the very habits, behaviours, systems and institutions that may well be eliminating all of humanities possible futures.

    If ever there was a scenario deserving consciencious objection…non- compliance, non- participation…, then what the market has brought about is that scenario, no?

  5. captain hook 5

    there is no sustainability.
    humanity is the dominant species.
    they hunt and eat anything and everything including themselves.
    they can run down any other animal.
    the desire for goods is insatiable.
    its like a clock that wont stop till everything is used up.
    I wont be here when it happens but it will.

  6. MrSmith 6

    The Olympics has to be one of the greatest monuments to our own stupidity, history will record how one of the human races most egotistic moment comes every few years, when anyone (mainly the rich) get to watch the privileged few trying to be first.

  7. Colonial Viper 7

    Apparently the 1B without access to sufficient clean water may be a wild understatement. The UN General Secretary said recently that “improved water” meant that only 800M were now without “safe” drinking water.

    However, 80% of “improved” water supplies are actually still not fit for drinking e.g. piped and pumped water from a dirty river is considered “improved” water.

    The most likely estimates of persons without daily safe drinking water probably rests between 2.0B and 3.0B people.

    But forget that, we need to focus an extra billion more dollars in vaccine development money to be spent by advanced western universities and medical schools because by jove that will help compensate for a couple of billion people still not having a sanitary toilet and fresh water in the 21st century.


  8. Ad 8

    The first RIO was a great surge that idealistic governance could work.

    I am more skeptical now that multilateral agreements stick, particularly after the failure of the RIO+10 event in South Africa, the unrecoverable breakdown of a world trade system through the WTO, and of course the breakdown of Copenhagen’s climate change conference.

    I think the future of the world’s change belongs to city and metropolitan action and governance. I hope I am wrong but I see the aftermath of the GFC as the sign that nations will at least for the old European and United States nations, finally start the accelerating downward slope to their deaths.

    I don’t ever like willing apocalyptic collapse, but this does feel like the beginning of no-growth for decades. I see effective government at least in New Zealand retreating to cities, and outside of that, no effective government at all.

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