The Express ran the first in a series of weekly columns submitted by the Fishermen and Friends of the Sea (FFOS) on January 19. This is the twenty-third article in the series. These articles seek to highlight not just local environmental issues, but those which affect the population on a global scale. Questions and comments can be emailed to firstname.lastname@example.org
Twenty years ago, the world was awash with the euphoria of the first major environmental conference for over two decades. Environmental issues were on the ascendancy and the global village had high hopes that the 1992 Rio Summit would help save this unhealthy and unsustainable planet.
Today, in 2012, many of the significant environmental threats have accelerated, perhaps save and except the deterioration of the stratospheric ozone layer. As the world veers forward into expanding populations, larger production, greater consumption, and an increased effort in converting pristine marine and forested areas into harvestable assets, the 2012 Earth Summit is, unfortunately, not accompanied by the same sense of enthusiasm and optimism as Rio 1992. Exuberance is now replaced with subdued practicality.
There is a profound sense that Rio+20 is merely a limp acknowledgement of a global movement that has lost its way.
Now, more than ever, we need to speak of uncomfortable truths and address the direction our world is taking, but our global leadership is seemingly mute to the telluric challenges confronting us. The United Nations Environment Programme's (UNEP) five-yearly Global Environmental Outlook concluded: "The scale, speed and rate of change of global drivers are without precedent. Burgeoning populations and growing economies are pushing environmental systems to destabilising limits." Are we not moving into a global disaster? How many more warnings do we need?
According to Geoffrey Lean in the Daily Telegraph article "The Rio Earth Summit: is it destined to fail the world?" of June 19, 2012, "Over the past three decades, coral reefs have shrunk by 38 per cent, the number of floods has more than doubled, and nearly 170 big "dead zones", caused by pollution, have appeared in the oceans. Yet, the report revealed, little or no action has been taken since the last Rio summit to address the serious decline in wetlands and coral reefs; increasing soil degradation and drought; the depletion of fresh water; overfishing and pollution of the seas; climate change; or the indoor air pollution—mainly from inefficient cooking stoves in developing countries—that kills nearly two million people a year." The list goes on and on.
Lean continues, "Indeed, it is reported that no significant progress had been made on 86 of the 90 most important environmental objectives agreed by the world's governments 20 years ago. At the same time, the number of hungry people has risen to about a billion worldwide, 1.4 billion live on less than US$1.25 a day, and 2.5 billion don't have even the most basic sanitation."
Is this the future we want? In this new world we are creating, there is almost no success story, except where development is concerned. More cars are being produced, more lights are being lit, more roads are being bulldozed, more buildings being built, and more money is being made…but only by some.
We can only speculate that the economic tsunami that has been battering global economies, destroying developed and developing countries alike, has weakened the intestinal fortitude of our global political leaders to make the difficult choices and transform the international movement for environmental protection from its focus on empty rhetoric to meaningful action. While Greece, Spain, Italy, Ireland and Portugal are facing financial challenges, European leadership, so often serving as a strong riposte to American intransigency, is now somewhat muted.
Even our own Prime Minister elected to stay away from Rio plus twenty. The last two years of the PP's government has been characterised by numerous trips by our Prime Minister but this one was strangely passed on.
Perhaps, our Prime Minister sensed the futility of Rio+20 and elected not to participate in what appears to be a sham perpetuated on a global level. According to Oxfam's Antonio Hill, "This summit was over before it even started ... World leaders failed to seize the day. This summit will be recognised as a failure—a fail on equity, a fail on ecology and a fail on economy. We always knew government ambitions were low, but the final deal lacks a single new meaningful commitment."
Now, all we are left with is our own personal commitment to support small movements within our reach, to defend those without a voice within our range, and to hope that the ripples of our unpretentious and miniscule local actions will send a larger and larger message into a global pool of change.