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Rio+20 Conference: POLITICAL WILL CRITICAL, By Dhurjati Mukherjee, 13 June, 2012 Print E-mail

Open Forum

New Delhi, 13 June 2012

Rio+20 Conference


By Dhurjati Mukherjee


The Rio+20 meet which opens today is no doubt, a unique opportunity for world leaders, social and environmental activists and other experts to think globally so that all can act locally to secure our common future. To take forward the task of sustainable development, all stakeholders in society – politicians, bureaucrats, non-governmental organizations, business and industry – will need to join hands in the crucial task of saving future generations based on the principles of ecology, economics and ethics.


This is imperative given the background, which is worth a recall. The idea of ‘development’, formulated at the beginning of the Cold War, was originally a strategy offered as an alternative to socialism to nations then emerging from imperial control. Steadily development took new forms of growth in the countries of Asia and Africa. Its association with growth was readily absorbed into the necessity for perpetual economic expansion which the Third World countries saw as a challenge.


Since the 90s, the concept of human development emerged with the United Nations emphasising the need for development of the poor and the economically weaker sections of society. Even later, the concept of sustainable development has emerged in recognition that infinite growth within a finite resource base is stretching too far beyond the carrying capacity of the earth and endangering its ecosystem.


It is keeping this in view that in 1992 the Earth Summit was held at Rio which defined ‘sustainability’ as “the ability of current generation to develop and meet its needs without compromising the ability of future generations”. This conference led to the adoption of global conventions in the areas of climate and biodiversity as well as Agenda 21, a road map for environmentally, economically and socially sustainable development.


It also outlined a global action plan which included among other things, the need for:  sustainable land use; social development -- eradication of poverty, creation of productive employment and social integration; population and sustainable human development; environmentally sustainable, healthy and liveable human settlements; sustainable energy use; and balanced development of settlements in rural areas.


Much of what was promised in that summit has sadly not been accomplished. Moreover, the challenges before the human race have intensified because of climate change and other problems. Meanwhile, the world’s population of 7 billion is likely to increase to 9 billion by 2050. The demand for diminishing natural resources is growing at a very rapid pace. Income gaps are widening. The cry for sustainability is very much in the air but it remains a jargon. Much needs to be done if the basic objective of ensuring a decent standard of living for everyone without compromising the needs of future generations is to be met.

This means finding better ways of doing things. Such as: How can we help people move out of poverty – as one out of five people (1.4 billion) currently lives on $1.25 a day or less -- and ensure livelihood support, while protecting the environment? How can we provide access to clean energy for everyone -- as even today a billion and half people do not have access to electricity -- and make sure that the energy we produce doesn’t contribute to climate change? How can we make sure that everyone gets the water, food and nutrition they need?

Additionally, how can we shape our cities so that everyone can enjoy a decent quality of life? How can we build better transportation systems that allow us to get where we want to go, without causing too much congestion and pollution? How can we make sure that the oceans are healthy and that marine life is not threatened by pollution and climate change? How can we make sure that our communities are resilient in the face of natural disasters?

The Rio+20 Conference – or the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development –will hopefully strive to find answers to the above questions at such a crucial juncture of human history to look ahead to the world we want in 20 years. Fingers are being crossed that the world leaders, along with thousands of participants from the private sector, NGOs and other groups, will to some extent be able to formulate an action plan to shape how we can reduce poverty, advance social equity and ensure environmental protection on an ever more crowded planet.

The official discussions will focus on two main themes: how to build a green economy to achieve sustainable development and lift people out of poverty; and how to improve international coordination for sustainable development. These themes are connected with the future of the human race and finding out suitable strategies in this regard is indeed a very difficult task. A sustainable future – with more jobs, more clean energy, greater security and a decent standard of living for all --  is obviously what we want but achieving these objectives require sacrifices. 

It is widely recognized that widespread poverty and environmental destruction need to be tackled now for which the developed countries have to come forward in a big way, providing the much-needed support in terms of finance and technological help. But while the Western nations are putting pressure on India, China and other emerging economies to reduce their emissions at the cost of development, they themselves are doing precious little to curb per capita emissions.  One is reminded of the fact that annual global emissions are close to 50 billion tonnes Co2e per annum and this must reduce to 35 billion tonnes in 2030 and below 20 billion tonnes in 2050 if the temperature is to stabilize at 20 C. 

One may mention here that the idea of “equitable access to sustainable development”, which was proposed by India and adopted at the Cancun conference in 2010, embodies the challenge at this juncture. Similarly, at the Durban conference, India enjoyed a strong support of the African nations on the question of equity and common base but differentiated responsibility. Thus, the problem of equity and poverty reduction is imperative for embarking on a low carbon economy with rich countries stepping up support for development and poverty reduction.   

Keeping in view the environmental challenge the world faces at this critical juncture, greater initiative and political will, specially of the developed world as also China and India, is obviously called for. Unless strong action is taken with the industrialized world providing the leadership, the future appears bleak and an increase in natural disasters coupled with decrease in agricultural production and spread of diseases, affecting life and property may take its toll.   

It, however, remains to be seen how far the actions being contemplated will help in protecting the planet and restoring the ecological balance as also ensuring the basic necessities of life to the deprived and the oppressed, specially of the Third World. -- INFA

(Copyright, India News and  Feature Alliance)

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