We recently caught up with Baird’s CMC’s very own environmental expert, Aditya Bahadur, to get his take on the UN Conference on Sustainable Development (Rio+20), held over 20-22 June in Rio de Janeiro in June 2012.
Read the insightful Q&A with Aditya below to get an insider perspective on Rio+20:
Q: A lot of people seem to be saying that Rio+20 was a failure, with no real commitments being made this year – especially as compared to the Rio Summit in 1992. Do you think that’s true?
AB: Let me begin by saying that 20 years ago, we witnessed a watershed moment at the Rio Summit in Brazil – it was a landmark that is constantly recalled and referenced when the world thinks of environmental conservation. There were a few key outcomes, the most important of which was the creation of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), which has since been the nodal international body for environmental issues.
The conference this year is being considered insignificant when compared with the Rio Summit. There has been a vast amount of criticism, for instance, about the failure to come up with tangible commitments. However, it is important for all of us to remember that even after the 1992 conference, there was a lot of disappointment across the world. People had asked for commitments on various other issues, such as population, and these did not materialize.
So, there is always criticism when it comes to such events. Their true value is only realized in the long term. It’s also important to understand that because UN conferences work on the idea of consensus, their priority is to create institutional environments that enable long-term policy changes. To expect a silver bullet or thunderbolt…that was always plain unrealistic!
Q: What are the specifics of this criticism?
AB: There are a number of points of criticism…one for instance, deals with the fact that developed countries held their line about not committing to any binding targets for the reduction of GHGs which is framed by some as a ‘victory’ for these countries but, in my opinion, only strengthens the deadlock in international climate negotiation.
Q. A quick aside: where do you stand on this particular issue?
AB: I partly agree with the view put forth by developing countries – the larger share of responsibility lies with the richer countries that created the problem of climate change in the first place. But, instead of a adhering to the status quo, I feel that these wealthy countries need to provide funds for the development of green technologies, so poorer countries can continue with their development trajectories without it taking a substantial toll on the environment.
Q. Okay. Going back to your thoughts on the criticism of Rio+20…
AB: Another point is that developing countries have pushed back the whole idea of green economy that European countries are pushing – which they see as basically a form of environmental protectionism propagated by rich countries. Again, I see this as a case of ‘us’ vs. ‘them’ but the collective ‘we’ is suffering
We need to adopt a bigger picture perspective and acknowledge the achievements of the conference as well
Q. Which of these achievements did you find particularly important?
AB: I found quite a few achievements interesting. Firstly, there was the wide acceptance of the Natural Capital Declaration, which is a commitment by numerous CEOs. The idea is for companies to factor the value of natural assets into business decision-making. This means companies need to assign a value to the environmental resources they use or depreciate. This includes clean air, clean water, forests, etc. Led by countries like the UK, the conference highlighted the fact that GDP alone is not an adequate measure of national progress. GDP+ is a new indicator where “+” stands for environmental sustainability measures.
These developments, along with the heavy involvement of big businesses, was a huge step forward since these conferences are mostly attended by people from the development sector and governments.
There was also unanimous consensus on the need for a set of international development goals to succeed the Millennium Development Goals, which will expire in 2015. Another interesting development is the fact that the discourse of protecting the Arctic from exploitation has moved into the mainstream of environmental discourse.
The most important achievement, in my opinion, was the fact that things didn’t fall apart. A lot of different groups were present, each with its own agenda. Government bodies, not-for-profit organizations, corporates, environmentalists… Add to that the unavoidable impact of the EU and American economic crises on the conference. The rising unemployment and economic strain has made things that much tougher. So, there was plenty of arguing and a lot of pushing and pulling, but everyone managed to get through it in the end. There were even some significant achievements – I’d say that was a Herculean feat given all the obstacles along the way!