Rio+20 Earth Summit 2012: the final day as it happened

Rolling news, comment and developments from the closing day of the UN conference on sustainable development in Brazil

Rio+20 : UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon and Iara Pietricovsky

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon, left, speaks next to the representative of the People’s Summit Iara Pietricovsky at Rio+20. Photograph: Evaristo Sa/AFP/Getty Images

11.00am: As the UN’s vast sustainable development conference in Rio de Janeiro looks set to end with a whimper rather than a bang, many will today be comparing its legacy to its predecessor, the 1992 Rio Earth Summit, which led to major conventions on climate change and biodiversity.

Nothing so concrete looks likely to come out of the closing day of Rio+20, though countries have agreed in principle to work towards setting up new ‘sustainable development goals’, a move hailed earlier this week as a success by the UK’s environment secretary, Caroline Spelman. Today, much of the talk will be about implementation – how action actually comes out of the text agreed on Tuesday.

On the schedule today are a whole bunch of press conferences by countries and country blocs on the summit’s outcome agreement and its implementation. The UK one is at 2pm BST. At 1pm BST Ban Ki-moon will be meeting representatives of the colourful People’s Summit, which has been taking place at Flamengo beach.

11.09am: First, some mopping up from yesterday. Jonathan Watts highlights what he calls “the comment that says it all” about Rio+20:

“The expansion of trade with China can be infinite,” said Brazil’s Finance Minister Guido Mantega, as he announced a new bilateral deal on the sidelines of the Rio+20 sustainability conference. “China is fast growing and wants to stimulate consumption so they will continue to buy our commodities. There are no limits.”

The full story is here.

The Telegraph has some interesting lines from Nick Clegg, who is leading the UK delegation, though I’m not entirely convinced the quotes backs up the headline, “Rio+20: Nick Clegg blames China for ‘disappointing text'” (i.e. presumably he could equally be referring to India and Brazil, as much as China):

Rio+20 : Nick Clegg at Football MuseumNick Clegg at Rio+20. Photograph: Alexandre Macieira/UK in Brazil

“The political significance of Rio is that the G77 nations are antagonistic to our European ideas on the green economy,” said Mr Clegg. “They were worried about some of the process issues around the SDGs.

Rio +20: Natural assets will be recorded as part of GDP to measure how quickly they are being lost, Nick Clegg announces 20 Jun 2012.

“People are disappointed by the text … as I am. We could probably have a perfectly formed text with a lot of precision if we kicked out large parts of the developing world but that is unacceptable. It has to work for the developing and developed world.”

Mr Clegg blamed China and other developing countries, that have huge reserves of coal and want to continue using fossil fuels to grow, for failing to back plans for the green economy.

He said Europe can no longer take the lead in such international negotiations because power is shifting “from West to East”.

“We no longer live in a neocolonial world where a small number of Governments can get together and write a text and say to the rest of the world you have to accept this,” he added. “The developing world is much more assertive.”

11.25am: We’ve got some good pics from yesterday on this gallery.

Rio+20 : A samba dancer takes part in the A samba dancer takes part in the “Global March” in Rio de Janeiro. Photograph: Christophe Simon/AFP/Getty Images

They give a bit of flavour into what’s happening inside and outside the summit.

11.34am: Jonathan Watts has been speaking to Spelman, to get more of her verdict on the text.

Caroline SpelmanCaroline Spelman, the UK’s environment secretary. Photograph: Suzanne Plunkett/Reuters

Essentially she said that for the UK, the things the UK really wanted to get out of Rio, were in there: an alternative to GDP, [which is named in the text albeit not in much detail], and green accounting.

But as a next step, she said, when she goes back to London her priorities will be on the sustainable development goals. Between now and September there will be a lot of preparation for a UN meeting which will try to choose which thematic areas the goals should focus on. For the UK, the three priorities would be energy, water and food.

She also flagged up that the part of the discussion is whether the SDGs will be treated separately from the existing millennium development goals (so-called MDGs) or whether they will run together from 2015 onwards. There is lots of concern that if they were separate, they’d fight against each other. Spelman was encouraged by Ban Ki-Moon who suggested they would be a unitary process, i.e. run together.

11.37am: On the subject of the sustainable development goals, here’s Ban Ki-moon talking to the least developed countries (LDCs) yesterday:

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon at the Rio+20 Earth summitUN secretary general Ban Ki-moon at the Rio+20 Earth summit Photograph: Evaristo Sa/AFP/Getty Images

We have made significant progress in Rio to advance sustainable energy for all, an approach that links development, social inclusion and environmental protection. We must sustain this momentum so that LDCs enjoy modern sources of energy to fuel their development…
Rio is not the end of the road, it is a beginning. A beginning of a process to define sustainable development goals that build on the Millennium Development Goals, to safeguard people and our planet, to create the future we want.

11.42am: The Guardian’s Jo Confino has interviewed economist Jeffrey Sachs at Rio+20, who talks about why the GDP+ idea that was high on Spelman’s agenda is so important:

Jeffrey SachsEconomist Jeffrey Sachs Photograph: Graeme Robertson

The point of the move to better metrics is the realisation that not only does gross national product not measure properly what makes us well-off and satisfied, it is leading us now in a very dangerous direction. If we continue to follow that indicator we will follow a path right over the cliff.

One of the key planks of the SDGs is that we need better measurement of wellbeing and one way is to ask people how well are you doing, life satisfaction. A legion of scholars have been studying this and picking up great traditions as brought by Buddhism and Bhutan in particular. We can now identify pretty systematically places were people are deeply unhappy, highly anxious and also identify systematically the reasons why.

Money matters and especially for the poor. But once you reach a certain level of wellbeing, the additional gains are very small and perhaps not there at all. The US has tripled its per capital GDP over the last 50 years but there has not even been a twitch of the needle in raising wellbeing.

11.51am: In case you were wondering about the ecological impact of the ‘UN’s biggest ever summit’, you’ll be relieved to hear the UN has used 19 million fewer sheets of paper than it’d expect to for a conference of this size, according to Magnus Olafsson, who heads the UN’s PaperSmart initiative.

The carbon footprint is obviously tricky to pin down, but the UN’s own 1,400 staff will generate 3,600 tonnes of CO2, largely from air travel, which will be offset.

11.56am: More from events yesterday. Although population hasn’t been massively high up the agenda, an address by Babatunde Osotimehin, Executive Director of UN Population Fund, had echoes of a call by the world’s science academies last week for Rio+20 to address population:

Executive Director of the United Nations Population Fund ( UNFPA ) Babatunde OsotimehinExecutive Director of the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) Babatunde Osotimehin Photograph: Paulo Filgueiras/UN Photo

Everywhere, but especially in emerging economies [i.e. India, China, Brazil, South Africa], millions more people are becoming richer consumers of goods and services, thus adding to pressures on natural resources. Sustainable patterns of consumption—enabled in part by appropriate technologies—are therefore urgently needed to improve the well-being of humanity now and into the future…
Slowing population growth can have a positive impact on environmental sustainability in the long run. It will also offer nations more time to adapt to changes in the environment. However, this can occur only if women have the right, the power and the means to decide freely how many children to have and when.

12.04pm: Was there really no news line from the RioCentro conference centre yesterday? That’s the question I was left pondering this morning while reading about The Times’ account [paywall] of how the ‘Love Time Hotel’ in Rio de Janeiro had been taken over by Rio+20 delegates desperate for rooms, including iPad-clutching Nigerian delegates:

All was not business as usual at the Love Time Hotel. Yes, the pink neon-fronted establishment still hired rooms by the hour, but you could also buy them by the day. Yes, the room taken by The Times had wipe-clean surfaces, a Versailles-esque number of mirrors and a room service menu including “vibradors”. Unusually, though, its chief attraction was not the range of prophylactics available but the fact that the room itself was.

That’s the Times’ reporter pictured in his room at the hotel. It’s a fun write-up, but did we really need the photo? It’s one you can’t forget after you’ve seen it.


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