REPORT: Global Green USA/Green Cross International/DC Environmental Network’s July 26th Roundtable Discussion on Rio+20
by Paul Walker, Director, Environmental Security and Sustainability, Green Cross International
The global “Earth Summit,” officially called the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development (UNCSD), took place in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, June 20-22, 2012. Although only three days long, the summit was preceded by a week or more of hundreds of related “side meetings” organized by environmental non-governmental organizations from across the globe, as well as an alternative “People’s Summit.”
Global Green USA, Green Cross International, and the District of Columbia Environmental Network (DCEN) organized a roundtable discussion in Washington DC on July 26, 2012, one month after the Rio+20 Summit, with four NGO representatives who had attended the conference: Carl Bruch, Senior Attorney and Co-Director of International Programs with the Environmental Law Institute; Andrew Deutz, Director of International Government Relations with The Nature Conservancy; Jacob Scherr, Director of Global Strategy and Advocacy with the Natural Resources Defense Council; and Paul Walker, Director of Environmental Security and Sustainability with Green Cross International. The roundtable was chaired by Chris Weiss, Director of the DC Environmental Network.
The Rio+20 Summit was organized twenty years after the initial 1992 Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro, during which many countries, groups, and individuals cited serious warning signs that Planet Earth was being abused and potentially destroyed by the lack of sound environmental and public health practices in both developed and less developed countries and regions. Many of these same warning signs – global warming and climate change, widespread pollution, violence and war, poverty, lack of sanitation, overpopulation, consumerism and overuse of limited natural resources, infant and maternal mortality rates – continue to threaten human existence today and must be addressed.
The speakers all agreed that the Rio conference was successful in some ways, especially as a global clarion call to governments, corporations, and people to accelerate their planning, commitments, and action to address these growing threats to human existence. The long, 53-page final document from the conference, “The Future We Want,” states in the first of 283 paragraphs that “We…renew our commitment to sustainable development and to ensuring the promotion of an economically, socially, and environmentally sustainable future for our planet and for present and future generations.”
Presentation of Carl Bruch, Environmental Law Institute [PowerPoint]:
Rio +20, what some called a “mega-conference,” brought together thousands of participants – estimates include some 10,000+ government representatives, 10,000+ NGO representatives, over 4,000 media representatives, and possibly as many as another 50,000 individuals who joined the hundreds of meetings. This was the first such massive global gathering of the internet age, and was a major challenge for the Brazilian hosts to organize and manage; the speakers agreed, however, that the conference organizers did a very impressive and efficient job of moving the tens of thousands of delegates around the mega-city and providing good security, support services, and transportation.
Presentation of Andrew Deutz, The Nature Conservancy [PowerPoint]:
The primary focus of Rio+20 was “poverty eradication,” noted many times in the final official document and no doubt indicative of the growing importance of the BRIC countries – Brazil, Russia, India, and China. The speakers noted that Rio+20 was much more global in scope that the 1992 Earth Summit, with much more active participation from developing countries and the non-aligned movement (NAM); the shift over the last two decades has clearly been made from the Group of Seven (G-7) to the Group of Twenty (G-20) and beyond, making for a much more multipolar world.
Presentation of Jacob Scherr, Natural Resources Defense Council [PowerPoint]:
The Earth Summit also emphasized the growing importance of cities and urban regions, given that they will house most of the world’s population and contribute to most of the earth’s environmental problems. The final conference document underlined the need for “sustainable cities” which focus on a “holistic approach to urban development,” including “affordable housing,” “conservation,” “affordable and sustainable transport and energy,” “reduce, recycle, reuse” practices, and increased “public awareness” and “enhanced public participation in decision-making,” amongst other related goals.
Presentation of Paul Walker, Green Cross International [PowerPoint]:
The roundtable speakers emphasized that some 700 pledges totaling over $500 billion were made by many governments and corporations at the conference to address a wide range of challenges from energy efficiency to reforestation to pollution remediation. The speakers underlined the importance now of civil society to hold the governments and corporations accountable, and to help track these pledges. The United Nations has pledged to also track these pledges, and at least one NGO, the Natural Resources Defense Council, has developed a website, “Cloud of Commitments,” which has listed over 200 significant commitments to date. The majority of these are in the energy field while cities appear to have accrued the largest financial commitments to date.
Also noted in the discussion was that there were very few, if any, binding national commitments in the final document, leading some critics to criticize the lack of leadership and pro-active steps by governments at the summit to address sustainable development in a timely and urgent way. Some participants also noted that some of the governments (and non-governmental groups) really did not focus on the historic gathering until just a few months prior, also leading to a lack of substantial progress at Rio. One speaker called the summit a “stepping stone, not a turning point,” towards saving the planet, and another criticized the summit for not addressing the failure to meet many of the 2015 Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).
However, all the speakers still spoke positively of the Rio+20 Summit, and felt that it has set the stage for potential progress towards new Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to replace the MDGs in 2015. But they all agreed that it will now be crucially important for civil society, including NGOs and sub-national groups such as cities and states, to hold governments and multilateral organizations, including the United Nations Environmental Program (UNEP), accountable for pressing forward to help save our increasingly fragile planet.
Other organizations were invited to participate and give their perspective on the Earth Summit but were not able to attend. Global Green USA and the DC Environmental Network understand that there is a broad spectrum of opinions as to what was (or was not) accomplished at Rio+20. Our goal was to continue a discussion that we hope will result in a stronger global environmental movement that is successful at the local, national and international level. We also hope to educate environmental activists in the Washington Metro Region that their work is an integral part of global efforts to promote sustainability and save the planet from continued environmental harm.
by Chris Weiss, Executive Director, DC Environmental Network
TAKE ACTION: Join us August 6th for our briefing on proposed wetlands regulations then comment at District Department of the Environment’s (DDOE) listening session in late August.
As you may be aware, the District Department of the Environment (DDOE) has drafted wetland regulations. These regulations are intended to streamline (1) the District’s certification process of permits issued by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (2) the issuance of permits of activities in wetlands that do not fall under the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers regulations (i.e. when the wetlands are too small or are isolated), and (3) the wetland mitigation process. The regulations were initially drafted in 2010 and was approved earlier this year by the Office of the City Administrator in order for DDOE to solicit public comments.
Over the last month DDOE has been meeting with interested parties to discuss the new DRAFT regulations in preparation for a listening session the end of August.
The DC Environmental Network already participated in a June briefing but because of requests by a critical mass of District water advocates and others, have asked DDOE to offer another issue briefing.
This additional briefing will occcur on August 6th @ 2:00 PM at the offices of Global Green USA/DC Environmental Network, 1100 15th Street NW, 11th Floor.
- Rebecca Diehl, Environmental Protection Specialist, Water Quality Division, DDOE
- Adion Chinkuyu PhD, Environmental Engineer, Water Quality Division, DDOE
All are welcome! RSVP Here!
by Chris Weiss, Executive Director, DC Environmental Network
On July 26th at Noon, join Global Green USA & the DC Environmental Network (DCEN) for a roundtable discussion with environmental colleagues recently returned from Rio de Janeiro.
The United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development, UNCSD, took place in Rio de Janeiro last month, twenty years after the first “Earth Summit” in 1992.
At the Rio+20 Conference, world leaders, along with thousands of participants from governments, the private sector, NGOs and other groups, came together to attempt to shape how the global community might reduce poverty, advance social equity and ensure environmental protection on our crowded planet.
Several Washington DC colleagues who attended this year’s Earth Summit and the related “People’s Summit” in Rio will discuss their impressions of the event and its final document, “The Future We Want.”
They will also note the implications from the summit for our environmental movement, and where we need to go from here.
- Carl Bruch, Senior Attorney, Environmental Law Institute (confirmed)
- Andrew Deutz, Director, International Government Relations, The Nature Conservancy (confirmed)
- Erika Rosenthal, Staff Attorney, Earthjustice (TBC)
- Jacob Scherr, Director, Global Strategy and Advocacy, Natural Resources Defense Council (confirmed)
- Paul Walker, Director, Environmental Security and Sustainability, Green Cross International (confirmed)
- Chris Weiss, Director, DC Environmental Network (Chair)
This brown-bag will be held at the offices of Global Green USA and the DC Environmental Network, 1100 15th Street NW, Washington, DC (near the Farragut North & McPherson Square metro stations).
All are welcome! RSVP Here!