Paulo Sotero – *O Estado de Sao Paulo, 06/22/2012
The sense of frustration left by the low ambition of the Rio+20 United Nations Conference in Sustainable Development final document, especially among environmentalists, should surprise no one. The global economic crisis raging since 2008 put governments and the more established non-governmental organizations on the defensive and seriously limited what could be achieved long before President Dilma Rousseff opened the gathering of leaders on June 20th. Not much should have been expected from an official gathering that President Barack Obama could not attend for fear of hurting his chances of reelection in November. The lack of significant progress in the implementation of the Climate Change and Biodiversity conventions adopted in the Rio Earth Summit of 1992 and the refusal of rich nations to consider setting up a $30 billion fund (a fraction of what they spend on security, defense and wars) to assist poor nations in the transition to the “green economy” proclaimed as goal by all severely limited what could be achieved. “One should not ask for ambition in action where there is no ambition in financing,” said Brazilian chief-negotiator Luis Alberto Figueiredo Machado, responding to the UN secretary-general Ban Ki Moon, who at one point expressed his disappointment with the modesty of conference results.
Having participated in the UN Corporate Sustainability Forum held before the official gathering, I left Rio more hopeful about the future than the official part of Rio+20 would allow. As governments clearly fumbled in the face of the complex challenges of imagining and building a more equitable and sustainable economic growth model in the decades ahead, I saw senior business executives and leaders of civil society engaged in intelligent and productive dialogue about difficult issues at hundreds of thematic panels held at the Corporate Sustainability Forum and other sessions held in Rio.
In this sense, Rio+20 signaled a welcome change of dynamic in the public policy debate that may not be apparent but is substantive and potentially consequential.
*An earlier version of this article appeared in Portuguese in the Brazilian daily “Estado de S. Paulo” on June 20, 2012.