John Vidal- The Guardian, 6/27/2012
Read the post mortems and commentaries from Rio+20, and you’d think a global disaster had taken place. The UN multilateral system is said to be in crisis, the environment is falling off the edge, and every blade of grass and hillside is for sale. Pundits and NGOs scream that it was “the greatest failure of collective leadership since the first world war”, “a bleak day, a disastrous meeting” and “a massive waste of time and money”.
Perspective, please. Reaction after the 1992 Rio summit was uncannily similar. Countries passed then what now seem far-sighted treaties and embedded a slew of aspirations and commitments into international documents – but NGOs and journalists were still distraught. They said the climate change agreement was too weak, that sustainable development was too abstract a concept, that the promised aid was inadequate, and that the US had guaranteed the felling of the Amazon forest by refusing to sign the biodiversity convention. There were, they said, no agreements on population growth or subsidies, or oceans, or trade, or women’s rights … and myriad other issues. In short, just like Rio 2012, the meeting was said to be a dismal failure of governments to co-operate.
I was pretty downhearted then, too. So when I returned I went to see Richard Sandbrook, a legendary environmental activist who co-founded Friends of the Earth, directed the International Institute for Environment and Development (IIED), and profoundly influenced a generation of governments, business leaders and NGOs before he died in 2005. Sandbrook made the point (I paraphrase) that NGOs always scream murder because it is their job to push governments, that pundits exaggerate because they are controversialists, and that UN conferences must disappoint because all views have to be accommodated.