Rio+20: Last chance to save the world…again?

Flickr: marcitolina

Rio+20 marks its 20th anniversary this year and what better way to celebrate than by bringing member states of the United Nations together as they undertake the last chance to save the world…again.

The countdown for the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development, also known as the Earth Summit, is underway and for three days (June 20-22), unlike the two weeks reserved for it in 1992, nations will come together to discuss the planet.

But, as we like to imagine them getting together to discuss the measures to put into place to improve the environment, will anything come out of what can easily be described by one blogger as ‘mealy-mouthed official doublespeak?’ and will we once again hear that this is our last chance to save the world?

When Rio’s Earth Summit opened in 1992 it was full of hope and promise of a greener and equitable future with the signing of what were considered groundbreaking treaties on biodiversity and climate change. With over 100 nations in attendance, the event attracted huge attention with heads of states signing the lengthy Agenda 21, supposedly setting out the tasks to crack down on the human impact on the environment.

As the then secretary-general of the summit, Maurice Strong, said in a 1992 edition of the Guardian:

‘No place on the planet could remain an island of affluence in a sea of misery. We are either going to save the whole world or no one will be saved.’

That’s a bit dramatic don’t you think? But I suppose in order to get the message across, shock and awe tactics must be applied.

So, with the first Rio Earth Summit riding on the waves of success by bringing people together to discuss important matters, the rest of us average Jane’s and Joe’s can go about our lives knowing that organisations of the UN, Governments, NGOs and other major groups are working around the clock as they work towards a better future…yes, that’s right.

Deja vu?

Fast forward ten years to Rio+10 and we have the Earth Summit in 2002, held in Johannesburg. It seems, though, that old PR tactics are hard to die with Rio+10 being promoted as the last chance to save the world…hmm.

And of course, we can’t forget the Bali climate conference in 2007 that was tooted as the last chance…yeah, you guessed it…to save the world.

But that was clearly a mistake, because according to the World Wildlife Fund, the last chance to save the world was in Poznan in 2008.

Or was it 2011 at the Durban Conference, known at COP17, when the leader of the World Council of Churches, Rev. Dr. Olav Fyske Tveit, said that the climate conference in South Africa is mankind’s ‘last opportunity’ to address climate change?

I don’t know about you, but I’m slightly dizzy.

So, if all those other times were clearly wrong when it came to saving the world, can we assume that Rio+20 might be the right time?

I mean how hard can it be to save the planet, when we have no problem saving the countless banks that waste our money and then come running to us for help?

Of course, with Rio+20 on the horizon, we can take it for granted that shock and awe PR tactics will play a part.

In 1992 the conference may have started with hopeful beginnings, but as we near the 20th anniversary it won’t be full of saving the world celebrations as we take into account increased emissions, a decline in nature, threatened species and rising sea levels to name a few.

With broken promises to contend with and climate change now-in-our-face reality, one question remains to be seen: Is this really our last chance to save the planet?


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