Rio+20 countdown

If it is to have more than just rhetorical significance, the forthcoming Rio+20 summit, to be held in Brazil June 20 to 22, needs to get to grips with environmental justice, including between generations. One of the most unjust aspects of unsustainable development is that present generations destroy the environment to produce short term gains for themselves. Not only do their children and grandchildren not benefit, but they are poorer as a result.

Activists have been pressing for the creation of a UN High Commissioner for Future Generations as one of the concrete outcomes from the summit. The commissioner, the brain child of the London based ngo the World Future Council, would be charged with standing up for the interests of future generations. The proposal has been included in the draft text of what will be an “outcome document” rather than a treaty, but with only three weeks to go, many items remain to be negotiated before a final draft could be agreed.

The 1992 UN Conference on Environment and Development produced three important treaties on climate change, biodiversity and desertification but Rio+20 is already far less ambitious. The best outcome imaginable at this late stage is a blueprint for the greening of the global economy and, equally important, a timetable for implementation. But the text is so far from ready that the UN Secretary General has just held an extra session of informal consultations in New York to try to knock it into shape.

The document began at 19 pages, but grew to 200. Efforts to agree the text have made slow progress. Under discussion in New York was an 80 page version, of which 70 paragraphs were agreed and 259 remain unresolved. The clock is ticking.