…Will 1400 do it? 2100? In two weeks, the United Nations will convene its Conference on Sustainable Development in Rio de Janeiro where yet more international treaties to save the planet will be discussed. The conference is being called Rio + 20 to memorialize the history in which the wildly successful United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change and the UN's global economic 100-year plan Agenda 21 were adopted in that city at the first Earth Summit back in 1992.
Notwithstanding the effects of 700 environmental treaties, the United Nations Environment Program has issued a new report, Global Environmental Outlook 5, that finds, despite 20 years of the best efforts of UN bureaucrats, things remain bad and are getting worse. As the BBC reports:
For the current edition, researchers assessed progress in 90 important environmental issues.
They concluded that meaningful progress had been made on just four—making petrol lead-free, tackling ozone layer depletion, increasing access to clean water and boosting research on marine pollution.
A further 40 showed some progress, including the establishment of protected habitat for plants and animals on land and slowing the rate of deforestation.
Little or no progress was noted for 24, including tackling climate change, while clear deterioration was found in eight, including the parlous state of coral reefs around the world.
For the remainder, there was too little data to draw firm conclusions.
Peter Foster at the Financial Post (Canada) has a nice column in which he explains the failure of the concept of sustainable development:
The phrase "sustainable development" first achieved wide currency as the result of the 1987 report of the United Nations' Brundtland commission, a body of self-styled "eminent persons" who appointed themselves to prepare "a global agenda for change" in the face of the alleged "interlocking crises" of failing economic development and deteriorating environment.
Behind Brundtland's seemingly reasonable definition of sustainable development as "development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs" lay the implication that free markets were unsustainable.
Sustainable development was rooted in projections of environmental apocalypse due to catastrophic man-made global warming, species extinction, resource depletion, and any number of other apocalyptic scenarios that would be brought about by unfettered capitalism.
What was needed to fix this (projected) mess was greater political oversight and control, which would delicately balance the triple bottom line of the economy, the environment and social issues. As Brundtland commissioner Maurice Strong, who orchestrated the 1992 Rio conference, declared: "[W]e must devise a new approach to co-operative management of the entire system of issues." As for the impossibility of either gauging or fulfilling "needs," that wasn't a problem for the Brundtland gang. They would simply tell us what our needs should be.
So how is the dream looking after 20 years?
Later this month, I will be sending back dispatches from the Rio + 20 conference (and associated "civil society" events) evaluating the state of the Green Dream.