Some pre Rio+20 reading

Twenty years after the original Rio conference, representatives from around the world will be assembling in Brazil to reflect on progress and set the agenda for the next stage. How have we done and what do we hope to happen?

Our friends at JRI have put together a briefing paper which sets out many of these issues. Amongst the many helpful thoughts, they call for a more holistic view in two respects – firstly between what can be called “sustainability” and “susstainable development”:

Perhaps the most important outcome of Rio –
understanding that economic, environmental and
social concerns are all interlinked – has shown
the least progress. The convergence between
economic and social issues is now better
appreciated and, to some extent, acted upon.
However the convergence of these two pillars
and the third, environmental protection, remains
poorly outlined and acted upon.

and secondly to provide joint goals for developing and developed worlds. A major failing of the development agenda has been that it attempts to provide economic growth in the developing world in isolation, without relevance either to environmental and other related issues, or to the effect that developed economies have on the rest of the world.

Although Rio+20 seems of relatively marginal interest among the population at large – it seems the only Rio being cared about right now is Ferdinand – the BBC have at least been giving it some airtime. A new UNEP report was discussed on the 6pm Radio 4 news yesterday and makes for rather bleak, if unsurprising reading. Of 90 environmental issues, only four have improved substantially since 1992. Overall there has been some progress in a reasonable minority, but more have gone the other way.

Perhaps more scary is a new paper in Nature (Approaching a state shift in Earth’s biosphere (not public access, summary at the BBC) which argues that we are likely to be close to a tipping point in world ecosystems which would send us irreversibly into a new, and probably less rich, biosystem. This kind of forecast is frequently made about the climate, but this is the first time I’ve seen the consequences for the biological world spelt out.

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