Development conference was over before it started
ANALYSIS:MAYBE ONE of the ministers booked to travel to Rio de Janeiro had the measure of it. At the airport last Tuesday night, after being told that a deal had already been done at the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development, he simply cancelled his flight. “What’s the point of going all that way now?” he thought.
Rio+20, marking the 20th anniversary of the Earth Summit, was “over before it started”, as Greenpeace International executive director Kumi Naidoo said. “The deal that they claim will provide ‘The Future We Want’ was watered down and agreed before heads of state and government even got on their planes,” he said.
Brazil’s absolute determination to avoid a repeat of the Copenhagen climate summit shambles in 2009 led to the early adoption of a compromise text that was characterised by Felix Finkbeiner, of the children’s initiative Plant for the Planet, as “a long, 49-page blah . . . a slap in the face for all children of this world”. “Talking alone will not stop the melting of glaciers and won’t prevent the rainforests from disappearing,” he added.
Yet, according to the UN, it was “the biggest UN conference ever held, with broad participation of leaders from government, business and civil society as well as UN officials, academics, journalists and the general public”. Altogether, it drew 45,763 people to the remotely-located Rio Centro conference venue.
There was little for the 100-plus heads of state or government and other high-level representatives to do, other than deliver a seemingly interminable series of speeches at the final plenary session, or take part in round-table discussion groups – one co-chaired by Prince Albert of Monaco – or do some sightseeing in Rio.
All government offices and even schools were closed during the three-day “high-level segment”, to reduce traffic levels in the city and clear the way for siren-blaring motorcades transporting the VIPs to and from Rio Centro – each dark-windowed car decked out with the flags of Brazil and of the relevant VIP’s country.
Almost all of their speeches were bland, devoid of passion or even conviction. None was electrifying like the speech at the Earth Summit by Cuba’s loquacious Fidel Castro – limited to just seven minutes, his powerful appeal on behalf of the world’s poor brought many African and Latin American delegates to their feet.
On Thursday night, a section of the vast food court in Rio Centro erupted with hisses when Britain’s deputy prime minister, Nick Clegg, appeared on the big screen to deliver yet another pro-forma speech.