Former Soviet president warns conference is doomed if climate change is ignored


FAILURE TO act on climate change will “doom” Rio+20 – the upcoming UN conference on sustainable development – according to a high-level task force convened by former Soviet president Mikhail Gorbachev.

In a statement yesterday, Mr Gorbachev said he was concerned that “the draft final document of the Rio+20 conference does not give proper attention to climate change [and] it looks like there is backsliding on this issue”.

Speaking on behalf of the Climate Change Task Force, he said if it was not addressed adequately, “all of the other problems and tasks that will be set by the final document [of the conference] will not be accomplished and will become meaningless”.

His statement came as Brazil – host of the conference marking the 20th anniversary of the Earth Summit – achieved the dubious honour of winning a “Fossil of the Day” award.

The Climate Action Network, which presented the award, said Brazil was “using its growing political clout and indisputable diplomatic capacities only to find clever compromises and get agreement on a watered-down document devoid of clear commitments”.

Brazilian foreign minister Antonio Patriota presented a consolidated version of the 80-page negotiating text and set a deadline for agreement to be reached on it before world leaders arrive for Rio+20’s “high-level segment”, starting tomorrow.

This followed three days of preparatory meetings under Sha Zukang, the senior UN official who is secretary-general of Rio+20. He said delegates “cannot congratulate ourselves [as] we are not where we need to be”.

With Rio’s famous statue of Christ the Redeemer bathed in green light after dark, the delegates representing more than 170 countries were struggling to define what a “green economy” might look like, or even mean.

The talks are taking place at Rio Centro, a collection of vast exhibition halls remote from the city centre. Huge air-conditioning units are needed to keep delegates cool in the winter sun, with daytime highs of up to 30 degrees.

The US has been holding out against references in the text to the need to curb “unsustainable consumption and production patterns”, as well as any “right” to food or distinctions between rich and poor countries on how they use natural resources.

Brazilian president Dilma Rousseff said she would be lobbying G20 leaders on Rio+20 at their summit in Mexico. But US president Barack Obama is not travelling onwards to Rio; instead, secretary of state Hillary Clinton will head the US delegation.

In 2009, the G20 pledged to phase out “inefficient” subsidies for fossil fuels – worth up to $1 trillion (€792.5 billion) per year. But a new report yesterday by Oil Change International showed that not one of these subsidies has yet been eliminated.

“Phasing out fossil fuel subsidies is exactly what needs to be done, but we have yet to see the talk turned into action,” said its director Steve Kretzmann, adding that despite the economic crisis, there was “no austerity when it comes to the fossil fuel industry”.

Volunteers from global campaign groups Avaaz and 350.orgunfurled a massive trillion-dollar bill on the Copacabana beach at the weekend, calling on world leaders coming to Rio to phase out the subsidies. Bill McKibben, founder of, said the world had “a few problems where a trillion dollars might come in handy – and we’d have a few less problems if we weren’t paying the fossil fuel industry to wreck the climate. This is the public policy no-brainer of all time.”

At Rio Centro, however, oil-producing Saudi Arabia and Venezuela are pushing to eliminate any language in the Rio+20 declaration relating to the subsidies.


THE ERADICATION of poverty and hunger are “inextricably linked” with global responses to the phenomenon of climate change, according to Trócaire director Justin Kilcullen.

In his foreword to a Trócaire report Shaping Strategies – Factors and Actors in Climate Change Adaptation, he writes that its findings are a “stark reminder . . . to act urgently to deal with this most vital of issues”.

The culmination of two years of research in Bolivia, Honduras, Kenya and Malawi, the report examines how families experience climate change at a household level on a day-to-day, month-to- month and year-on-year basis.

With up to 95 per cent experiencing the effects of extreme weather, Mr Kilcullen says: “We know that climate change is impacting on the people we work with, undermining their capacity to work themselves out of poverty and secure their rights.”

Households are changing the balance between crops and livestock, adopting technology such as irrigation or moving out of small-scale agriculture entirely “in response to resource constraints, market forces, institutional incentives and increased climate variability”.

Access to land and water have emerged as key limiting factors in people’s ability to adapt to the changes they are experiencing.

Population pressures, coupled with the more unreliable agricultural productivity that is linked to climatic change, are “aggravating vulnerability”.

Across all four case studies, the research found that diversity and flexibility in households’ strategies for their livelihoods “determines resilience”, even in the face of “inadequate and incoherent external support and inappropriate government policies”.

As Mr Kilcullen writes, adaptation to the impact of climate change “remains significantly underfunded and progress on commitments to provide predictable additional financial resources to support developing countries to take action is slow and uncertain.”

For the full report, see