Rio meet fizzles out

Ranabir Ray Choudhury | Updated on June 26, 2012

Paragraph 18 of the final declaration adopted at the UN meeting on sustainable development held in Rio de Janeiro last week proclaims: “We are determined to reinvigorate political will and to raise the level of commitment by the international community to move the sustainable development agenda forward, through the achievement of the internationally agreed development goals, including the Millennium Development Goals. We further reaffirm our respective commitments to other relevant internationally agreed goals in the economic, social and environmental fields since 1992. We therefore resolve to take concrete measures that accelerate implementation of sustainable development commitments”.


Indeed, one can almost hear the beat of the drums in the distance, proclaiming loud and clear that the effort is on by those who matter on this planet, to make the world a better place to live in. The implicit assumption is that the venue where these brave words were uttered was alive with excitement and enthusiasm.

But this was not exactly what happened. The developed countries went unrepresented by, among others, three of its leading lights — the US President, Mr Barack Obama, the German Chancellor, Ms Angela Merkel, and the UK Prime Minister, Mr David Cameron — all three of whom had, however, made it a point to attend the G-20 major economies’ meeting in Mexico which was held just before the Rio conference.

Needless to say, they had other pressing work to attend to, instead of being at the Rio meeting which, in terms of Paragraph 18 quoted above, was nothing short of a critical event for the future welfare of mankind. This is precisely why a number of observers have dubbed the final Rio document entitled The Future We Want as “The Future We Do Not Want”. They have questioned the importance of an event, the outcome of which (in the shape of the declaration) was basically hammered out by officials, just as is the case with scores of other international conferences.


These critics argue, and not without reason, that there is really no need to be euphoric about the Rio 2012 declaration. It is better to state unequivocally (instead of keeping up a pretence) that the series of meetings and conferences which have been held in the past on sustainable development are far from being integral to the future wellbeing of mankind.

In fact, to be fair to those who are clearly no longer interested in “sustainable development”, the point has been openly made that nations, or States, no longer have an important role to perform in the resolution of such issues.

No less a person than the US Secretary of State, Ms Hillary Clinton, admitted this implicitly when she said: “Governments alone cannot solve all the problems we face, from climate change to persistent poverty to chronic energy shortages.”

What she probably meant was that the private sector must now step forward and play a larger role than States regarding such issues.

There is probably nothing wrong in this per se, but then the thread running through the 1992 declaration adopted at Rio by the UN Conference on Environment and Development told another, different story.

Published on June 26, 2012

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