Rio+20 conference: what is it and what are its aims?

Rio+20 Conference

World leaders will assemble in Brazil next week to discuss the environment and poverty. But will they make a difference?

LAST UPDATED AT 15:29 ON Fri 15 Jun 2012

WORLD LEADERS will convene in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil on June 20 for ‘Rio+20’, the United Nations conference on sustainable development, which is held every 20 years. Thousands of participants from governments, the private sector, NGOs and other groups will come together to work on ideas aimed at protecting the environment, fighting poverty, and trying to narrow the gap between the developed and developing world. But this year’s conference is in danger of being overshadowed by the financial crisis.
 
WHAT HAPPENED BEFORE RIO+20?
In 1972, the United Nations Conference on the Human Environment was held in Stockholm. It created various documents on the rights of people to adequate food, sound housing, safe water and access to the means of family planning. The idea behind this first conference was one of information rather than implementation.

At the second conference, in Rio de Janeiro in 1992, the ‘Declaration on Environment and Development’ outlined each nation’s right to pursue social and economic progress and assigned to states the responsibility of adopting a model of sustainable development. However, nothing agreed there was legally binding.
 
WHAT IS THE AIM OF RIO+20?
To inject a sense of urgency into hammering out a global approach to the sustainable use of resources, The Guardian explains. UN Environmental Programmer Achim Steiner has warned time is running short: "If current trends continue, if current patterns of production and consumption of natural resources prevail and cannot be reversed and 'decoupled', then governments will preside over unprecedented levels of damage and degradation."
 
WHAT’S ON THE RIO+20 AGENDA ?
Draft texts include proposals to strengthen protection of the world's oceans; upgrade the UN Environment Programme; create an ombudsman for future generations; conduct annual "state-of-the-planet" reports; promote alternatives to GDP as a measure of wellbeing and reduce subsidies for fossil fuels.
 
WHO IS GOING TO BE AT RIO+20?
The eurozone crisis and global recession have largely knocked environmental issues from the top of the political agenda. Already the conference has seen some heavyweights drop out. David Cameron and Angela Merkel are both sending deputies; President Barack Obama has not yet committed. Organisers have warned that recession should not be used as an excuse for inaction.
 
HOW EFFECTIVE HAVE UN ENVIRONMENTAL SUMMITS BEEN?
Targets set at UN summits in 1992 and 2002 have largely gone unmet, and implementation "has been difficult, ineffective or practically nonexistent", the authors wrote in the US journal Science.
 
"Our analysis shows that almost every commitment made by governments to protect the oceans has not been achieved," said Jonathan Baillie, director of conservation at ZSL (the Zoological Society of London). "If these international processes are to be taken seriously, governments must be held accountable and any future commitments must come with clear plans for implementation and a process to evaluate success or failure."
 
WHAT DOES RIO+20 HOPE TO ACHIEVE?
Organisers do not expect any legally binding treaties. Instead the central aim is to start a process so that by 2015, the international community can agree on a set of global sustainable development goals - with targets for consumption and production, a mechanism for periodic follow-up and reports, and specific actions for key areas such as water, food and energy. · 

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