Rio+20 summit: welcome to the fantasy land of green conferences
Once again, thousands of delegates descend on a pleasant location. Once again, the result is failure
THE PREDICTABLE word is in from Rio: failure. The conference, 20 years on from the huge Earth Summit, Rio 92, has been unable to produce even the pretence of an energetic verbal commitment of the world's community to sustainable principles.
The reason? These conferences have always been a fraud, lofted on excited green rhetoric and larded with ominous advisories that "this time we cannot afford to fail" and that "the tipping point" is finally here. But failure has been a loyal companion, and many a tipping point has tipped without amiss.
That's because there is no such thing as a world "community". There are rich nations and poor nations and the former will never accede to the agendas of the latter, however intricate the language of the final windy "declaration". The word "sustainable" has long been drained of all meaning.
The general absurdity of these earth summits – Rio, Kyoto, Copenhagen, Durban, and now Rio again, is summed up in what the green forces hoped could be a concluding declaration this time in Rio to which enough nations could fix their name and declare Victory for the planet.
Originally it was to be the commitment to a "Green World" but not enough nations cared for that, so the fall-back face-saver was a plan for a UN treaty to protect the international high seas.
To the greens' utter astonishment, early on Tuesday, it turned out that the US and Venezuela were vetoing this plan. Whatever Hugo Chavez's motives, the reason for the US veto was obvious and should have been from the moment the plan was mooted. The International Treaty on the Law of Sea was ratified in 1982 and the US has always refused to sign it.
The Brazilians threw in the towel, insisting on a spineless text. Like some Trollopian parson, somehow surviving the bureaucratic infighting, was the Commission on Sustainable Development which had been leading a quiet and unassuming life in some UN back office. Now the hitherto toothless commission will be elevated to a high-level body charged with monitoring and enforcing sustainable development goals (SDGs) and will report to the UN General Assembly. Among its possible areas of concern: food security and sustainable agriculture; sustainable energy for all; water access and efficiency; sustainable cities; green jobs, decent work and something called social inclusion.
Welcome once more to the fantasy land of the Green conferences.
A friend of mine, based in the Middle East, came to know Yemen's minister of the environment. A large portion of the Yemeni's duties, decently remunerated by the UN, was attending not just the big green conferences, but also the preparatory ones, four times a year.
He was of course only too happy to get out of Sanaa. Now multiply our Yemeni by the 170 odd nations whose Green delegates consume hundreds of thousands a year of UN money in travel fees, accommodation – often lavish – and of course payments.
We can safely assume that many of these conferees form stimulating personal relationships, which only increases their loyalty to the process as it loiters through the decades.
These and other conferences continue, year by year, a kind of fiscal stimulus for NGOs and the hospitality industry. UN secretary general Ban Ki-moon himself admits nothing useful will be agreed in Rio but says calling such conferences "junkets" is irresponsible. He says: "If you can find any alternative, please let me know."
The role of the left has been influential in the formation of this itinerant, gabby pantechnicon with its dramas and deadlines and final null termination. They've grown to love huge international assemblies, preferably located in pleasant surroundings, in which to discuss issues of the economy, democracy and so forth.
No less than 50,000 attended Rio+20, earnestly mooting a thousand green schemes in the conference seminars. Part of this is a reflection of the relative powerlessness of the left on its respective home turfs.
For their part, the western governments are prepared to take a mouldy cabbage or two tossed at them by disappointed greens. They've done nothing substantive in 20 years. Why should they start now? ·