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Monday, 16 July 2012

Rio +20: Sustainable development shifts from environmental sustainability to economic growth

Hopefully you didn’t miss it?   Rio +20 – the 2012 rendition of the global conference on sustainable development. 

Okay, perhaps you did miss it.  Understandable,  given the underwhelming coverage and the minor afterquake impacts of twenty years of rhetoric since the Rio Declaration stunned the world into actually believing that there was an urgency and imperative to do something globally.  

Well, most of the developed world was convinced.  
That the US never did buy in was one of the key failures.  
And that developing countries going through transitional economies were not included and now are major contributors to environmental degradation was another failure, 
and .......  there are more excuses than points of celebration. 

If you have not read the original declaration, it is a good time to view (or re-view) the 23 principles Rio Declaration. Contrast this with the recommitment statement of 2012 Rio plus 20 declaration  and its 283 prinicples over 50+ pages. 

Perhaps most telling is look for how the words derived from “econom-“ are used in the two statements.  In 1992 the impacts on the economy were secondary statements used four times, and in fact looked at issues to use the economy to bolster environmental protection.  The 2012 statement boldly addresses that economic sustainability is integral to its opening principle and follows this up with speaking to the economy and growth in a majority of the 283 principles. 

“Poverty” eradiction was mentioned once in the 1992 statement as a requirement to eliminate disparities between countries.   Poverty eradication becomes an end of itself and justification for economic growth in the 2012 statement. It even is the focus of a major section of recommendations for 2012. Promoting equity is perhaps buried within the tome, but not the focus that the second principle of 1992 was so clear about. 

"Health" gets three mentions in 1992, two related to human health.   Proportionately it maintains a similar status through 2012 albeit there is a specific section on human health principles.  

“Environment” as a word is integral to 18 of 23 principles in 1992.  While the word is still common in 2012, the proportion of principles that reference the environment has plummeted well below the economy to between ¼ and 1/3rd of the principles.

It would appear that fundamentally, global sustainability has shifted from the left led environmental movement, to what would appear to be a neo-right sustainable economic growth agenda.  While some may argue the two agendas can be aligned, economic growth to date has tended to occur at the expense of environmental sustainability, and the subtle innuendo that there must be ongoing economic growth for 'sustainability' to be achieved which is a fundamentally flawed assertion that has long term devastating consequences.  

Just as importantly is that the efforts of 1992 have been minimally effective in curtailing environmental and health degradation.  The efforts of 2012 go no further than generating a plethora of hot air and neatly composed words of immeasurable commitments. As we have noted before, health and the environment are inseparable companions Health and Environment Inseparable companions

Perhaps it was good that the conference did not get much attention. 

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