Most of the world’s leaders will be here in Rio in a few short days to assess (non-)progress in sustainable development and to address the accumulating environmental and social challenges that threaten our well-being, security and even very survival.
Oddly enough though, the one issue that world leaders have said is the most serious environmental crisis facing humanity, with potentially catastrophic impacts on communities and the planet, is almost invisible here. Only 4 paragraphs out of the current 80-page text are devoted specifically to climate change. Even this short text that fails to go beyond earlier commitments is at risk of sinking under the rising tide of ignorance, shortsightedness and abdication of leadership. While it is good that the dangerous gap between what governments have promised to do and their concrete actions is recognized (i.e. that their planned emission cuts will not keep us below 2 or 1.5 degrees C of warming), no commitment is made to address this gap with faster and bigger emission cuts. Of course climate change is intimately linked to many of the other issues addressed, like sustainable energy and green economy, but without a strong climate change section, the message coming from Rio will be that this issue is not a priority for the world right now.
Rio+20 offers the world a chance to assess the progress (or lack thereof) made in limiting and reducing global emissions – a promise governments made 20 years ago when signing the Climate Convention in Rio – and to make a clear commitment to make up for lost time with stronger and faster emissions cuts. The details will of course have to be negotiated under the UNFCCC, but a clear commitment from leaders here in Rio could help to put some urgency and focus back in the climate negotiations.
If world leaders in perhaps their largest gathering ever will fail to address the greatest threat to humanity, it would be a serious abuse of the trust the world citizens have placed in them, if not an act of sheer cowardice.