Has momentum from 1992 Rio summit been lost for good?

By Tierney Smith

The climate and environmental movement must regain the momentum of the 1992 Rio Earth Summit, a UK government advisor on conservation has warned.

Peter Bridgewater, Chair of the Joint Nature Conservation Committee, who advise the UK government on national and international conservation, told RTCC that the 1980s and 90s saw great progress on environmental issues but warned focus has waned over the last decade.

“There was that moment in Rio ’92. Alas that was not repeated 20 years later in Rio this year,” he said. “In fact very little new happened at all. I think the momentum of the three conventions [on climate change, biodiversity and desertification] being established [in ‘92] was something we hadn’t seen before and unfortunately we haven’t seen since.

“As someone who was involved in the early years of the biodiversity convention, a lot of things happened, a lot of issues were tackled, and a lot of discussions took place – very good discussions.

“But by the end of the 90s decade and the start of this century, there appears to be a lack of energy.”

In the UN’s biodiversity convention, said Bridgewater, international guidelines have now been set, but as yet have not translated into action at a national level. He said this will be vital to ensure the success of such targets.

Meanwhile in the climate convention, the problem is action on a global level.

“The world doesn’t seem to be able to come together,” he said. “It’s as if it is a rabbit in the headlights of a car because I think that is exactly what you are seeing.”

Countries under the climate convention will be meeting at the end of this month in Doha, Qatar, from the next found of the climate talks.

On the top of the agenda will be the future of the Kyoto Protocol, the current legally binding commitment on climate change, and building a framework for a new deal to take over in 2020, agreed at last year’s conference in Durban, South Africa.

COP17 saw parties agree to work on this new deal, which will include both developed and developing countries. It was seen by many as a major breakthrough after years of stalemate.

Bridgewater, however, warns that based on previous experience of inaction in the climate convention, as well as the other Rio Conventions, we should not be too optimistic, going into Doha.

“Frankly this century has not been a good century. I think those feelings have actually affected how international negotiations have moved; they have in a sense become rather more formalised, rather structured and rather less effective.

“In a sense it is almost desperation by politicians globally about how on earth are we going to deal with all of these issues, how on earth are we going to solve these questions? And in a sense inaction seems to have taken over.

“And that is a pity because we do have the information; we know what the solutions are too many of these key issues. The problem is putting them into practice.”

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