Twenty years ago, the United Nations summit held in Rio de Janeiro paved the way for landmark agreements on the climate and the environment. This year’s meeting, on the other hand, has been widely criticized for its lack of vision in the face of accelerating degradation of the planet.
It was billed as a “once in a generation” chance to design a blueprint for the Earth’s future. But negotiators at the UN Conference on Sustainable Development clearly struggled to live up to that billing. South African organisation Generation Earth founder, Ella Bella and the first Miss Earth South Africa, Catherine Constantinides were invited to attend this year’s summit in Rio as active global youth participants.
Ella Bella has been active on several youth platforms both in South Africa as well as across the globe for the past few years. Having attended three Conference of the Parties (COP) and several other sustainability and environmental forums. Ella Bella had the following to say;
“The time for talking has come and gone, it is imperative that action is taken in order to safe guard a future that includes low-carbon alternatives such as solar, wind and geothermal power.”
nature doesn’t negotiate with humans
Ella also said that if we continue to allow global summits and conferences to be dictated by economics and power, we will never find a solution and we will lose the oceans, forests and natural landscapes as we know them. “Let me be frank. Our efforts have not lived up to the measure of the challenge.” That is the verdict handed down by none other than United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon during his opening statement at Rio+20 last month. “Nature does not wait. Nature does not negotiate with human beings.”
The Secretary General was not alone in his assessment of the conference, which had set its target as the establishment of clear goals for sustainable development, poverty reduction and environmental protection. Some 50 000 delegates from around the world including heads of state, non-governmental organisations and youth groups attended the conference, known officially as the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development. The event followed on from the Earth Summit in 1992, also held in Rio de Janeiro, during which countries adopted Agenda 21 – a blueprint to rethink economic growth, advance social equity and ensure environmental protection.
“We have been given a second chance,” Mr. Ban Ki-Moon said, adding that since the Earth Summit twenty years ago, progress has been too slow, and much more needs to be done. “Rio+20 is not an end but a beginning. It is time for all of us to think globally and locally.”
the future we want
Rio+20’s outcome document, entitled “The Future We Want,” called for a wide range of actions. National Director of the Miss Earth South Africa in association with Consol says that it’s world leaders have nothing to show for the past twenty years, how is it possible for us to stay committed and positive in our support of global action in the greatest challenge our generation will ever face?!
Constantinides went on to say, “It is up to us as young people globally to ensure that we educate and share sustainable living models to our children and the communities around us. Sustainability is the notion of ‘Enough, For All, Forever’ and we need to start living by this mantra. If we fail to do so, we will have to look into the eyes of our children and confess that we had the opportunities, but lacked the courage and determination. That we had the technology and everything we could have imagined at our very finger tips, yet… we lacked the vision!”
The outcome document called for a wide range of actions, such as:
- beginning the process to establish sustainable development goals
- detailing how the green economy can be used as a tool to achieve sustainable development
- strengthening the UN Environment Programme (UNEP)
- promoting corporate sustainability reporting measures
- taking steps to go beyond gross domestic product to assess the well-being of a country
- developing a strategy for sustainable development financing
- adopting a framework for tackling sustainable consumption and production
- improving gender equity
- recognizing the importance of voluntary commitments on sustainable development
- stressing the need to engage civil society and incorporate science into policy
$513 billion in funding was committed by governments, the private sector, civil society and other groups to achieve a sustainable future. A wide range of actions were also pledged. These include planting 100 million trees, empowering 5,000 women entrepreneurs in green economy businesses in Africa, and recycling 800,000 tons of polyvinyl chloride (commonly known as PVC) – the most widely used plastic – per year.
Generation Earth’s Ella Bella ended off by saying, “The outcome document did not go far enough beyond ‘we reaffirm’ statements: no clear measurable goals or targets and no timelines. As Generation Earth we have reaffirmed our commitment to building a more sustainable South Africa and globe. Ultimately we need to ensure that we teach our beliefs and a new way of thinking. The future WE want is in our hands, we cannot allow it to be a decision made by those dictated to by economic and trade ties. This year at the second annual Generation Earth Youth Summit on Sustainable Development, we will work on outcomes that are tangible, negotiated and decided on by the youth of today, the custodians of this planet tomorrow. We can only live in hope that this was not a case of Rio Minus 20.”
- An indigenous man paints the arm of a tourist. Image: Antonio Lacerda/EPA
- People take part in an inter-religious wake during the People’s summit. Image: Vanderlei Almeida/AFP/Getty Images
- A fictitious favela in Copacabana beach in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Image: Antonio Lacerda/EPA
- Indigenous people attend a fire ceremony. Image: Marcelo Sayao/EPA
- People watch an exhibition in the TEDxRio+20 forum at the Copacabana Fort. Image: Stringer/Reuters
- Women march holding a banner that reads in Portuguese; ‘Women’s World March’ in a rally for women’s rights. Image: Felipe Dana/AP
Check out more photos in the gallery over at The Guardian