The Nation, 08-07-2012
The much anticipated global environment summit or the Rio+20 Conference is over. The outcome was discussed and reviewed during the past week. The key outcome of the declaration is a plan to prepare a set of goals, “Sustainable Development Goals”, which is to be implemented in future. There is no legally binding target or stern action aimed at conserving the environment and achieving sustainable development.
UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon has said; “Rio+20 has given us a solid platform to build on. And it has given us the tools to build with – the work starts now”. However many civil society organizations have pointed out that the outcome is too weak to solve pressing environmental and development issues. The United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development has not provided the dramatic turn of events the world expected.
In other words, the world leaders have collectively postponed answering crucial environmental issues, at least by another three years. It is too early to guess whether there will be a legally binding treaty by the end of this period. No one can confirm that the tug of war between the developing and developed nations is yet over. It is worthy to note that there were certain “unholy” alliances observed during this summit where some countries that are well known political opponents, joined together to water down some key points of the declaration.
Result not unexpected
The result of Rio+20 was not entirely unexpected. Many leaders, scientists and campaigners had no hopes for crucial development at the summit. Attention on environmental issues has been declining in the global political stage, mainly due to emerging economic crisis and the confrontations between developed and developing nations. No leader was taking environmental issues seriously.
This was the cause for the lack of leadership at Rio+20, which is being blamed as the major cause for the summit’s failure. Some leaders of the major economies were absent, while there was an encouraging participation from the developing nations.
What is the role of the public at this stage? They can accept all whether those are good or bad, and without taking any effort to make a change. Or they can voice their concerns and act, since they have every right to do so.
For instance, change is taking place, seeded and promoted by the general public. These initiatives include age-old practices widely followed by people in the past but almost forgotten due to the advent of modern technology. Many such grassroots level developments are taken as models for sustainability. Unfortunately, most of these are still not absorbed into the mainstream processes of relevant fields. Sustainable agriculture is a prime example and is now being increasingly accepted at the face of serious environmental concerns.
Changing people’s attitudes is crucial. What is necessary is not just to mobilize people or the community, but to mobilize the political leadership. People can take steps to motivate their leaders to create the change people need. Leaders should be encouraged to accept the limits of nature, natural resources and “real” sustainability, as this word is often used to denote destructive development processes.
Hence mobilizing people, who can in the long run lobby their leadership, is crucial. A strong voice from the community backed by sound sustainability is the need of the day, a fact highlighted by some of the environmental and social activists who returned from Rio+20. This requires active participation of various social groups - civil society representatives, journalists and most importantly, people who are conscious of the environment.
Sri Lankan scenario
Recent environmental and development related issues in Sri Lanka have apparently triggered mixed reactions. Certain actions, with regard to natural resources and environment, taken by the present government are controversial. For instance, the massive development drive in the country has a significant impact on the environment and natural resources, raising grave social concerns.
This could make the negative effects more serious than the long-term benefits. The recent cancellation of permits required for sand transportation is a prime example. We are aware of the land degradation resulting from excessive river sand mining in many areas and close monitoring is necessary to reduce this impact. Similar exploitation of other natural resources – both biotic and abiotic – that is connected to rapid economic development is observed.
The most important issue is that the environmental policies change with the government, in many countries of the world. Moreover policies of the same government can change within a short period of time. However, such change is only positive and acceptable if it benefits all or the majority of people as well as sustainability – something most people forget. Lobbying by people and informed groups could change the direction of policies of a government. Hence need for activism remains essential more than ever. Highlighting this collective responsibility, mentioning his little daughters an activist of Greenpeace said “…their future is decided by all of us, who must unite to build a movement of movements to force the future we want”.
There is a long way to go. But there may be the ‘sustainable’ future we want!