Rio's Pale Green Legacy(brief History of the Failures of the 1992 Earth Summit in Rio De Janeiro, Brazil)

By Helvarg, David | The Nation, July 14, 1997 | Go to article overview

Rio's Pale Green Legacy(brief History of the Failures of the 1992 Earth Summit in Rio De Janeiro, Brazil)


Helvarg, David, The Nation


Five years ago I watched as U.N. police dragged away Michael Dorsey and other youth delegates to the Rio Earth Summit as they attempted to hold a press conference to protest the lack of democratic process at the global conference. I had mixed feelings at the time. I was there producing a documentary about three generations of activists who'd traveled from California to Rio: David grower, at 80 the grand old man of U.S. environmentalism; Juliette Majot, a 30-something organizer with the International Rivers Network; and Dorsey, a 21-year-old student activist and one of three African-Americans belatedly named U.S. delegates in the wake of the L.A. riots. Dorsey's shocked look as he was dragged by his collar through a glass door that was then shattered as a U.N. rent-a-cop shoved a reporter into it made for some damn good imagery from behind the lens of my videocam. Unfortunately, much the same thing could be said for the Earth Summit as a whole. Good imagery, lousy results.

Half a decade after 107 heads of state gathered to pledge commitment to an environmentally sound and sustainable future, the promises remain unrealized, the treaties signed worth no more than the pulped trees they were written on. Beginning June 23 more than fifty-five heads of state, including President Clinton and President-in-waiting Al Gore, met again, at U.N. headquarters, in self-congratulation on the fifth anniversary of the Earth Summit. But among the failures of the world's nation-states:

[sections] A climate treaty that was supposed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to 1990 levels by the year 2000. The United States has led the list of nations failing to come even close to that goal. While scientific certainty on the danger of human-caused climate change has increased, a new treaty meeting scheduled for December in Kyoto, Japan, is being roiled by oil industry lobbying.

[sections] A biodiversity treaty that was supposed to protect the world's declining wilderness has also gone nowhere fast. The greatest mass extinction in several hundred millennia continues, with 50,000 plant and animal species a year lost to human predation.

[sections] An agreement by Western nations to help poorer ones obtain renewable energy and other sustainable technologies, specifically a plan to up that aid to a meager 0.7 percent of G.D.P., has not been realized. In fact, aid from the United States and Europe--and Japan--has declined, on average, from 0.33 to 0.27 percent of G.D.P.

[sections] Forestry and marine agreements have also failed to reduce global deforestation or the overfishing of 60 percent of the world's commercial fisheries. …

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