Global Policy Forum

Rio+5: Rio Summit Results Fall Short


By Johanna Son

Jan 6

MANILA -- Five years after the Earth Summit, many governments and communities have failed to match with action pledges to shift to a brand of development that is sustainable not just in economic but environmental and human terms as well.

In a report due for release later this week in New York and Washington D.C., the Costa Rica-based Earth Council rates as unsatisfactory the implementation of what has been touted as a 'new global alliance' for green-friendly growth. ''No other global event ever generated such high expectations. Certainly, no group of governments ever made such a singular commitment to improving the quality of life of their citizenry,'' the Council said of the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development held in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil in June 1992.

''Yet to date, it appears that relatively little has changed for the better since 1992,'' said a Council report prepared ahead of the 'Rio Plus Five' Forum, to be held in March to review global compliance with summit pledges. While some ''remarkable progress'' has been made at the local level, ''far too few countries, companies, institutions, communities and citizens have made the choices and changes needed to advance'' the goals of environmental health, economic prosperity, social equity and general well-being, it added.

Called 'The Road From Rio', the report concluded: ''Today, the demographic, social and economic forces that drive unsustainable development still remain dominant.'' Economic growth is often still seen as synonymous with development, though it leaves many groups marginalised and does not always narrow wealth gaps among and within countries. ''Many people cannot distinguish between true development ('getting better') and mere growth ('getting bigger'),'' the report pointed out.

And even as implementation of commitments at the Rio summit fares poorly, experts warn that the task of moving toward greener growth may be made harder by the sprouting of regional economic accords in recent years. Maximo Kalaw, executive director of the Earth Council, says the globalisation of the economy and the rise of regional trading blocs in various parts of the world are a ''gap'' that the world community must address for the future. Meeting with some reporters here, Kalaw said: ''We'd like to take a look at the contradictions between Agenda 21 and regional trade accord, the World Trade Organisation.''

This relationship, little explored at the 1992 Rio summit, will be the subject of workshops at the 'Rio Plus Five' Forum set for Mar 13 to 19 in Rio de Janeiro. The Forum was organised by the Earth Council, an NGO formed after the Earth Summit. With globalisation fueling competition for markets and goods, Kalaw said it has become even more crucial for local communities to define goals in the environmental, social and human spheres from the ground up, to avoid being overshadowed by growth.

Listening to countries and communities' development goals should help guide the process of globalisation, he said. ''But so far, it's been one-sided,'' with accords toward free trade and economic integration racing way ahead of sustainability concerns. This has prompted many critics to attack globalisation per se, but Kalaw says that since the process cannot be stopped, the Council would rather focus on ''how to manage it so that it becomes sustainable''.

Indeed, local measures have come a long way in many countries' efforts to implement Agenda 21, the action plan signed by 118 governments in Rio. The Council says that so far, 103 governments have put up national institutions tasked to integrate sustainability concerns into law and policy. Some 1,200 towns and cities around the world have programmes to translate Agenda 21 into concrete schemes. In preparation for the 'Rio Plus Five' Forum, non-government groups and other campaigners, with governments in some cases, are conducting national and regional reviews of post-Rio actions. Kalaw says about half of the country assessments are finished.

The assessments straddle a wide range, from impressive action by Nordic countries to inadequate response by many African nations due to lack of resources. Industrialised countries do not necessarily perform better. The United States has shown what some call a disappointing performance, especially in areas like cutting back on ozone- depleting substances. Instead of producing less greenhouse gases as envisioned under the Framework Convention on Climate Change, one of a number of accords sealed at Rio, the U.S. is projected to increase its emissions by 50 per cent of 1990 levels by 2010, says Lando Velasco of South-east Asia's climate action network.

At the 'Rio Plus Five' forum, whose theme is 'From Agenda to Action', countries will also be assessed against the other Rio accords - the conventions on biological diversity and to combat desertification. ''Five years clearly is too brief a time in which to pronounce a final judgment on the results of the Earth Summit,'' the Earth Council's pre-forum report said. ''But it is a fair amount of time in which to pinpoint the obstacles that such a comprehensive endeavor must still overcome to succeed.''

''In many ways, numerous nations and communities appear to be making progress toward realising the goals of the Earth Summit. But it is also true that much of the world is moving in a very different direction,'' it explained. For instance, it said, more than 100 nations are worse off today then they were 15 years ago. The gap between the richest and poorest 20 per cent of the world's people has doubled over the past 30 years. Likewise, excessive consumption is taxing resources like water and forests, and signs of food insecurity are emerging. Less than a quarter of the world's nearly six billion people consumes three- quarters of its raw materials and produces 75 per cent of all solid waste, U.N. figures say.

The 'Rio + Five' Forum also aims to come up with contributions for a proposed Earth Charter, envisioned to be the sustainable development counterpart to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights by the year 2000. Results of the forum will be used as inputs in a meeting of the U.N. Commission on Sustainable Development in April, which will in turn set the agenda for a review of the Earth Summit accords by the U.N. General Assembly in June this year.

In the future, the Earth Council has more ambitious goals, like seeing by end-1997 the creation of ombudsmen for the environment, composed of impartial and eminent justices, that will be what Amnesty International is to human rights, Kalaw said. Meantime, countries and communities around the world are being asked to take a hard look at how they have internalised the commitments made at Rio five years ago. As Earth Council chairman Maurice Strong said at the Earth Summit: ''The road from Rio is going to be more difficult than the road to Rio.''



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