Earth Summit: Can Rio +20 Solve World's Environmental Problems?
World leaders and scores of global citizens to convene for three days, starting June 20
Barry Neild CNN
June 09, 2012(CNN) -- Rio +20, a major international environmental conference held in Brazil this month, is being billed by its organizers as a "once in a lifetime" opportunity to safeguard our planet for generations to come.
For three days from June 20, scores of world leaders and tens of thousands of people from all over the world will descend on Rio de Janeiro in the hope of reaching consensus on how to achieve this.
Some critics have already dismissed the event as a hugely expensive talking shop that stands little more chance of succeeding than previous environmental summits. Others are more optimistic.
Here we look at some of the key issues surrounding the conference.
What is Rio + 20? Rio+20 is a three-day summit that takes place from June 20 - 22, organized by the United Nations to tackle environmental issues. Its name signifies it is being held in Rio de Janeiro 20 years after a similar "Earth Summit" in the same city. The biggest U.N. conference in years, it is being billed as a major effort to improve mankind's relationship with the planet. Thousands of people are expected to attend.
Who will be there? The 1992 event was attended by U.S. President George H.W. Bush and green campaigners say this year's summit is so important it should attract his successor. In reality, President Barack Obama is unlikely to show. British Prime Minister David Cameron, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and the entire European Parliament have also declined to turn up.
Russian President Vladimir Putin and his French counterpart Francois Hollande have confirmed they will be going. U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon will also be there. Also present will be representatives of so-called "stakeholder" groups deemed crucial for future environmental decision making. These include organizations speaking for children, indigenous peoples, workers, farmers and the business sector.
A huge security operation will also be deployed to safeguard the summit. In all an estimated 50,000 people are expected from 190 countries, including 130 leaders.
What will they talk about? The summit will essentially look at how to safeguard global economic growth without destroying the planet in the process. It also aims to ensure that any new environmental policies will transcend international borders. Within these goals, there are key areas of discussion, including food security, water and energy -- and a focus on developing countries.
Drafting an agenda and getting everyone to agree to talk about it is has not been easy, however. Ahead of the summit there have been weeks of haggling between participants. With so many vested interests, organizers have struggled to whittle down hundreds of pages of recommendations and goals into a manageable document.
Why is it important? The world's environment has continued to suffer since the 1992 summit. The World Wildlife Fund's recent Living Planet report said the ever-swelling global population is still consuming far more than can be replenished.
The report said there was a widening and "potentially catastrophic" gap between the ecological footprints of rich and poor nations. Global consumption of natural resources, carbon emissions and poverty have all continued to increase. Although some contest such claims, scientific research points to a steady rise in world temperature which, if unchecked, is forecast to have catastrophic consequences for the planet.
What do organizers hope to achieve? It is hoped that the conference will produce, or at least lay the groundwork for, a set of sustainable development goals that can be adopted worldwide. These will set targets for consumption and production and put in place a system of checks to ensure they are met.
Reports quoting documents leaked ahead of the summit suggest that countries will be asked to sign up to 10 separate goals. These could include a deal on protecting oceans, the establishment of a powerful global agency for the environment, financial support to encourage sustainability for poorer nations and the appointment of an ecological high commissioner.
Will they succeed? Realistically, the best that can be hoped for is that Rio +20 will be the start of a process that leads to some or all of these goals being met. Few expect hard and fast policies to be put in place after three days of discussion and the likelihood is that participants will sign up to a document committing themselves to further action in the future.
What is open to question is how effective that document will be given the struggle to build consensus ahead of the conference. The absence of key players like Obama has cast a shadow, as has the relative failure of the 1997 "Kyoto Protocol" on limiting greenhouse gases, which was set in motion at the 1992 Rio summit.
There are also numerous sticking points. Wealthy and poorer nations are likely to argue over sharing the burden of cutting carbon emissions. There have been concerns over the exclusion of references to basic human rights, such as access to water. Environmental monitoring methods are also expected to spark dissent.
Pessimists say any agreement will be negated by the compromises needed to win universal approval. U.N. chief Ban Ki-moon says he remains optimistic that "a once-in-a-generation opportunity to make real progress towards the sustainable economy of the future" will not be squandered in Rio.