Rio Earth summit on shaky ground

2012-06-04 13:25
Greenpeace activists perform above an underwater art museum in Cancún to draw attention to the risk for millions of people living in coastal areas. (Jason Taylor, Greenpeace, AP)

Greenpeace activists perform above an underwater art museum in Cancún to draw attention to the risk for millions of people living in coastal areas. (Jason Taylor, Greenpeace, AP)

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Cape Town - Major players pulling out of the Rio Earth summit is an indicator of the awkward politics and negotiations to move forward with climate change policies, an environmental organisation has said.

"There is a lot of scepticism around the Rio+10 and the Rio+20 agenda. It has become a cumbersome beast that I think has too many items for action and many of those are not really actionable," Saliem Fakir, WWF head of the Living Planet Unit, told News24.

US President Barack Obama has announced that he will not be attending the summit from 20 - 22 June. UK Prime Minister David Cameron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel have also declined to attend the summit.

The heart of the Rio summit is focused on how countries should proceed on climate policy once the Kyoto Protocol lapses. It was signed in 1997 to force developed countries to commit to limiting their greenhouse gas emissions blamed for climate change.

"Despite the fact that some serious governments are not attending, we've got to figure out a way to make this work or not. We're also not sending a massive delegation because we don't want to increase our carbon footprint by having 60 people go and attend a meeting, but we are taking a strategic view on this: By trying to influence it, if we can, in the right direction," said Fakir.

Resource demands

Environmental organisations have been advocating for stronger action, particularly in the run-up to the Durban climate conference, saying that economies needed to shift to place more emphasis and focus on "green" technologies.

"We do believe that it shouldn't just stop at nice sounding statements about consumption, but one of the things that is on the table is a complimentary set of goals, called the Sustainable Development Goals, which is meant to be linked to the Millennium Development Goals."

According to the McKinsey Global Institute's Resource Revolution report, three billion people, mainly from India and China, are expected to join the middle class by 2030, accelerating energy and resource demands.

"They identified 13 areas, and one of it is around resource efficiency. I think that's very achievable; companies are already doing that," said Fakir who served as director of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN-SA) office for eight years.

Retailer Woolworths has been driving its sustainability programme and reduced its energy use by 23% from a 2004 benchmark. The company also saw an R80m saving because of energy efficiency initiatives.

"In a very practical way, companies are pursuing energy efficiency; they're doing it because their bottom line is affected," Fakir said.

The McKinsey report found that up to $1 trillion is needed annually in resource management to meet demand as more people enter higher income brackets.

"Say a billion people are suddenly now - in the next 20 years - going to be in the middle-class category, they are going to have a bigger shift on sustainability issues than the global conference would because of their demand," Fakir added.

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Read more on:    wwf  |  climate change  |  rio climate conference  |  kyoto protocol

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