Thursday, July 5, 2012

RIO+20 The climate clock is speeding up: but most countries are striving to save time and not the Planet!

Since the 1992 Rio Earth summit much time and enthusiasm have been lost

The 1992 Rio Earth Summit was an important achievement and hope for the future of Humanity with an agreement on the Climate Change Convention which led to the Kyoto Protocol. The Convention on Biological Diversity was also opened for signature at the Earth Summit. 

The Kyoto Protocol signed in 1997 entered into force on 16 February 2005. As of September 2011, 191 states have ratified the protocol while 36 developed countries collectively agreed to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions by 5.2% on average for the period 2008-2012. The United States are the only participant which have not ratified and would be afterwards the driving force behind denying the global warming certainty.

The 2009 Copenhagen summit concluded a "weak political statement" after an alliance of big polluters such as United States with big emerging countries (Brazil, South Africa, India and China) object of much US diplomatic attention and financial aid promise. The agreement concluded in the 2010 CancĂșn climate talks includes a "Green Climate Fund," proposed to be worth $100 billion a year by 2020 but no agreement on how the Fund will be raised.

In the 2011 Durban Conference negotiators agreed to be part of a legally binding treaty to address global warming and continue the Kyoto Protocol after 2012. Nevertheless the terms of the future treaty are to be defined by 2015 only and become effective in 2020. This agreement, referred to as the "Durban platform", is notable in that for the first time it includes developing countries such as China and India, as well as the US.

Since 1992 climate evolutions are worsening and unbalances more difficult to handle

Carbon emissions due to human activity have risen by almost 50 per cent and CO2 levels in the atmosphere have risen by more than ten per cent. The levels of other greenhouse gases in the atmosphere have also increased significantly.

Global temperatures have continued to fluctuate with an increased variability and mean temperatures have continued to rise at about 0.1°C per decade.

Global mean sea level has risen about six centimeters since 1992 and is currently rising at a rate of about three centimeters per decade. The melting of Greenland and West Antarctic ice is now contributing at least one third of this rise. Arctic sea ice cover has also been decreasing at all times of year. The minimum area of the ice cover in September has decreased by about 20 per cent since 1992.

In the same period there have been many extreme temperature variation: the Russian heat wave of 2010 had temperatures 10°C higher than normal, in the following winter Europe experienced extremely cold temperatures mean temperatures 5°C below average. Rainfall patterns have also been unusual with major flooding events, such as in 2010in northwest Pakistan, and droughts such as the recent one in east Africa. Whether the occurrence of such events is greater than would be expected in the absence of human interference with the climate system is not clear. However, climate models suggest that this has led to an increased likelihood for many of them…

The declaration adopted at the Conference “The future we want” is a blurred road map and a weak agreement

The conference recognize that sharing of efforts on climate stabilization should be discussed as part of three social, economy and climate fundamental pillars and as a consequence decided to integrate all these cross issues and to merge them into the Millennium Development Goals Agenda 21 objectives. The following are notably concerned: poverty eradication, food security, nutrition and sustainable agriculture, oceans and seas, forests, biodiversity, desertification, land degradation and drought, chemicals and waste, sustainable consumption and production, education and gender equality and the empowerment of women. It is dubious whether this will really help to improve and accelerate climate discussion!

The hopes concerning a more decisive action on “Green economy” have been poorly satisfied. While 19 paragraphs were devoted to the green economy a definition of what is supposed to be the green economy is not provided!  Rather than saying what should be done there is a long list of evident precautions to be taken: each country can choose an approach in accordance with its national sustainable development plans; Green Economy should provide options and not be a rigid set of rules; it cannot be a means of arbitrary discrimination or a disguised restriction on international trade…Or there is an unnecessary reminder of various provisions already agreed upon: Green Technologies transfer to developing countries should be addressed under the provisions on technology transfer, finance, access to information, and intellectual property rights as agreed in the 2002 Johannesburg Plan…

No real progresses were made at the institutional level to give greater visibility and more efficiency- no World Environment Organization- to the Institutional framework for sustainable development outside the usual jargon for creating various groups or forums.

Concerning the Sustainable development goals there is no quantified commitments. These Sustainable development goals have been quietly recycled as part of the Millennium Development Goals based on Agenda 21 on poverty eradication in 2015. An open working group shall be constituted no later than September 2012 with representatives from the five United Nations regional groups, with the aim of achieving fair, equitable and balanced geographic targets and indicators…

Certainly things could have been much worse… Europe has really been united but had ended up on World Environment Organization or the protection of the oceans with a veto of Brazilians, Americans, Canadians and Chinese that grew to a minimum text.

Civil society is ready for the ecological and social transition, but are political will and courage missing to drive this long-awaited change?

Most reactions after the summit were very disillusioned. However, we can try to highlight some more positive views expressed by some stakeholders

There is an evidence need to get beyond the GDP, towards a far richer conception of what constitute economic development (see the first “Inclusive Wealth Report IWR” from UNEP). Most indicators are averaged or aggregated and we need to determine how inclusive wealth, income and outcome are distributed.

 Many of goods and services that are essential to humanity are provided free. Natural, human and social assets and their associated services should be accounted for as part of the economic development growth.

The consequences of using incorrect economic values for natural resources can be considerable. The under-pricing of water, for example, is leading perhaps to the largest single global economic subsidy in the world today.

And we may be entering a new era of uneconomic oil, where the costs of extraction are far greater than its benefits, once we fully cost the associated environmental and social impacts.

Chinese pollutes twice as European and is now the leading global polluter. Indoor and outdoor air pollution in China was estimated to have increased morbidity rates and reduced real GDP growth by more than three per cent.

Rio+20 outcomes are an intersection of sustainability and development ambitions challenges. In this respect there is an interesting input from the Club of Rome ( the planetary natural and social boundaries, their connection with the Sustainable development goals and their necessary integration with the Millenium Development goal. The planetary boundaries are defined as ceiling and foundation (see figure 1):

  • “An Environment ceiling”: Nine planetary boundaries can been described in natural metrics: (A) Climate change, (B) Fresh water use, (C) Nitrogen and Phosphorous Cycles, (D) Ocean Acidification, (E) Chemical Pollution, (F) Atmospheric Aerosol Loading, (G) Ozone Depletion, (H) Biodiversity, (I) Land Use. 

Figure 1: The Planet  Natural and  Social boundaries

  • “A Social foundation”: Eleven Critical Social Deprivations: (1) food, (2) Water, (3) Income, (4) Education, (5) Resilience to shocks, (6) Voice/ democracy, (7) Jobs, (8) Energy, (9) Social Equity, (10) Gender Equality, (11) Health Care. 

Humanity has already exceeded several critical planetary boundaries and scientists estimate that 3 planetary boundaries have been crossed: (A) Climate Change, (C) Nitrogen Phosphorous Cycle and (H) Biodiversity.

Millions of people still live far below the social foundation. Around 13% of people are undernourished, with a gap below the social boundary for (1) food, 21% live on less than the threshold of poverty of $1.25 per day with a gap for (3) and 19% have no access to electricity with a gap for (8).

But the really striking implication here is that ending poverty and exclusion need not be a source of stress on planetary boundaries to fill the gap below social boundary. Only 1% of CO2 are necessary for (8) Energy, 1% of current food supply for (1), 0.2% of global income for (3).

Figure 2:  Cumulative 2008 Footprint & Biocapacity classified by decreasing unit country footprint

What is the biggest source of planetary boundary stress today? We can look at unit footprint per capita country repartition in the last WWF Living Planet report  ( . 

The excessive unit footprint levels from 20% global population (figure 2) mostly- but not always- the wealthiest generate around 45% of the Planet footprint and 55% of its Carbon footprint. A mere 17% of the global population produces around 50% of  the Carbon footprint. 

So the richest countries must quickly shift their business model towards  a greener economy  as most developed countries- apart from North America-  began to do since the Kyoto Protocol .

Adding to the excessive resource use of the well-off are the aspirations of a growing number of consumers seeking to emulate today’s high income lifestyles. Over the next 20 years, global population will grow by 1.3 billion people, while the global middle class is expected to grow from under two billion consumers today to nearly five billion by 2030. It means that it will be necessary for the developing countries middle class also to emulate the greener economy model shift.

It is clear that, if humanity is to live between its social and planetary boundaries, there will have to be far greater equity in resource use, both within and between countries. But there will also have to be far greater efficiency in how resources are transformed and handle to meet human needs.