Negotiators produced a final text Tuesday for heads of state to vote on this week, calling for a new emphasis on the economic value of the natural world, although it came under intense criticism from many civil society groups as being weak and lacking concrete goals and timetables.
Perhaps more significantly, two dozen major firms made new environmental commitments Monday at the conference. Coca-Cola pledged to develop plans to protect the water sources for its 200 bottling plants worldwide, while Dow Chemical said it will assess the economic value it gets from the ecosystems connected to its new bioplastics plant in Brazil.
Wednesday brought a handful of new commitments, including one from the eight largest multilateral development banks pledging to invest $175 billion over the next decade to finance more sustainable transportation systems in developing countries. Separately, Maldives President Mohamed Waheed announced Wednesday that he would make all of his country’s waters a marine reserve.
The actual negotiations in Rio have produced little of substance, beyond an abstract commitment to craft “sustainable development goals” in the future. The Brazilian government, which is hosting the meeting, took out language which would have committed countries to reaching three U.N. goals by 2030: ensuring universal access to electricity and heating; doubling the global rate of energy efficiency improvement; and doubling the share of renewable energy in the global energy mix.
“The text is disappointing to many who were hoping that Rio would be a once-in-a-lifetime event redirecting the world with a clear plan for a clean and prosperous future,” wrote Rebecca Lefton, a policy analyst at the Center for American Progress, in an e-mail. She added that she hoped future negotiations on sustainable development goals could produce more concrete commitments from countries.
Others in Rio said they understood why Americans see a global environmental decline. Nauru Ambassador Marlene Moses, who chairs the Alliance of Small Island States, noted that in her country, “food and water are more scarce now, rainfall is less predictable, and we have drought more often. It’s being threatened, due to man-made climate change.”
According to the poll, twice as many Americans think the environment will get worse over the next decade as think it will get better. More than three-quarters of those who see an eroding environment say humans have a mostly negative impact. Even among those who say the environment has not changed or has improved in recent years, a slim majority — 52 percent — say people are making things worse.