“If current trends continue, if current patterns of production and consumption of natural resources prevail and cannot be reversed and ‘decoupled,’ then governments will preside over unprecedented levels of damage and degradation,” UNEP Executive Director Achim Steiner said in a statement.
The journal Nature published a series of articles Wednesday on the precarious state of the planet, including a study that warns that the world could be approaching a tipping point at which human activities cause a “planetary-scale critical transition” to a different environment.
Twenty years ago, the Rio Earth Summit produced three major treaties intended to head off these kinds of dire outcomes, including the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change and the U.N. Convention on Biodiversity. Although the global community has failed to achieve the goals set out by those accords, the meeting was seen as a critical moment at which environmental concerns took center stage in global policymaking.
But even the most prominent proponents of the U.N. Conference on Sustainable Development, which will take place June 20-22 in Rio de Janeiro, do not expect this gathering to produce a significant global agreement.
“As things currently stand, we are facing two likely scenarios — an agreement so weak it is meaningless, or complete collapse,” Jim Leape, director general of the World Wildlife Fund, said in a statement Tuesday. “Neither of these options would give the world what it needs.”
“When they gather in Rio, governments must restrain the flow of weasel words that is threatening to emasculate any agreement,” Leape added.
“We do need these moments to sit back and reflect on where we are, and where we’re going,” said Frances Beinecke, president of the Natural Resources Defense Council, adding that pledges by world leaders at these meetings often fail to materialize later on. “They don’t translate into action in the way that we would hope.”
‘Cloud of commitments’
The global economic crisis has made this year’s summit especially difficult. “The fact that we have an economic recession [in Europe] and economic problems everywhere is not helping very much,” said Jos Delbeke, the European Commission’s director general for climate action, adding that “the exact nature of what is going to be agreed to [in Rio] is hard to tell.”