“I don’t know if they’ll ever do this again, and I don’t know if we’ll need it again,” said the Pew Environment Group’s director of international policy, Susan Lieberman. She said she was at least pleased that oceans received more attention this year. “It’s a 12-ring circus here.”
The so-called Rio+20 Earth Summit has featured plenty of theatrics, including Greenpeace’s unfurling Thursday of an “Arctic Scroll,” signed by legends such Paul McCartney and Robert Redford, to be planted on the North Pole seabed to draw attention to global warming. And it has hosted dozens of serious policy discussions.
Conservation International Vice President Carlos Manuel Rodriguez said he was encouraged that Scandinavian leaders pledged support for systems that would place an economic value on clean waterways, intact forests and other important ecosystems.
“This is helping countries make changes that are transformational,” he said.
And Maldives President Mohamed Waheed announced at the summit that his nation would ban damaging fishing practices.
“It helps us broaden the understanding of situation of small island countries like the Maldives,” he said in a phone interview.
Ecuador’s secretary of state, Ivonne Baki, who is trying to recruit donors to compensate her nation for protecting its Yasuni National Forest rather than extracting the oil beneath it, said she was pleased more than 500 people came to her presentation in Rio.
“It gives an example to the world of a developing country doing something to preserve one of the most biodiverse places in the world, the Amazon,” she said, adding she cares more about securing funds for Ecaudor’s project than U.N.-brokered promises to help poor nations which never materialize. “What we need is results, not just signing documents.”
There is no question that both companies and countries have used the gathering, with tens of thousands of attendees, as a moment to make new environmental pledges. Grenada announced its transport and electricity sectors will only use clean energy sources by 2030; the corporation Unilever promised to cut its greenhouse gas emissions in half by 2020 and find sustainable sources of beef, soy and palm oil to prevent the deforestation now stemming from production of these three major crops.
Still, both veterans of the international process and some of its newest participants are wondering if such negotiations can produce meaningful outcomes.