Confused and dejected, I walked out in the evening of 22 June 2012 from the expansive ‘Riocentre’, a conference venue on the western end of Rio De Janeiro, once a capital and famous beach-city of Brazil. That was the last day of the event, mathematically titled as “Rio+20”, denoting 20th Anniversary of the famous landmark in the history of the civilization-called ‘Earth Summit’. It was drizzling outside and air was humid and cold.
Was it World Leaders’ Summit or World Leaders’ Gambit?
Just at the exit of the conference center, couple young boys and girls were singing a melancholy on guitar. In front of them was ‘near-to-death-dead-body’ of Mother Earth lying sick and motionless, played by a young girl. Small paper chits were spread all over the her body appealing to the environmental diplomats who were hurrying to catch a flight back home to do something for the Mother Earth lying on the death bed. I heard one diplomat saying, “ I am sick of these street plays, enough of them for last two weeks”! Hardly those diplomats knew that Rio de Janeiro is a street- city with its colorful processions of carnivals and winding gullies and lanes of ever spreading and rising favelas. Rio has closest relation with the streets. It is city of streets.
I descended from the bus that took me from Riocentro to Copacabana-beach. I could hear the reverberations of last two weeks in Rio, last two years of the global preparations and last two decades of movement of sustainable development, in the vast water of Atlantic Ocean. Sun was setting on Rio+20. It was time to listen to echo and see the reflections of the sun-set.
‘Rio+20’ took place when the number of human beings on the Earth had already touched 7 billion! Rio+20 event was intended as a follow up on the 1992 Earth Summit, which put in place landmark-conventions on climate change, desertification and biodiversity, as well as commitments on saving the forests, poverty eradication and social justice. Since then, our report card is: global emissions of Green House Gases have risen by 48%, 300 million hectares of forest have been cleared and the population has increased by 1.6 billion.
Secretary General of United Nations rightly called Rio+20 as ‘ Life time opportunity’ for world leaders to put global society on a sustainable path. It was indeed a once-in-generation opportunity for the world to get serious about the need for development to be made sustainable, equitable and inclusive.
But seriousness was conspicuous by its absence right from the planning stage. Rio+20 conference was originally scheduled by United Nations for 4-6 June but has been moved to 20-22 June to avoid clash with British Queen’s diamond jubilee. Request for postponement came from Prime Minister of UK and common-wealth countries. It was granted by keeping our common-future bit aside.
Couple of beach-side sculptors who had built the sand castles on the Copacabana-beach with inscription of ‘Rio+20’ and ‘ Sustainable world” to get participant’s attention at their leasure time and some ‘coins of appreciation’ were seen quickly dismantling their castles that evening. They were busy building the sand castles for the next big event of FIFA World Cup ( Football ) . I threw some coins in the can of the sculptor. He indicated to me that Rio+20 event had not earned much money for him. But he exuded confidence that World Cup in 2014 will be the bonanza.
In simple terms, while Earth Summit in 1992 produced a document called Agenda 21 with 300 pages divided into 40 chapters, which are termed as blue prints of the sustainable development in 21st Century, in simple mathematical comparison Rio +20 produced a 50-page document titled ‘Future We Want’ with 283 numbered paragraphs many of which simply ‘acknowledge’ the challenges and ‘encourage ‘ actions. That much is for the mathematical output.
On 23 June, I attended ‘A day after Rio+20’ Conference in an auditorium on the beach. It was high-level conference to dissect and comment on achievements and failures of Rio+20. The speakers included, Ambassador André Correa do Lago (Chief Negotiator of the Brazilian Delegation at Rio+20), Achim Steiner, UNEP’s Executive Director and Dr. Rajendra Pachauri –Chairman of IPCC. Their analysis was as eloquent and balanced as ever. But they were questioned by young audience on “ why do they approve the plastic bottles for drinking water kept on their side tables and if the glass jug would have been enough. Another asked why that meeting on day after Rio+20 was not taking place in the open air outside the auditorium so that expenditure and energy use on air conditioning and lights could be avoided. The eloquent speakers who had earlluer reminded the audience of Mahatma Gandhi’s words of ‘ Be the Change that you want to see’ did not have convincing answers. The society is not only questioning the hypocrisy but also showing the way forward.
In the evening of 23 June, I went to see the famous statue of Christ the Redeemer on the top of Corcovado Mountain. The statue of Christ the Redeemer is the main Brazilian national symbol and offers a privileged panoramic view of the entire city of Rio de Janeiro from more than 2,326 feet above sea level. I asked the guard there if he was aware of the Rio+20 event where 192 countries from the world gathered to discuss the sustainable future. The guard was very apologetic and said to me that he did not know about the event but he definitely knows that in another two years there will be World Cup and hoped that I would come back to watch Brazilian Team playing the best football ever.
I noted that statue of Christ the Redeemer had his back towards Riocentro where Rio+20 was held. The statue was looking ahead with his inviting arms. The diplomats for last two weeks kicked the Earth like football all over but did not score any Goals, Sustainable Development or Millennium Development.
Surely in World Cup there will be exciting goals that will definitely be scored.
I thought that Brazilians would write 284th Paragraph of the ‘Future We Want’ as:
“ We take note that in two years from now, World will gather here in Rio again and will play the real game for which the making the goals would be the only objective”.
283 paragraphs were written on the castle of sands. 284th paragraph was certainly written on the Rocks of Corcovado.