Writing in these pages on the Rio+20 Earth Summit, which concluded last week, a senior environmental journalist expressed the opinion that the global meeting — which was tasked with shaping a route for the world to reduce poverty, advance social equity and ensure environmental protection — would fail to achieve anything substantial. As it turned out, his pre-Summit assessment was spot on, even though some, strictly speaking from India's corner, feel that the outcome in Rio de Janeiro was not all that negative. Here is why: first, due to India's persistence, the important and non-negotiable principle of common but differentiated responsibilities — the recognition that rich countries grew by polluting and the emerging world cannot be forced to bear the cost of green development — was brought back into the environmental discourse; and second, no time-bound specific targets were thrust on the developing world. Neither of the two came easily though: the developed world, especially the European Union, had pushed for a one-size-fits-all green agenda and advocated targets on environmental themes while diluting its own responsibilities towards a greener, cleaner world.
The Rio meet, attended by 193 nations, 100 world leaders and 45,000 green enthusiasts, had not much going for it since the rich world, busy tackling its economic problems, had lost interest in it. US President Barack Obama, British Prime Minister David Cameron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel skipped it even though all three were in Mexico for the G20 meet a few days before Rio began. So no surprises that at the Rio meet, important proposals such as providing universal energy access and doubling renewables by 2030 were left untouched. The more newsworthy parts of the summit were to be found away from the negotiations, in side events where NGOs, businesses and other groups gathered to present, discuss, and plan concrete actions to achieve greener growth. Some companies and countries made new environmental pledges. But then who will keep an eye on them?
Ultimately, it was a conference that decided to have more conferences in the future. In fact, the 49-page Rio document — The Future We Want — clearly shows that the meet was more about promises than hard actions. As long as the North fails to accept its responsibilities as far as paying for the global clean-up is concerned, it's going to be status quo at the world meets. And such a pledge doesn't seem to be in the offing any time soon. Till then, the fight will only be over the language and fine print of outcome documents of Rio-like jamborees.