The Rio+20 Summit: Only Real Action Matters
This June, tens of thousands of the world's citizens will join global leaders for Rio+20, the United Nations' Earth Summit. If recent international gatherings are any guide, many of the participants will engage in lengthy discussions and make scores of proposals. But NRDC wants this summit to be different. We want to see Rio+20 focus on real commitments to reach a sustainable future, not just promises -- concrete actions instead of vague agreements.
Around the globe, people are developing effective ways to provide safe drinking water, reduce carbon pollution, restore fisheries, and make cities healthier places to live. The Earth Summit can help bring those real-world solutions to more communities, but only if leaders commit to enacting them -- starting now. When I attended the U.N. climate negotiations in Bali five years ago, Mayor Michael Bloomberg of New York told me, "You are letting politicians off easy. They don't mind signing a commitment for 2050 because none of them will be around in 40 years."
He's right. So NRDC is urging leaders to leave Rio not with a lofty treaty but with commitments to reach specific goals within the next few years. We have launched SummitWatch.org, an online registry of the actions presidents and prime ministers have agreed to; citizens can use the registry to track whether their leaders are turning those words into deeds. We want action and accountability to trump pledges and promises.
I believe this change is possible, because I saw how the first Earth Summit generated transformation 20 years ago. It focused world attention on sustainable development and prompted more than 100 nations to create their own plans for promoting economic growth in ways that preserve natural resources and advance social equity. That was unthinkable before. Today many nations, cities, and corporations have environmental sustainability programs.
We need a new generation of environmental leaders who are focused on action and who are not only younger but also more diverse. Some of the most vibrant efforts to clean up the air and water are emerging at the local level, so we are encouraging mayors and governors to join heads of state in Rio to commit to specific solutions. We will use social media and campus outreach to engage young people as well, because the results of Rio+20 will be their future.
Pundits often gauge the success of these meetings on the basis of how many nations sign new treaties. But the best outcome would be a robust competition, not a grand negotiation: a cultural shift in which nations, cities, and corporations vie to see who removes the most diesel pollution or generates the most solar power in the next several years. The planet doesn't need more pledges. It needs more action.