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Warning signs made of plastic bottles: art on Rio’s Botafago Beach

Warning signs made of plastic bottles: art on Rio’s Botafago Beach

Two decades after the first Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro, the UN held another global conference to take stock of the results in the same Brazilian metropolis in June. Rio+20 was supposed to open up new roads towards sustainable development. Even before the conference started, however, diplomats from some 180 partici­pating countries agreed on a final document with the headline “The future we want”, which did not include tangible commitments. According to many Op-Ed pages around the world, Earth Summit II was a disappointment.

Costa Rica: El Financiero

It seems incredible that two decades have passed since the first Earth Summit. More­over, it seems incredible that after two decades of giving priority to environmental sustainability, we’ve reached 2012 without actually changing the terms of our sustainability in a positive sense.

Indonesia: The Jakarta Post

The conference tried to address the linked problems of poverty, hunger, energy shortages and environmental degradation but the big gathering seemed to be over­shadowed by economic and political crises around the world. There are few expectations for concrete action or pledges of new aid to developing countries.

New Zealand: The Dominion Post

Developed countries appear to operate a “do as we say, not as we do” approach, with many key political leaders … not ­attending.

Brazil: O Globo

It was hoped that Rio+20 would hammer out goals across core areas like food security, water and energy. But expectations were low that it would produce a defined set of mandatory measures with timeliness. … The sense that the conference might not make decisions of substance clearly influenced Mr Obama and Mr Cameron’s decisions to stay away.

South Africa: Independent Online

“We’ve sunk so low in our expectations that reaffirming what we did 20 years ago is now considered a success,” said Martin Khor, executive director of the Geneva-based South Centre and a member of the UN Committee on Development Policy. The word “reaffirm” is used 59 times in the 49-page document titled “The future we want”: They reaffirm the need to achieve sustainable development (but not mandating how); reaffirm commitment to strengthening international cooperation (just not right now); and reaffirm the need to achieve economic stability (with no new funding for the poorest nations).

Jamaica: The Jamaica Observer

As it turned out, the conference did absolutely nothing to help small island states, such as those in the Caribbean, and developing countries with low coastal areas such as Guyana and Belize. … For all Caribbean ­countries, however good their national programmes, a regional response is necessary through empowered joint machinery. … No one country can do it alone.

UK: The Guardian

While the problems have grown, the ability of nations to deal with them has diminished because the EU is distracted by economic crisis, the US is diverted by a presidential election, and government power has declined relative to that of corporations and civil society.

Germany: Süddeutsche Zeitung

Ultimately, mankind will only be convinced by either disaster or success. The climate and the oceans will hardly be saved in plenary halls by international conferences. 7 billion people are not going to reach collective agreement (and even less adhere to such an agreement). All in all, the most useful places at conferences are the lobbies where private-sector companies present ideas on how to turn environmental protection into business.

France: Le Monde

Europe, in particular, seems to have given up any sense of leadership. Mired in the crisis of the euro area, paralysed by its half-mast growth, without financial bounce, it found itself isolated in the negotiations. … The ­balance sheet is cruel: the heavy issues of the ecological crisis have not been tackled.

Philippines: Manila Standard Today

Certainly, no one is saying that the island state of Maldives or the East African state of Rwanda has the same responsibility for climate change as the United States. The challenge however is whether big developing countries like Brazil, China, India and South Africa bear a greater responsibility now, as compared to 20 years ago, for global environmental protection and for their own sustainable development.

Egypt: Egypt Independent

The real heroes here in Rio are not those in the negotiation rooms, but those backstage sharing their innovative solutions on climate change and sustainable development from their communities and cities. … We may be disappointed by our world leaders’ actions at Rio+20, but let this be motivation for us as citizens to work together to make these solutions happen and let our efforts speak for themselves.

Libya: The Tripoli Post

Twenty years ago the issues of climate change, biodiversity, preservation of oceans and forests and sustainable development were relatively fresh challenges. Moreover, the world had just emerged from a long Cold War, and there was plenty of energy and hope around. Now everybody understands how tough the challenges are, and how far apart are the interests of the rich and the poor countries. We now have a 20-year history of defeats on this agenda, and there is a lot of defeatism around. Politicians are always reluctant to be linked to lost causes, and the struggles against poverty and environmental destruction now seem to fall into that category. Thus we sleepwalk towards terrible disasters – but that doesn’t absolve our leaders of responsibility.

USA: The New York Times

It did offer some bright spots – such as progress on protecting the high seas from pollution, overfishing and acidification – although it left other dire threats unaddressed. Chief among these was failing to negotiate a treaty to protect ocean biodiversity. But what we must remember is this: Rio+20 is not just about a document. Rio+20 is a catalyst. It is the starting point for change, not the finish line. … What Rio+20 did was shine a spotlight on the environmental and sustainable development issues we all know we must address. For at least a few days, it forced us all to pause, take stock and think about the legacy we’re leaving our children. Now that the speeches are done and the negotiations are over and the world’s leaders are heading home, it’s time for the rest of us to take action.

Australia: The Age

The meeting was never intended to reach a binding agreement, but the deal it did reach was so watered down that many activists and some ministers were openly questioning whether it was worth the massive effort of bringing 45,381 participants and almost 100 world leaders to Brazil. … The agreement was called “The future we want”, but the union of concerned scientists said it was so weak it gave the people of the world “no hope” for the future they really wanted.