Rio+20 calls for action on key global issues

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Overpopulation, Overconsumption and Mass Extinction top the agenda at the ongoing environmental summit in Rio de Janeiro, but where are Cameron and Obama?

Today is the second day of the Rio+20 Summit, formerly known as the UN Conference on Sustainable Development.

It is 20 years since the original Rio Earth Summit in 1992, but unlike 1992 (where no less than three legally binding agreements were formed) it is seeming unlikely that anything binding will happen. The draft text has been criticised for being watered down to prevent a repeat of COP17, where the ‘Durban Platform’, a document that essentially agreed to a future agreement, was thrashed out at the last minute.

As Geoffrey Lean says, “The verbs tell the story. The word “encourage” appears 50 times, the phrase “we will” only five; “support” is used 99 times, “must” just three.”


In a recent opinion piece titled “The Future We Want” in the New York Times, Un Secretary Ban Ki Moon said that, with the world population passing 7 billion for the first time last year, we place “unprecedented stress on fragile ecosystems”.


In the same piece, Moon says that “we can not continue to burn and consume our way to prosperity”. We are being told to eat less meat and drive fewer cars, and the problem of western obesity has been highlighted strongly.

Mass Extinction

Louse Grey reports that the number of species under threat of extinction has only grown in the 20 years since the first Rio summit, with 19,817 species on the “Red List”. The list includes “41 percent of amphibian species, 33 percent of reef-building corals, 25 percent of mammals, 20 percent of plants and 13 percent of birds.”

Many have noted the absence of Barack Obama, Angela Merkel and David Cameron. Nick Clegg is representing Britain, with the Prime Minister unable to attend due to being out of the country for the G20 meeting in Los Cabos in Mexico on the 18 and 19 June, and did not want to be out of the country for longer.

Related: Sustainable development is ‘meaningless drivel’ | China, India & the US still at loggerheads after a week at 2011 Durban Climate Conference | COP17: Durban Platform means Kyoto II in 2015