Rio summit concludes with good intentions
OTTAWA — The huge Rio de Janeiro summit on sustainable development is drawing to a messy close and the end results mean Canada does not have to lift a finger to fulfil the meeting’s vision.
Dubbed the Rio+20 conference to mark the 20th anniversary of the Earth Summit that set out a global path to protect the environment, the Brazilian meeting was everything that summits have become in recent years: a colourful event with demonstrations, celebrities, cultural celebrations, business round tables, intense social media and riot police.
As far as content goes, however, the meeting produced a vision statement that contained plenty of good intentions but very few solid commitments.
Generally, countries committed to pay more attention to climate change, and increase aid for development. They also agreed to eventually develop long-term goals for sustainable development — global targets for both the environment and for eradicating global poverty.
Timelines and amounts were absent.
And that’s a good thing, says Peter Kent, Canada’s environment minister.
“It does not have unrealistic, inappropriate binding commitments,” he told reporters in a conference call a few hours before the conference was set to end.
“It does point us, in my view, in a forward direction, but it doesn’t have instant confections” that would duplicate existing processes, or commit countries inadvertently to harmful policies.
“Canada’s satisfaction with this document is as much as with what’s not in it,” Kent said, adding he was “very happy, very satisfied” with the outcome.
While he said the federal government was in good company in this sentiment, other delegations and most environmentalists watching from the sidelines were dismayed.
“They have put forward neither new money nor new engagements,” Anne Minh-Thu Quach, the NDP deputy environment critic, said in an email from Rio. “It’s empty words again. Pitiful and shameful.”
She and other critics took Ottawa to task for weakening commitments on biodiversity of oceans and fossil fuels and blocking financial commitments to developing countries struggling to deal with climate change — all while loosening environmental protections at home.
Kent rejects the criticism, saying his opponents are out of touch with reality.