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Jacob Scherr’s Blog

My Eyeball and Envisioning the Rio+20 Earth Summit

Jacob Scherr

Posted June 10, 2012

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After a year of Racing to Rio, I was suddenly not sure whether I would be able to travel there as scheduled this Monday night.  We've been long envisioning and advocating for a different kind of Earth Summit this June in Rio - one that would produce real action and accountability (here, here, here…). Often I have dreamed of going to Rio to be a part of a truly transformative gathering of world leaders who recognizing our collective planetary peril, would stop talking and start acting.

But just a week before my scheduled flight to Rio, I had to undergo an emergency operation on my right eye. The surgeon repaired my torn retina and braced my aging eyeball.  For the last several days, I have had to nurse a serious shiner. It gave me a chance to think about my many years as an international environmental advocate and what this Summit will mean for my children and their futures. I also mulled over the recent scienitific studies on the declining health of our planet and wondered why their urgent pleas are not being heard ?  I thought a lot about what we can still do to ensure that the Summit is a success and to achieve its most important goal - speeding up the transformation to a low-carbon green economy.  

I am well aware that some groups and commentators have already started to label the prospects for the Rio+20 Summit as “gloomy.”  There is definitely a possiblity of another meltdown in the formal negotiations like the one the world witnessed at the 2009 climate treaty talks in Copenhagen. Here again 195 national governments are attempting  to negotiate a detailed  “business plan for the planet"  without a strong, singular vision.  If the diplomats do succeed, they will deliver an 80-plus-page "output document" for the consideration of the presidents and prime ministers when they arrive on June 20th for the three day summit.. But the leaders would not be able to read through the whole document.  They would run the risk of not being able to reach agreement on the most significant proposals, including Sustainable Development Goals, high-seas biodiversity protection, and upgrading UNEP.  In the end, media could declare a Summit "failure." The public will not care; and no one will even remember what happened at the Summit two years from now when the world returns to Rio for the World Cup.  

In contrast, I am feeling really good about Rio+20. I was very fortunate; and my recovery has been quick. It appears now that I will be heading to Rio on tomorrow (Monday) night after all with with my vision pretty much restored.  I have now even greater hope that this Earth Summit will be important and historic. But we will have to be able to see how much has changed since the 1992 summit and what is really going on in Rio and the world.  The important story will not be what the governments in the end can agree or not agree to in a document. Instead it will be about the emergence of new  structures and arenas to drive sustainability. It will be about Rio's embrace of "globalization" and  "connectivity" - the two most powerful forces of the 21st century, according to Tom Friedman. We are optimistic because we are seeing the gathering of a “cloud of commitments” around the Summit. We are going to highlight and record the hundreds of initiatives, networks, partnerships, coalitions, and other pledges that leaders at all levels will make in Rio. 

On June 17th, we will be launching the “Cloud of Commitments” website, Version 1.0. We want the Cloud is to be the portal for anyone interested in seeing who are making promises at Rio to take action and what are they doing to fulfill them.   We will have links to more than a dozen commitment registries, platforms, and events where pledges are being made. We expect major specific commitments in a broad range of areas, including sustainable energy, urban transportation, forests, oceans, and governance. When aggregated, these commitments will demonstrate that there is a powerful movement worldwide towards sustainability.  Over time, we hope the "cloud of commitments" will evolve into a global platform to enable all of us to share in meeting the challenge of creating a sustainable future to our children. 

See you in Rio!

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Leila MonroeJun 11 2012 07:32 AM

We're so glad you are on the road to health and will be able to fight the good fight in Rio de Janeiro!

Steven Earl SalmonyJun 11 2012 08:24 AM

This situation is no longer deniable. During my lifetime, many have understood the Global Predicament we are facing now, but only a few 'voices in the wilderness' were willing to speak out loudly and clearly about what everyone can see. It is not a pretty sight. The human community has precipitated a planetary emergency that only humankind is capable of undoing. The present 'Unsustainable Path' has to be abandoned in favor of a "road less travelled by". It is late; there is no time left to waste. Perhaps now we will gather our remarkably abundant, distinctly human resources and respond ably to the daunting, human-induced, global challenges before us, the ones that threaten life as we know it and the integrity of Earth as a fit place for human habitation. Many voices, many more voices are needed for making necessary changes.

Joe PeschiJun 11 2012 05:56 PM

I think it should have been clear a year ago, when you were "racing" towards the summit that it will be a failure. As much as the environmental movement and the left will be tempted to blame it on the political right, I think the best thing that could ever come out of this summit, will be an acknowledgement of failure, and then look at the real reasons why the summit, and the entire environmental movement has failed. Then at least there will be a chance for a fresh start, this time down the right path.

BSJun 11 2012 07:28 PM

"This situation is no longer deniable."

The presence of a "greenhouse effect" is probably undeniable, but that's about where the "undeniability" stops. If it were undeniable, NRDC et al wouldn't have to resort to campaigns of misinformation.

AzuckiJun 12 2012 09:11 AM

Experience, unfortunately, shows that "pledges" and "commitments", even when signed sealed and delivered as international treaties, are all too often not worth the paper they're written on. Surely "participation" and "enforcement" is the name of the game — if anyone's willing to play.

joel reynoldsJun 12 2012 11:11 AM

With any great opportunity there is a risk of failure. But the focus at Rio on our global environmental predicament is an essential step in moving all of us in the right direction -- not like a light switch that magicallly transforms the problems into solutions but as a global recognition that we must do whatever we can to find solutions -- and that there is no time to waste. 500 years from now this is the work that people will care most about in terms of what we did for them today.

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