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Reflections on the Race to Rio: Will President Obama attend the Earth Summit?

Jacob Scherr

Posted April 27, 2012

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Just recently Rio+20 has started to get some attention in wider circles in Washington, DC with the focus on whether President Obama will attend the Summit. It began with Todd Stern, the US chief climate change negotiator, indicating on a press call that Rio+20 was not on the President’s agenda. Then, at a well-attended event on the Sustainable Energy for All Initiative, Ban Ki-moon asserted that it was crucial that the President, as leader of one of the most powerful and important countries, join the more than 130 other top leaders in Rio. The prospects for Rio+20 were also addressed at the final session of the Yale-TERI US-India Energy Partnership Summit this week.

Last fall, NRDC informed the White House that we would do everything we could to persuade the President to participate in Rio+20 and that we would work as hard as we could to make the Summit a meeting that he would want to attend.

Obama visits Rio in 2011There are already petition campaigns underway to persuade the President to go to Rio hosted by  NRDCCitizens for Global SolutionsGlobal Green USA, and Human Impacts Institute. NRDC also is working with Stakeholder Forum and Road to Rio+20 on Earth Summit Watch 2012 to showcase which top national leaders are committed to coming to Rio and what they are going to do when they get there. 

Whether or not the current negotiations at the UN on the Rio+20 “output document” make any signicant progress remains to be seen.  However, we are encouraged by the growing interest in focusing on bringing “non-globally negotiated”       commitments to Rio. Just launched, the Volunteer Action Counts website records personal pledges to sustainable development to be showcased at the Summit in a multi-media presentation.  This will be part of the “cloud of commitments” which we believe could be the defining feature of the first Earth Summit of the Internet age.   

NRDC Views

 Earth Day to Earth Summit: Speaking on a Cold and Rainy Earth Day in Washington, DC  –  “It is not easy being green,” Jacob Scherr spoke to the hardy souls at the Earth Day celebration on the National Mall to mobilize for Rio+20.

Earth Day 2012: Time to Take the Lead– How can the US take the lead and make this June’s Earth Summit truly different?  (Huffington Post)

Challenge to Young Thought Leaders: Can You Silence the World at Rio+20 this June?  – A high-powered jury of celebrities and thought leaders for the Win A Date With History video contest has been announced to bring the next generation’s concerns and creativity to the table.

Monitoring ocean acidification and its effects: a proposal for Rio+20 – NRDC is calling on the international community to develop, on an urgent basis, an integrated, international program aimed at monitoring the chemical, biological and socio-economic impacts of ocean acidification

Time to Help Power the World with renewable energy at the 2012 Earth Summit –  At Rio+20 world leaders have a chance to ensure that these citizens can gain access to electricity while not driving global warming.    Agenda 21 to “Cloud of Commitments” –   Jacob Scherr writes in the May/June issue of ELI’s Environmental Forum that the transition from “internation-al” from “internet-al” has real potential to be an en­gine for progress towards sustainability.

At the Summit of the Americas leaders must start looking toward the Earth Summit  – They should take the opportunity to identify concrete and actionable opportunities for regional sustainability partnerships that they can launch during Rio+20. 

Agenda 21 to “Cloud of Commitments” –   Jacob Scherr writes in the May/June issue of ELI’s Environmental Forum that the transition from “internation-al” from “internet-al” has real potential to be an en­gine for progress towards sustainability.

Power the world – While New Orleans suffered from the devastating impacts of the loss of electricity in the wake of Katrina, 1 out of 5 people in the world has no daily electricity access. Join Linkin Park and other groups to help power the world and bring sustainable energy access for all. (Lisa Boyle, Senior Advisor to NRDC’s Race to Rio campaign, Huffington Post)

Global Highlights

Political Will and Urgency for Action

Earth Summit 101: A Jedi’s primer to the meeting in Rio Do you still have friends asking “Earth Summit, what?” Here are a few things you, good Jedi knights, ought to know about it. (Grist)

Obama may blow off the Earth Summit The the man who announced in his last State of the Union Address that “America remains the one indispensable nation in world affairs,” may be a no-show at the 2012 Earth Summit. (Grist)

Obama may not attend Rio Earth Summit, administration official says  “It would be a real tragedy if the U.S. is missing in this effort to try to put the world on a more sustainable path.” (Washington Post)

Ban Ki-moon calls Obama's presence 'crucial' at Rio+20 Earth summit –  UN secretary general  made a personal appeal to Obama to attend Rio and shore up high-level support for it. (Guardian)  

EU plays down expectations for Rio Earth Summit  The European Commission’s chief of the environmental directorate said that the EU was committed to its goals despite fierce opposition to some of its positions. (Euractiv)

U.N. in last ditch bid to finalize Rio+20 action plan The business-as-usual negotiation inside the UN headquarters is undermining the largest, most participative UN event of its kind to address the world’s multiple crises. (IPS News)

Green Economy 

Coalition of World Energy Ministers Commit to Improvements in Energy Efficiency, Renewable Energy, and Energy Access – Leaders from the 23 governments paired up with the Secretary-General’s Sustainable Energy for All (SE4All) initiative and outlined specific commitments. (Clean Energy Ministerial)

 Can Rio+20 deliver systemic change in the private sector? Corporate models that discover, measure and account for externalities and a business environment free of perverse subsidies will lead us to a green economy, says economist Pavan Sukhdev. (Guardian)

The Truth About Green Jobs: A Case Study [Video]  In many States throughout the US the industry is gaining traction. In Massachusetts, more than 64,000 engineers, construction workers and entrepreneurs have found jobs in the sector. (Energy Boom)

The role of the private sector in sustainable development –  The business community asks governments to support “both flexible regulatory and voluntary policy frameworks as well as collaboration on a much broader scale.” (Guardian)

Sustainable Arabia: Clean Energy 2012 to promote regional dialogue on best practice in sustainable development  –  Top officials will gather in May to discuss key environmental issues concerning Arab countries in the run-up to Rio+20, and develop a consensus on the importance of transitioning to a green economy. (AME Info)

Rio+20: What's the right path for Latin America? Policymakers at the World Economic Forum in Mexico are trying to outline their strategy for the UN Rio+20 summit in June. They hope this will lead to action, not promises. (Deutsche Welle) 

Innovative Approaches

Sustaining America – John Dernbach explains that patterns in modest sustainability efforts over the two decades in the US since the Earth Summit provide a framework for overcoming obstacles and accelerating progress. (ELI’s The Environmental Forum)

Students on the Road to Rio+20 – Students go from the classroom to inside the UN exploring the play of science and power at the Rio+20 negotiations. (Mt. Holyoke News)

Earth Day 2012 - A Billion Acts of Green – Earth Day Network also announced that it has reached its target of "A Billion Acts of Green" the largest environmental service campaign in the world and it will carry the messages to Rio+20. (END)


Photo credit: The White House

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