Texts from Rio +20: Playing the Ostrich with our Future?

Texts from Rio +20: Playing the Ostrich with our Future?

By: Steve Arowolo*

In his opening address at the recently concluded Earth Summit (Rio +20) in Brazil, the United Nation Secretary General, Ban Ki-Moon stressed that “We are now in sight of a historic agreement. Let us not waste this opportunity. The world is watching to see if words will translate into action, as we know they must”. However, criticism and discord characterized the Rio +20 summit, especially from the civil society groups, The meeting, marked 20 years since the Earth Summit in the same city of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, and 40 years since the very first global environmental gathering that was held in Stockholm in 1972, which was aimed at stimulating changes towards the “green economy” and a sustainable future for the world.

It suffices to say that not only did the outcome of the Earth summit fail to satisfy the expectations and aspirations of the civil society, some eminent world leaders did not fully subscribe to the Rio +20 declaration texts. While commenting on the outcome of the Earth summit, Mary Robinson, former Irish president and United Nation High Commissioner for Human Rights, said it was insufficient. “This is a ‘once in a generation’ moment when the world needs vision, commitment and, above all, leadership, sadly, the current document is a failure of leadership.” She said. The British Deputy Prime Minister, Nick Clegg, chose one word to describe the outcome – “insipid” meaning it was uninteresting, unattractive and ‘tasteless’. Further still, Former Brazilian President, Fernando Cardoso, who presided over the 1992 Earth Summit, said the declaration did not achieve much for environmental protection as for human development. “This old division between environment and development is not the way we are going to solve the problems that we are creating for our grandchildren and great-grandchildren. We have to accept that the solutions to poverty and inequality lie in sustainable growth, not growth at all costs” he said. Now, in the face of the uncertainties threatening our collective ‘dreams of the future we want’ reinforced by the failure of leadership, the good question to ask ourselves is where do we go from here?

In 1992, during the Earth summit in the same Rio de Janeiro, the world stood still for 5 minutes to listen to the words of wisdom from a 12 –year old girl, Severn Suzuki as she stood before the world leaders to challenge them to action on the state of world. In her words “Do not forget why you’re attending these conferences, who you’re doing this for — we are your own children… My father always says “You are what you do, not what you say.” Well, what you do make me cry at night. You grown-ups say you love us. I challenge you; please make your actions reflect your words” that was the speech that earned her the title: The girl who silenced the world for 5 minutes. Well, nothing seems to have changed 20 years after as Brittany Trifford, a 17 year old girl from New Zealand also challenged the world leaders on the first day of the summit to help secure a sustainable future, she concluded her speech by asking the leaders, “Are you here to save face, or are you here to save us?”

In what appears as if one is pre-empting the outcome of the Rio +20, before the recently concluded Earth summit, I have argued in one of my articles titled: Rio +20: The future we want and the paradox of a dream, that recent and past events of the United Nations on Climate change negotiations and the Sustainable Development summit suggest no possibilities of a positive outcome of the summit that was supposedly intended to give us “the future we want”. Environmental activists and Sustainability advocates have unanimously re-christened Rio +20 as Rio -20 (Rio minus 20), indicating that the outcome of the summit has taken the world back to where we were 20 years ago; giving us the future we don’t want.  The world is in a period of ‘planetary emergency’, and anything short of proactive decision and action to combat our present situation must not be treated with diplomatic insincerity and political manoeuvring.  The Rio+20 Summit was supposed to herald a new path forward for the world to address its biggest challenges: minimize greenhouse gas emissions, end hunger, limit environmental destruction, increase access to clean water and ensure a sustainable future for all, among other pressing needs. But like the past and recent climate change negotiations, the conference had resulted in vague frameworks for future deliberations and assurances that will surely not be fulfilled due to the lack of leadership and strong political will.

As I reflect on the state of the world and most especially in my part of the world, I have observed that our leaders have loads of policy documents (white paper, green paper, etc.) with little or no implementation, they are like the proverbial Ostrich that lays enormous number of eggs only to hatch few, and just like the Ostrich with wings that only runs, but could not fly, our leaders have ideas and information that could change the lots of our people, they sometimes run very fast with these lofty ideas but they seldom fly with them. Ostrich eggs are often found dropped carelessly in open places, implying that the Ostrich is insensitive to environmental hazards that could hamper the development of the next generation. And just like climate change has been variously described as ‘intergenerational crime’; can we then confidently conclude that our leaders are not culpable, especially with the resolute stance of the bigger and more influential nations of the world, at the expense of the environment? And like our proverbial Ostrich, as if they forgot that the frost might crack the planet, or the wild intense heat might harm the soil.

In moments like these, we should all be encouraged with the words of Ghandi to “be the change we want to see in the world” let us start in our homes, in our villages, in our schools, in our offices, let us not engage in a blame game that will lead us to nowhere, let us choose the positive over the negative, let us get involved in causes and programmes that will advance humanity towards the future we really want, let us be part of the solutions by embracing opportunities to serve our people in any capacity that fate may thrust on us. We have what it takes to make a difference, and let us not be like the Ostrich with wings but couldn’t fly.

*Steve Arowolo is a regular Bokamoso Leadership Forum contributor. Access his profile and previous articles here.

Steve Arowolo

Steve Arowolo is a Global Change Scholar with the Applied Centre for Climate and Earth system Science (ACCESS), and a pioneer postgraduate student with the African Climate and Development Initiative (ACDI) at the University of Cape Town, South Africa. Steve is a proud Fortharian being an Alumnus of the prestigious University of Fort Hare where he successfully led and pioneered Environmental and Sustainable Development initiatives

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