Rio+20: Agreement reached, say diplomats

Activists lie on Rio Branco in Rio de Janeiro Environmental groups have already lamented the draft text's lack of commitments

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Negotiators have agreed a text to be approved by world leaders meeting this week in Rio in a summit intended to put society on a more sustainable path.

Environment groups and charities working on poverty issues believe the agreement is far too weak.

The Rio+20 gathering comes 20 years after the Earth Summit, also held in the Brazilian city.

The text has yet to be signed off by heads of government and ministers, but it seems that no changes will be made.

"We have reached the best possible equilibrium at this point; I think we have a very good outcome," said Brazilian Foreign Minister Antonio Patriota.

"We consider that the spirit of Rio has been kept alive after 20 years."

However, the European Union was unhappy with the level of ambition in the text, in particular Denmark, which holds the EU presidency.

But Danish Environment Minister Ida Auken told BBC News that she believed it would be signed off.

"The EU would have liked to see a much more concrete and ambitious outcome, so in that respect I'm not happy with it," she said.

"However we managed to get the green economy on the agenda, and so I think we have a strong foundation for this vision that can drive civil society and the private sector to work in the same direction, to understand that environment and the social side must be integrated into the heart of the economy."

For the US, lead negotiator Todd Stern described the deal as "a good step forward", adding that he did not expect heads of state and government to re-open discussions.

"I believe this document is done," he said pointing out that Brazil has "no plan or intention to let the document open up."


Environment and development groups are dismayed by many aspects of the agreement.

Rio+20 building More than 100 leaders are expected to attend the summit from Wednesday

In large part, it merely "reaffirms" commitments nations have made previously.

Activists mounted a huge Twitter campaign on Monday in an attempt to persuade governments to commit to ending fossil fuel subsidies.

However the final text reaffirms previous commitments to phase them out if they are "harmful and inefficient", without setting a date.

The text calls for "urgent action" on unsustainable production and consumption, but it gives no detail or a timetable on how this can be achieved, and no clear direction as to how the world economy can be put on a greener path.

Developing countries might have agreed to go further it developed countries had offered tangible financial support, but it did not do so.

Several processes will be established leading from the summit. One will eventually establish sustainable development goals (SDGs), but there is nothing in the agreement on what they might promise.

Start Quote

This damp squib of a draft negotiating text makes it clear the Rio talks lack the firepower needed to solve the global emergency we're facing”

End Quote Craig Bennett Director of policy and campaigns, Friends of the Earth

The UK's environment minister, Caroline Spelman, praised the deal on SDGs as a "good outcome".

"We have backed SDGs from the outset and helped drive them from a good idea to a new agreement that will elevate sustainability to the top of the agenda."

The UN Environment Programme will be strengthened, but not fundamentally reshaped, as some governments, in particular the French and Kenyans, wanted.

Another process will eventually lead to new protection for the open oceans, including the establishment of marine protected areas in international waters, and stronger action to prevent illegal fishing.

Corporations will not be obliged to measure their environmental and social performance. They are merely invited to do so.

Missed opportunity?

Overall, observers here, as well as some government delegates, felt the world community has missed an opportunity to change the world's development track.

"This damp squib of a draft negotiating text makes it clear the Rio talks lack the firepower needed to solve the global emergency we're facing," said Friends of the Earth's director of policy and campaigns, Craig Bennett, in Rio.

"Developed countries have repeatedly failed to live safely within our planet's limits. Now they must wake up to the fact that until we fix our broken economic system we're just papering over the ever-widening cracks."

More than 100 world leaders are expected in Rio from Wednesday to attend the summit.

They include presidents and prime ministers from the large emerging economies, including China, India, Indonesia and South Africa.

But US President Barack Obama will not be there, and neither will UK Prime Minister David Cameron or German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who are all sending ministers in their places.

  • What is the Rio summit about?
Population chatrt
  • The Rio summit will focus on efforts to reduce poverty, while protecting the environment. This task is made harder as the world's population is expected to rise steeply in the years ahead.
  • The planet's population could be 15 billion people by 2100. Wealth is also expected to rise but its effect on the environment is unclear.
  • In the past, more people, with more wealth has meant increased consumption.
  • Since the last Rio summit in 1992, the
    number of people on Earth has gone up by
  • 22%
  • Seafood consumption has gone up by
  • Meat by
  • The average person eats 43 kg of meat a year. In 1992 it was 34 kg.
  • Source: UNEP, 2011. Figures relate to 2007
  • While food consumption is rising, there are still large numbers of people who are undernourished.
  • It is one of the UN's many development goals to halve the number of people who suffer from hunger by 2015.
  • How able is the planet to meet increasing demand?
  • In 1960, a little over half the planet's land, forests and
    fisheries were needed to meet human consumption.
  • By the late 1970s, consumption was equal to one planet.
  • By the first years of this century, one-and-a-half planets
    were needed to meet consumption.

    This deficit can only be met by the depletion of renewable
    resources and increased pollution.
Global resource consumption
  • Consumption isn't equal. North Americans and Europeans consume far more resources than are available solely within their borders.
Living planet index
  • As human populations increase, the number and diversity of birds
    and animals is falling.
  • Decreasing biodiversity undermines the planet's ability to sustain humanity. Its reductions typically affect the poorest the most. These issues are right at the heart of the Rio talks.
Chart showing stress on each system
  • Some argue that the planet has limits to the stress its different systems can undergo, beyond which a stable future cannot be guaranteed.
  • This graphic from the scientist and sustainability expert Johan Rockström suggests those limits have already been broken for climate change, biodiversity and the nitrogen cycle.

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  • rate this

    Comment number 31.

    Hooray the Earth is saved! Hooray the Earth will not die now!
    Hold on, the Earth isn't saved, it's our own unsustainable existence on this planet we're trying to keep going for a little longer. The planet would be better off without us and would welcome a little warming if it promised to see the back of us!
    We're not trying to save the planet at all. Tell it like it is.

  • rate this

    Comment number 30.

    And a nice holiday was had by all.

  • rate this

    Comment number 29.

    "We hereby do declare that the World is officially saved"

  • rate this

    Comment number 28.

    Shall we all just sit back and watch while unelected beaurocrats and "green activists" claim to have an interest in ending world poverty and third world hunger.... yeah right

    Bureaucrats only want political influence, Green activists want us to subjugate ourselves to their specific version of the natural order, end of story

    All I see is a load of unelected pretenders vying for power

  • rate this

    Comment number 27.

    BBC has been propagandising for years in favour of immgration, despite the obvious damage done to the environment by the extra population. It even calls those opposing urban sprawl nimbies. And it ignores the allegations of corrupt links between politicians and developers.

    The BBC's prejudices make it anti-environment.

  • rate this

    Comment number 26.

    A previous BBC article says:

    "More than 26,000 delegates have now been registered for the summit, including politicians, government negotiators, journalists and business leaders."

    26,000 people all flying out to Rio... and we expect those people to do something about climate change??

  • rate this

    Comment number 25.

    The fact that this is taking place at the same time as the G20 summit shows how seriously governments take the environment. If it doesn't benefit the economy then it is of no interest.

  • rate this

    Comment number 24.

    Humans are just passing through; we're puny, powerless and insignificant. More importantly, we're only here temporarily. The politcos and science bods can have as many summits, meetings and agreements as they like; it will make no difference. We will eventually all be dead and the planet will be fine, doing what it has done for billions of years, without us.

  • rate this

    Comment number 23.

    Wow - a committee to fix everything.

    Next up: time travel.

  • rate this

    Comment number 22.

    This is great news. I've always had faith in the ability of the likes of Baroso, Von Rompuy and Obama to resolve all our problems and I think this proves that they are indeed worth every penny of what the taxpayers pay them.

    Now that the world is saved, perhaps they can all go home and leave us alone now?

  • rate this

    Comment number 21.

    Negotiators have agreed a text?

    Well, whoopy doo, fabulous, my life changes for the better forthwith.

  • rate this

    Comment number 20.

    Why do they have to fly to Rio in these days of video-conferencing?

    It's obvious!! So that they can have a good old knees-up, at our expense.

  • rate this

    Comment number 19.

    What we need is to subsidise the building of a windmill in every back garden in the UK.
    That way we can grow the economy ??? and show our green credentials to the world.
    On Sundays we could wear hairshirts and dance around the windmills.

  • rate this

    Comment number 18.

    We need 'responsible capitalism' not the slash and burn, take and run that is currently practiced. It makes sense for the environment and shareholders. Any company should have ongoing liability for any damage it does to the environment. You can develop the world sustainably short term and develop alternatives in tandem for the long term.

  • rate this

    Comment number 17.

    7.Peter Barry
    Just now
    Unfortunately, the need for never-ending growth to fuel corporatism will prevail.
    Yes, these mega talking shops never alter the overall direction because only individual governments can make decisions. But there will be limits to growth because it can't go on for ever. If politicians can't
    control it, nature and resource depletion will.

  • rate this

    Comment number 16.

    Rio is very pleasant at this time of the year - you go there to party not solve the world's problems you never intended to anyway.
    If time permits, some unrelated issues may be discussed amongst friends - that's it.

  • rate this

    Comment number 15.

    ..."The text calls for "urgent action" on unsustainable production and consumption, but it gives no detail or a timetable on how this can be achieved, and no clear direction as to how the world economy can be put on a greener path."...

    That's that then.

  • rate this

    Comment number 14.

    The current text is just from professional diplomats sticking to existing government policies. The political leaders now arriving in Rio have the power to overrule them, scrap this document, and get some serious decisions made.

  • rate this

    Comment number 13.

    Fantastic article, the summit has agreed a text message which will no doubt be sent to all mobile phone owners. Why not let us see this texy message in the article if it has been agreed? I bet it is meaningless drivel, and leaves me dumbfounded as to why so many people are being funded to go to Rio.

  • rate this

    Comment number 12.

    The agreement will be watered down and meaningless. This is THE most important issue facing the planet right now and where are the politicians? At the G20 talking money again, that's where.
    They don't get it, the media don't get and the majority of the general public don't get it.


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