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 71.

    At last world leaders are at least talking about over-population and the BBC is mentioning it instead of banging on about climate change.

    Slide 5 is the most telling: The planet reached its capacity in the 1970s and already there are twice as many as it can support.

    Human population will reduce to a viable level. The question is how it happens. Birth control or war, famine and disease

  • Comment number 70.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • rate this

    Comment number 69.

    I think you have to face up to the fact that we are too greedy to do anything meaningful to save the planet. Whilst the voters think they deserve more then no politician is going to be voted in to promote sustainability. It is clear that we will overpopulate the planet and destroy the environment because of our greed. It explains why SETI has found no intelligent life, there isn't any here either.

  • rate this

    Comment number 68.

    Unfortunately I am somewhat a fatalist. Men are far too greedy and we will never commit enough to environmental/poverty issues. All that ever happens is some agree minor concessions which will have no real impact. I really believe unless man completely changes his attitude, Armagedon is not that far away. :-(

  • rate this

    Comment number 67.


    "but please plant a tree - whoever you are"

    If you are living in a block of flats or don't have a garden, please bear in mind you may end up with an asbo if you enter a neighbour's garden carrying a spade

  • rate this

    Comment number 66.

    So Cameron is at the G20 to push for more unsustainable growth and call it recovery. And the underachiever Clegg is allowed out on his own to Rio to push for sustainability? This is a Tory Government, not a coalition, and the LibDems should stop kidding themselves. It is clear where the Tories priorities lie, with the money every time. The environment doesn't matter to them.

  • rate this

    Comment number 65.

    They talk and they talk, it's what they are paid to do. But do they truly get anywhere?
    If we all return to the old ways the Green lady will lead us down the right path, more people are doing that...hope?

  • rate this

    Comment number 64.

    It would be good if every parent planted a tree for every child born. I have two, now grown up, and two who died through miscarriage. There are still four trees growing.

    I'm sorry if my post is so personal - but please plant a tree - whoever you are, whether you have children or not. Thank you.

  • rate this

    Comment number 63.

    Population control is the most logical 2008 China had a population (million) of 1,333 and India 1,140 and the USA had 250.

    China although not democratically introduced a one child policy knowing their high birth rate was totally unsustainable. If we were really intelligent humans we would realise the earth has finite resources and vote in a 2 or 3 child policy in this country.

  • rate this

    Comment number 62.

    Yeah No 7. But surely we must only introduce compulsory birth control measures for rich white folk who, I hope you'll agree, had it too good for too long! Well, OK most of them had it very bad until about 1910 when things got a littler better until World War1 when most of the blokes died, and then in WW2 but since then they've had it too good for a while! They must pay for it now! Yeah! Go greens!

  • rate this

    Comment number 61.

    so 1 summit talking about stimulating world growth, and another talking about ending unsustainable growth and consumption - and world leaders are supporting both?? hmm - don't they see that these are contradictory aims?

  • rate this

    Comment number 60.

    There is no hope we are all doomed and iit may be not a bad thing .

  • rate this

    Comment number 59.

    #48 stole my thunder on both overpopulation and the oceans. Even outside this, I don't think any effective agreement will ever be reached. I think it is pretty telling that the G20 summit is on at the same time as the Rio+20 summit, showing just how important the environment is viewed. The world's governments and their cosy relationships with Big Business take precedence over all.

  • rate this

    Comment number 58.

    Talk about fddling while Rome burns

    The world economy is going down the pan but at least we will all be greener

  • rate this

    Comment number 57.

    Yeah Yeah ok. Damn good dinner last night though !

  • rate this

    Comment number 56.

    An agreement to do nothing (as expected)
    and an agreement to claim to be doing something when not (diplomacy)

    The most important political issue ever but yet the meeting ends-up being one of the most pointless...

  • rate this

    Comment number 55.

    In Gold I Trust @ 51 said re Peter Barry @ 7:
    "How old are you? I mean, I guess you are suggesting all unproductive pensioners should be exterminated? Interesting idea, since it would also solve the pensions crisis. Or are you one of the new world nimbies, pulling up the ladder for any new children to come into the world?"

    You're not very good at intelligent discussion are you?

  • rate this

    Comment number 54.

    A waste of time and money, the vast majority of intelligent people know that our environment is fine and global warming is a myth created by the likes of Greenpeace, so they get more funding.
    With regards to immigration, immigrants bring great experience and resources to Britain. To stop population increasing then the unemployed and those claiming benefits shouldn't be allowed to conceive.

  • rate this

    Comment number 53.

    5 Minutes ago
    Unless it includes population (and more recently weight)

    What!!! Do you mean get rid of elephants and blue whales? - maybe we should leave the earth to the bacteria!!!

  • rate this

    Comment number 52.

    I've got the answer right cos they told us at school today that it's mum and dads fault cos they live in a rich country right and I saw mum didn't recycle my food properly so I've reported her and dad had two showers yesterday before AND after work after picking me up from gymkana so he needs arresting too (and he won't buy me a new i phone so he deserves it) and he has a car and they said etc etc


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