Monday, January 10, 2011

Eco Generation 3.0

I arrived last night in New York where I'll attend, tomorrow and Tuesday at the UN, the first intersessional meeting to start preparing the 2012 UN Conference on Sustainable Development (UNCSD). Also known among policy wonks as the Rio+20 conference, this event in Rio de Janeiro will mark the 20th anniversary of the Earth Summit of 1992. According to the United Nations General Assembly, the objective is "to secure renewed political commitment for sustainable development, assessing the progress to date and the remaining gaps in the implementation of the outcomes of the major summits on sustainable development and addressing new and emerging challenges."

Twenty years after Rio also means fourty years after Stockholm -- the first UN Conference on the Human Environment that took place in the capital of Sweden in June, 1972. Although a lot of good things came out of Stockholm, especially the creation of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), we all know that a lot has since been wasted and lost forever by lack of will among governments and the business sector. At Rio+20 next year, public opinion will be mobilized again, but it's unclear how our leaders will listen, how far they'll be willing to shake things up this time. Will they drag their feet like their predecessors in the last fourty years?

To avoid repeating the same mistakes, it's useful to show to the new generation of leaders what opportunities were missed in the past (and to explain how much it's costing to the economy). But  I think it's also important to show that not all the efforts deployed all these years were in vain. The planet isn't in good shape of course, but it would be even worse without the measures and safeguards we've managed to put in place.

So I thought I'd bring with me this week in New York a few copies of my vintage collection of ECO, the first daily bulletin ever produced by NGOs at a UN conference, at Stockholm 1972. After fourty years, the ECO 1972 series is a fascinating read. The political landscape has changed so radically since Stockhom it looks like living on another planet (the cold war is over, many countries have undergone extraordinary economic and political transformations, new sovereign nations were born, countries and regions with negligible influence at the time of Stockholm have emerged as major powers, and the very basic design and lay-out of ECO 72 also reminds us how modern information technology has transformed the way we work and communicate), some of the environmental issues that occupied entire pages of ECO in Stockholm have vanished (for example, no country conducts nuclear weapon tests in the atmosphere, the practice of chartering ships loaded with industrial wastes to dumping them in the high seas has been prohibited, large scale commercial whaling is no longer taking place, DDT is banned and where it is not it will soon be phased out, etc.), but some features identified and discussed in ECO in 1972 are still relevant fourty years later.

Here are a few pearls from ECO 72, that could be reproduced in an ECO 2012 with only some minor editing:

"The next government spokesman who stresses his nation's concern for the environment should be forced to eat the 1972 SIPRI Yearbook -- without SALT. This massive study of World Armaments and Disarmament, compiled by the Swedish International Peace Research Institute, leaves no doubt as to national priorities. SIPRI estimates that annual world expenditure on arms is running at about USD 180 billion. Compare that with the national munificience which, on behalf of the environment, may be prepared - reluctantly - to fork out USD 20 million." ECO 14 June 1972

"The State Department’s official instructions to the US delegation at the Stockholm Conference have fallen into our hands [...] The State Department seems particularly intent on seeing that no more money be made available for international environmental protection. " ECO 10 June 1972

"Implicit in the Conference’s many proposals for much-needed monitoring and data collection is the comfortable notion that if countries monitor their pollution they can safely keep on emitting it [...] Nations’ readiness to agree on collecting data about what they are doing (rather than stopping doing it) is symptomatic of a general failing to the Conference."  ECO 13 June, 1972

"The industrial countries have a clear obligation to make sacrifices on behalf of the non-industrial ones, if there is to be any qualitative improvement of societies and environments. Rich nation politicians had better start thinking now how they are going to persuade their electorate that radical changes are necessary."  ECO 10 June 1972

"The Australians declared there was “no such thing” as global environmental stability.” ECO 9th June, 1972

"Tossing the Secretariat’s draft Declaration on the Human Environment to the closed Working Group has been like dropping it into a school of piranha." ECO 13th June, 1972

"Japan is making a strong bid for the status of superpower in the emerging politics of ecologicalconcern and technology [...] but what the Japanese press will probably not report is Japan's insistence in continuing destructive whaling practices and policies." ECO 6th June 1972

Like Stockholm 72 and Rio 92, Rio+20 will be the passing of the torch to a new generation of environmental activists. It would be good if we could set for ourselves the goal that everything in ECO 72  becomes completely obsolete for the Eco Generation 3.0 to follow. It's about time.