Revised in June 2019
Rio was a very important meeting, there is no doubt that the foundations were laid there to face the multiple threats that loom life on Earth in this 21st century. However, the declarations, agreements and programs established there were not binding. In colloquial words, no legal framework was created that obliged the countries or the parties to comply with them. That is why, in part, that after more than a quarter of a century has elapsed, most of the goals have not been reached.
The Rio Summit or Second Earth Summit was held in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, between June 3 and 14, 1992. The First Earth Summit took place in Stockholm, Sweden, in 1972. The meeting of the Rio was organized by the UN, with Maurice Strong as its secretary general. It was attended by 172 countries, including 108 Heads of State and Government, as well as 400 representatives of non-governmental organizations. On the other hand, some 17,000 people attended the Forum of NGOs, held in parallel to the Summit.
Among the bases established at the 1992 conference we have:
1. The Rio Declaration on Environment and Development
It consists of 27 principles. Basically, it is a reaffirmation of the 26 principles of the Stockholm Declaration. Of those we are going to score only the first three. (In the link you can find the 27 principles of the Rio Declaration).
Principle 1: Human beings are at the center of concerns for sustainable development. They are entitled to a healthy and productive life in harmony with nature.
Principle 2: States have, in accordance with the Charter of the United Nations and the principles of international law, the sovereign right to exploit their own resources pursuant to their own environmental and developmental policies, and the responsibility to ensure that activities within their jurisdiction or control do not cause damage to the environment of other States or of areas beyond the limits of national jurisdiction.
2. The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change
One of the most outstanding achievements of the Rio Summit was the establishment of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), which entered into force in March 1994, with the premise of strengthening public awareness on a global scale on the problems related to Climate Change. Among the objectives of the UNFCCC is the need to stabilize concentrations of greenhouse gases (GHGs) in the atmosphere to prevent risks in the climate system.
3. The creation of COPs, annual climate conferences
The creation of the COP, Conference of the Parties, was agreed as the supreme organ of the UNFCCC and the association of all the countries and parties that are part of it. We would not have to wait ten or twenty years for the next climate meeting, since it was decided that the COP would be held annually, which has been carried out to the letter. COP25-2019 will be held in Chile. Experts on the environment, ministers, heads of state and non-governmental organizations are involved in the COPs.
4. Declaration of principles relating to forests
The Declaration of principles for the sustainable management of forests, which does not have mandatory legal force, “provides, fundamentally, that all countries, especially developed countries, should endeavor to green the Earth through reforestation and forest conservation; that the States have the right to develop their forests according to their socioeconomic needs, and that financial resources specifically intended to establish forestry conservation programs should be provided to developing countries with a view to promoting a substitute economic and social policy”.
5. Convention on combating desertification
The Rio Summit addressed the problem of desertification, which has been taking alarming characteristics for some time. In Rio, he advanced on how to deal with the problem and supported a new integrated approach on it. Entered into force on December 26, 1996.” The extensive UN document, “United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification in Countries Affected by Severe Drought or Desertification, in Particular in Africa” consists of 6 parts, 40 articles and dozens of sections and numerals. Desertification is inseparable from the issues of global warming, water scarcity, drought, deforestation of forests and vegetation fires.
6. Convention on Biological Diversity
The Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) is a legally binding international treaty with three main objectives: “the conservation of biological diversity, the sustainable use of its components and the fair and equitable sharing of the benefits derived from the use of the genetic resources. Its general objective is to promote measures that lead to a sustainable future. ”
7. The Agenda 21. Global action plan to promote sustainable development
The Agenda 21 contains more than 2,500 practical recommendations. It addresses the most urgent problems. “Its goal is to prepare the world for the challenges of the next century. It includes concrete proposals on social and economic issues, such as the fight against poverty, the evolution of production and consumption patterns, demographic dynamics, the conservation and management of our natural resources, the protection of the atmosphere, oceans and the biological diversity, the prevention of deforestation and the promotion of sustainable agriculture.”
We must conclude that most of the objectives of the Rio Summit have not been achieved. When we write this, there is barely a year until the Paris Agreement comes into force. As much as the UN, NGOs and other entities strive with their good intentions to reverse climate change and its adverse effects, it has become difficult to turn those intentions into realities. This is mainly because the big interests are permanent brakes and walls of contention before any action that is decided in favor of life on the planet that touches their interests. For now, there is no effective counterbalance in society that could have any weight in this asymmetric fight.
To verify that most of the objectives of the Rio Summit have not been achieved, instead of using subjective opinions or comments without a scientific basis, we must rely on data and information provided by science.
With all this, science is able to know if the surface of deserts has increased or decreased; if there are more or less plastics in the oceans than a few years ago; how much area of a forest has been depleted in 1, 10 or 25 years; if the global temperature has increased in a certain measured period; how many forest fires occur each year and how much surface area is burned; how much the vertebrate population has declined in half a century; how many species have become extinct and many other information. All this has been done and the result is that every time we are worse than before, except for the beginning of the closure of the ozone holes, as a result of the agreements reached with the Montreal Protocol.
This way, we do not need an oracle of Delphi to guess the future, as the Athenians did 2,500 years ago. They had a special concern to know the future that awaited them. Nor do we need Pythias to give us our destiny in writing, as they did with the Greeks.
Our future is written every day on the atmosphere with carbon letters. The language is called PPM and the temple of Delphi of the 21st century is not at the foot of Parnassus hill but in Hawaii and is the Observatory of Mauna Loa. It is not mythology, superstition or religion. It is a message that only science can read, the means to spread and humanity to receive. We must be very stupid to ignore a future that announces danger and does not make any effort to avoid it.
PPM means parts per million of carbon dioxide (CO2) in the atmosphere, which for millions of years has produced the greenhouse effect, a feature that has allowed life on Earth, due to its quality of maintaining a constant temperature on the planet. The increase of the PPM, due to our CO2 emissions, increases the global warming and climate change effect.
In 1750, at the beginning of the Industrial Revolution, CO2 PPMs were at 280. When the Stockholm Conference was over, in 1972, they were at 330 PPM. 20 years later, during the Rio Summit it had already reached 360 PPM. The psychological line of 400 PPM broke in 2016 and since then has risen to 415, figure of May 19, 2019, provided by Mauna Loa.
Increases like these had not happened on Earth for millions of years. These are the carbon letters which are warning us that the temperature will increase constantly.
The situation is still reversible. The production of electric cars, wind energy and solar energy are increasing. However, this is not enough, because meanwhile continues the compulsive search for oil deposits; more countries are incorporated to extract fossil fuels through fracking; the world’s forests continue to be deforested to feed the wood industry, to accommodate soybean, palm oil and cattle ranching; oceans pollution continues with plastics, industrial discharges and wastewater.
And we arrived today, when, in a surprising way, teenagers and young people have taken the lead and are setting an example in the fight against climate change. Through their movements “Friday For Future“, “Youth for the Climate” or “Extinction Rebellion”, they seem to represent that counterbalance that was needed to pressure the deniers and break the existing asymmetry.
Inspired by the young Greta Thunberg, many teenagers and young people with their strikes, marches and mega concentrations in hundreds of countries, have started a titanic work. They seek to attract with their movement the glances of those who turned their faces to the reports of the activists of the Earth. Your message is addressed to the centers of power, political and economic, demanding the necessary changes to guarantee the future of your generation and the next ones to come.
For now they have achieved that some countries and cities have declared Climate Emergency, an important start for this new stage in the fight to guarantee the future.
Sandor Alejandro Gerendas-Kiss