Rina Saeed Khan
Published Date: Oct 2, 2011
THE LONG ROAD TO RIO
Next year, it will be twenty years since the landmark Earth Summit was held in Rio de Janeiro. I was too young to attend the UN conference but I remember watching it on TV, as all the heads of state gathered in Rio to make pledges on how to manage the planet and safeguard its environment. In the years since 1992, our problems (and our population!) have only grown and unfortunately a lot of plans envisaged by the UN conference were just not implemented. Today, we are facing numerous planetary crises: water scarcity, food and energy insecurity and overall inequity and inefficiency as we recklessly use up our limited natural resources.
In June next year, another UN Conference on Sustainable Development will be held in Rio de Janeiro to mark the twenty years since the Earth Summit. It is an important conference and will be attended by all the major heads of state. There are two themes for the conference: green economy in the context of sustainable development and poverty eradication and institutional framework for sustainable development at the national, regional and global levels. Pakistan will be sending a delegation to this conference, which will present a shared vision to the world on how development should take place in the remaining part of the 21st century. To prepare for Rio+20 (as the conference is being called), national consultations are taking place in all the developing countries.
Last week, a national consultation was held in Islamabad, jointly organised by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) in its capacity as Co-Chair of the one UN Joint Programme on Environment and the Sustainable Development Policy Institute (SDPI). The consultation followed provincial consultations in Lahore and Karachi and engaged a wide range of Pakistani stakeholders: government, private sector, NGOs, think tanks and civil society.
The consultant for Pakistan’s preparations for Rio+20, Ambassador Shafqat Kakakhel stated that the objective of the consultation was to secure renewed political commitment towards sustainable development. It was pointed out that 20 years ago, the Pakistani delegation actually played an important role at the Earth Summit. The head of the UNDP in Pakistan, Mr Tanaka, spoke about how Pakistan’s youth could prove to be a “driver for change” and how we could have resource efficient agriculture in this country. He explained that the green economy was about combining environmental sustainability with technological advancements and that really was a “win-win proposition”. He pointed out that the 18th Amendment was both a challenge and an opportunity — to link policy to implementation. He reminded everyone: “Pakistan’s flag is green… If it is not sustainable, it is not development!”
A representative from the SDPI, a policy oriented multi-disciplinary NGO set up in Islamabad after the Earth Summit, spoke next and admitted that in Pakistan we have the politics of non-implementation despite having some very good policies (like the Pakistan Environment Protection Act which is constantly being violated!).
The most important speaker at the consultative workshop was Adil Najam, a former member of the Nobel Prize winning Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and currently serving as the Vice Chancellor of the Lahore University of Management Sciences. Adil Najam has been actively participating in the global consultations for Rio+20 so he could give an insider’s account of what is happening at the top level. “Actually, the negotiations for the conference to be held next year are being decided right now”. In fact, in his view the window of opportunity to contribute to the global debate on what would be announced next year was closing very soon and that Rio+20 would be more of a place where press conferences would be held and statements made to the public.
Emphasising the significance of the conference, he stated that Rio+20 will “redefine sustainable development in practice”. It would, in his view, “create global positions that allow for local action”. He pointed out how far we have travelled since the last Earth Summit when finance ministers were missing from the conference whereas now there has been a “sea change” with all this talk about green economy. He felt that Rio+20 would be about “writing the story of sustainable development in a different way”.
He explained that if the world was one country than it would be a very poor, divided, insecure and degraded country — more like a poorly governed third world country. “This is the global challenge — an exercise in managing a third world planet!”. The idea behind the conference he explained was “that you can get economic development in a way that the environment is not compromised and social justice and prosperity is achieved for all”. The Rio+20 Summit will be held in the shadow of the global economic crisis so it will be interesting to see how green technologies can give rise to a green economy.
There is a lot of hope riding on this conference and many poverty stricken developing countries desperately need positive actions to come out of this conference instead of more talk and yet more treaties. Adil Najam remains optimistic: “There will be a push for treaty consolidation. What we need is a less cluttered system — more implementation and less negotiations!” Let’s hope that will be Rio+20’s lasting legacy.