Jun. 16, 2012
Will economic policy catch up with the reality of limited resources by changing tax law to encourage sustainability?
The Rio+20 Earth summit must take decisive action on population and consumption regardless of political taboos or it will struggle to tackle the alarming decline of the global environment, the world's leading scientific academies warned on Thursday.
Rich countries need to reduce or radically transform unsustainable lifestyles, while greater efforts should be made to provide contraception to those who want it in the developing world, the coalition of 105 institutions, including the Royal Society, urged in a joint report.
It's a wake-up call for negotiators meeting in Rio for the UN conference on sustainable development.
The authors point out that while the Rio summit aims to reduce poverty and reverse the degradation of the environment, it barely mentions the two solutions that could ease pressure on increasingly scarce resources.
Many in the scientific community believe it is time to confront these elephants in the room. "For too long population and consumption have been left off the table due to political and ethical sensitivities. These are issues that affect developed and developing nations alike, and we must take responsibility for them together," said Charles Godfray, a fellow of the Royal Society and chair of the working group of IAP, the global network of science academies.
In a joint statement, the scientists said they wanted to remind policymakers at Rio+20 that population and consumption determine the rates at which natural resources are exploited and Earth's ability to meet the demand for food, water, energy and other needs now and in the future. The current patterns of consumption in some parts of the world were unsustainable. A sharp rise in human numbers can have negative social and economic implications, and a combination of the two causes extensive loss of biodiversity.
About bloody time that population and consumption was put in to the discussion of the future of the Earth and its people.
Is it me, or the Rio summit is getting basically ignored by the Anerican press? This is important stuff!
This is the first I heard of it. So, yeah, it is being ignored.
Give ya 10 to 1 that is exactly what they are doing! Can't let the lower castes hear what is being said, now can we! Might ferment trouble and our overlords would lose money mightn't they! Carn't have that now can we!
It wasn't reported in my local newspaper. I haven't read the NYT's in a couple of days. A search of "Rio Summit" on their web site only had rio summit articles from 1992 so the answer is Yes the American press is ignoring the story. I got the story in a United Nations news listserve I subscribe to. Is it being reported in Australia Davy?
It seems to me that commercial news sources are just as responsible for climate denial attitudes in the U.S. as those actively promoting it because they commonly site B/S denialist studies in climate articles. It would be interesting to know how often that's actually done.
The U.S. has a terrible record on birth control and education in fourth world countries and the tax policies still reflect attitudes of the eighteenth century where a lot of children were needed to overcome childhood death rates and to work on the farm. The tax system should be updated where one child is a deduction the second isn't and consequential children are a tax liability. Carbon taxes and taxes on other pollutants should be implemented. As it is business defers the costs of pollutants to the state and everyone bears the cost. Shouldn't the cost to dispose of an item be included in the purchase price? If that was the case planned obsolescence might decrease and individuals might not buy new cars every year.
The stations that are reporting the summit in Auss are the the Nine Network, SBS, and the ABC.
Oddly enough Channel nine and SBS seems to be reporting more on the summit than the ABC. But Australia has its share of climate change deniers and like your lot they support the conservatives as well.
Won't believe it till it bites them on the bum!
By the time it bites us on the bum it'll be too late to recover.
We are already close to that time as it is. I feel sorry for our heirs that they won't enjoy the world as we knew it!
Yes, it is striking that commercial news sources are largely neglecting to cover this, why? Apparently they think it's not of interest to the US population. But how can it be of interest if it's under-reported?
The only thing I could find in the New York Times is an opinion article, today:
Twenty years after the largest gathering of heads of state in history at the 1992 Earth Summit, the world’s nations are returning to Rio de Janeiro to negotiate further progress toward sustainable development.
The 80-page draft text that the delegates will be discussing addresses a number of important issues. Yet it is clear that not only has humanity failed to address the problems at the needed scale in the intervening years, but that “Rio+20” will fail to do so as well.
That said, it would be shortsighted to give up on Rio+20: humanity needs the building blocks that can be added by this conference to be as robust as possible.
Part of the problem is a preoccupation with the here and now. That includes the drama of economic problems in the euro zone and weakness in other large economies. In the United States, partisan politics are so polarized and poisonous, and media so fractured, that there is little mention of Rio+20. Many key leaders will not attend: Barack Obama, Angela Merkel and David Cameron (despite the change of date to avoid conflict with the Diamond Jubilee), to name three.
Another problem is the absence of any sense of urgency, even though the world’s actions today are producing an unacceptable environment for those who will be living at the century’s end. One scientific colleague, newly a grandmother, says that in addition to grasping the issues intellectually, she now takes them personally.
What in fact can be achieved at Rio+20?
First, there could be a wholehearted agreement on the draft. Key elements include important energy goals: Dubbed “Sustainable Energy for All,” they include energy access for all and ambitious but achievable goals in renewable energy and energy efficiency.
There are also important “green economy” initiatives — efforts to bring environmental value into economic decision making. Sustainable Development Goals should be negotiated to include much stronger environment elements than their predecessors, the Millennium Development Goals.
Negotiations around global governance, on which progress has been halting at best, will be tougher. Nowhere is that clearer than with the talks on a United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, which have been marked by wrangling over which major emitters should go first. It could almost be caricatured as a game of musical chairs were it not so deadly serious.
In the United States in particular, science has been systematically debased and questioned, as if it killing the messenger will make the problem go away. More than once I have been told that Rio+20 is about development, not environment, losing sight of the fact that environment is an integral part of sustainable development.
A mosaic approach can make some progress. Regional carbon markets involving countries or groups of states can move things in the right direction.
The private sector — which includes corporations with product dwarfing the G.D.P. of many nations — can play a leadership role. There are huge opportunities for innovation in both the nonprofit and for-profit sectors. Science can identify ways to pull carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and feed nine billion people without destroying more natural ecosystems.
There is pressing need to redefine what is reasonable. The usual approach is not reasonable if it leads to a runaway climate problem, cascading loss of biodiversity and a world increasingly resembling a toxic waste dump.
Twenty years beyond the Earth Summit, the clock is ticking. In 1992, atmospheric carbon dioxide concentrations were 357 parts per million. Today they average 395 p.p.m. and readings of 400 p.p.m. have been observed in the Arctic. Rio+20 must mark a start in managing the planet with greater seriousness of purpose than humanity has displayed so far.
Thomas Lovejoy is professor of science and public policy at George Mason University and biodiversity chairman at the H. John Heinz III Center for Science, Economics and the Environment.
It seems that this is being ignored by all the press and media, as I've never heard about this either. I don't understand what's the big deal about population control.