The Rio+20 conference in Rio de Janeiro this June will be a major event in the world’s ecological history. The event, officially the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development, will provide an opportunity for the world’s nation’s to take stock of what has happened to the environment since an earlier, landmark conference in Rio in 1992 – climate change, loss of biodiversity, species extinctions, desertification, etc., etc. – and to plot ambitious strategies to save the planet in the coming decades.
But don’t hold your breath. The world’s governments are not likely to come up with anything significant. The G-20 nations, which have been described as the “executive board of the world,” have little interest in bold political and institutional reform. That would only disrupt the desperate search for economic growth. An open, candid inquiry into the growth economy, consumerism and the finite carrying capacity of Earth’s biophysical systems would be far too politically explosive. It is far easier to talk about a “green economy,” as if greater efficiencies alone will save the planet.
The real goal of governments at Rio+20 will be to make it look as if they are doing something significant for the environment. No one expects that Rio+20 will result in serious, practical government commitments to “sustainable development” (whatever that means), let alone new forms of multilateral governance that could arrest the planet’s ecological decline.