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Rio+20: Will it save the planet or just be another useless meeting?

Two decades ago, the international community gathered for the 1992 Earth Summit conference in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

Thousands of people attended from nearly every nation on the planet, to address a number of environmental and economic trends that had everyone worried such as increased industrial pollution, rising demand for clean water, rampant poverty, hunger and climate change. Out of that 1992 meeting came the Kyoto Protocol, the climate change treaty, but not much of anything else.

This week, we try again at Rio+20, with an expanded agenda that includes the need to REALLY do something to curb climate change and address many other looming threats to our future as a species — aka, if I do say so, the humanosphere.

These threats to our well-being (well beyond climate change now) are quite real. The goals of this meeting – to arrive at consensus on what’s needed to avoid continuing this massive fouling of our nest – are perhaps more important to our future than any other meeting we could hope to hold. So you’d think there would be some urgency to achieve something.

Don’t hold your breath.

I’m going to make up a rule of meetings. Let’s call it Tom’s Law of Conferencing: The chance of a meeting producing something worthwhile is inversely proportional to its importance. Rio+20 is so important it seems almost certain to fail. To wit:

Christian Science Monitor At Rio+20 meeting, is catastrophic failure inevitable?

Reuters: Expectations low for Rio+20 development summit

NY Times What Rio+20 can do

AFP UN environment summit descends into haggling before it starts

However, some of the news reports or posts in the blogosphere are more hopeful — or at least just reporting what can be accomplished at Rio+20 if something does happen to get accomplished:

Inter Press Concrete goals needed for success at Rio+20

ONE campaign How to (virtually) participate in Rio+20

Gates Foundation’s Impatient Optimists blog How to feed everyone without wrecking the planet

Finally, here’s a pitch from the Prince of Wales. I’d like to poke fun at it, but it’s actually a good overview of why this meeting is so important — and why it’s so disappointing that so many of the world’s leaders (like President Barack Obama or the UK’s David Cameron) “continue to ignore” these many crises:



About Author

Tom Paulson

Tom Paulson is founder and lead journalist at Humanosphere. Prior to operating this online news site, he reported on science,  medicine, health policy, aid and development for the Seattle Post-Intelligencer. Contact him at tom[at] or follow him on Twitter @tompaulson.