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Where are we headed now, 20 years after the Earth Summit?

A big international meeting is coming up that, arguably, could determine our fate as a planet. Yes, I know that’s ridiculous — the idea that one meeting could determine the fate of much of anything.

But the Rio+20 Earth Summit (not a good name, I would argue, since the fact that the meeting in Brazil is actually not that important) could be a good yardstick for measuring the world’s commitment to making some needed course corrections.

Most of us recognize the need for fundamental changes going forward. Just as humanity didn’t decide to remain in the hunter-gatherer phase, we appear to be at a critical juncture where we can evolve or, well, maybe not do so well. Some of the challenges we face now are the threat of climate change, the demands of population growth and finding less exploitative to grow the global economy.

Yeah, sustainable development. Boring lingo, but that’s what we’re talking about here.

The first Earth Summit was 20 years ago, also in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. That’s why they have called this meeting Rio+20, which to me makes as much branding sense as categorizing all 1980s pop music as Haircut 100 music. But what do I know about branding?

Two articles advance this next Earth Summit (I prefer to just call it that) by asking how far we’ve come in achieving the goals set forth decades ago at the original meeting. Not too good. And the fact that President Obama and the UK’s David Cameron are expected to give this meeting a pass — along with reports of already fractious squabbling among nations — is also not a good sign.

Nature issues an Earth Summit Report Card noting:

Although nations have made some marginal advances, the three conventions have failed to achieve even a fraction of the promises that world leaders trumpeted two decades ago.

Inter Press asks How do we measure success at Rio+20? and basically answers this question by saying a good starting place would be to follow through on the strategies suggested two decades ago aimed at striking a better and more equitable — and more environmentally sound — approach to stimulating economic and improving livelihoods.


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.