Next year’s UN conference on sustainable development in Rio de Janeiro will be my third such event. Already I am torn between disempowering premonitions of a “Rio lite” outcome, which fails to match the substance of its namesake 20 years earlier, and a sense of the historic opportunities it offers.
The 1992 and 2002 conferences were held in a context of rising public and media pressures to address a list of well-documented social, economic and environmental problems. On paper, at least, their outcomes were comprehensive and compelling. Rio’s agenda 21 and Johannesburg’s plan of implementation offered a clear (if dauntingly long) list of challenges and responses. The problem was, however, that few of the political commitments made have been implemented.