So it ended, as have most of the recent UN conferences on climate change, with a statement of platitudes and good intentions but nothing in the way of firm commitments to action. George Monbiot called the conference text 283 paragraphs of fluff, The Economist called the outcome “a limp agreement” and “a poor result for a summit billed by some as a “once in a generation” chance to save the planet from its intolerable burden.” Despite warnings of ecological tipping points looming, and the world’s top scientific organisations urging action on population and consumption, the leaders of the world (or at least, the ones who could be bothered to turn up) managed only to boot the ball downfield about as effectively as an English footballer in a penalty shoot out. It was all just too difficult. So they left it for another day — perhaps another generation — to sort out.
Brittany Trilford got her chance to speak truth to power this morning at the Rio + 20 conference, and did an amazing job. It’s worth watching her whole speech, if only to be impressed by the composure a seventeen year old Wellington schoolgirl displays in addressing a roomful of world leaders, but her take-home message was right on the button:
I am here to fight for my future. That is why I’m here. I would like to end by asking you to consider why you’re here and what you can do. Are you here to save face? Or are you here to save us?
Given progress at Rio to date, I think the former rather than the latter, but I’ll comment on that in due course. Transcript of Brittany’s speech below the fold.
Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono gave an impressive speech at the Centre for International Forestry Research last week. How his words translate into the political life of his country I don’t know, but it is hard to fault them as an analysis of the world’s current challenges and a pointer to the direction in which we must move. Not many political leaders take the time to stand back and present such a coherent and complete understanding of what is happening to human societies and the natural environment on which they depend. The speech is worth reading in full, but I’ll extract some of the salient points here.
His theme was sustainable growth with equity.
“What are our choices ?
“We can choose to continue to exhaust the present course, the same course that has been in place for decades and centuries. A world where we obsessively chase after economic growth without regard for ethics or the environment. A world of excessive exploitation of resources, and insatiable consumerism. A world driven by “greed” rather than “need”.
“If we go down this path, we will only find more of the same. It will lead us to more environmental degradation. More deforestation. More pollution. More global warming. More endangered species. More conflict between man and nature. And ultimately, more desperation for the human race.”
The WWF report this week on how New Zealand has handled its responsibilities since the first Earth Summit 20 years ago is damning on the matter of greenhouse gas emissions. We have failed to measure up to our undertakings given back in 1992 and again in 2002. New Zealand signed up to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change on the first day of the that Rio meeting, and subsequently ratified it. We committed in Article 4 to:
“Adopt national policies and take corresponding measures on the mitigation of climate change, by limiting its anthropogenic emissions of greenhouse gases and protecting and enhancing its greenhouse gas sinks and reservoirs. These policies and measures will demonstrate that developed countries are taking the lead.”
The WWF report points out that nothing happened here for the next fourteen years and the country’s greenhouse gas emissions continued to increase. They flattened off after 2007, but that was mainly due to a major drought affecting agriculture and then the subsequent recession. The report considers the Emissions Trading Scheme enacted in 2008 and weakened in 2009 has had limited impact on emissions.
We have clearly failed to set emissions on a downward trajectory.
Wellington schoolgirl Brittany Trilford won TckTckTck’s Date with History competition with this powerful message. She has earned a trip to the Rio+20 Conference in a month’s time, and — with luck — will get the chance to express her feelings to the assembled world leaders. Speak truth to power, Brittany. Speak it loudly. Our leaders, such as they are, need all the truth they can get, and urgently.