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The unhappy environment summit

Published:Sunday | June 24, 2012 | 12:00 AM

RIO DE JANEIRO (AP):It was hard to find a happy soul at the end of the Rio+20 environmental summit.

Not within the legion of bleary-eyed government negotiators from 188 nations who met in a failed attempt to find a breakthrough at the United Nations (UN) conference on sustainable development.

Not among the thousands of activists who decried the three-day summit that ended late Friday as dead on arrival. Not even in the top UN official who organised the international organisation's largest-ever event.

"This is an outcome that makes nobody happy. My job was to make everyone equally unhappy," said Sha Zukang, secretary general of the conference, nicely summing up the mood.

In the end, this conference was a conference to decide to have more conferences.

That result was hailed as a success by the 100 heads of state who attended. Given how environmental summits have failed in recent years as global economic turmoil squashes political will to take on climate and conservation issues, the mere fact of agreeing to talk again in the future constitutes victory.

Faced with the real prospect of complete failure, negotiators who struggled for months to hammer out a more ambitious final document ended up opting for the lowest common denominator.

avoiding a meltdown

Just hours before the meeting opened last Wednesday, they agreed on a proposal that makes virtually no progress beyond what was signed at the original 1992 Earth Summit, removing the kind of contentious proposals activists contend are required to avoid an environmental meltdown.

"We've sunk so low in our expectations that reaffirming what we did 20 years ago is now considered a success," said Martin Khor, executive director of the Geneva-based South Centre and a member of the United Nations Committee on Development Policy.

Indeed, the word 'reaffirm' is used 59 times in the 49-page document titled The Future We Want.

They reaffirm the need to achieve sustainable development (but not mandating how); reaffirm commitment to strengthening international cooperation (just not right now); and reaffirm the need to achieve economic stability (with no new funding for the poorest nations).