A Beacon in the Fog: Opportunities for International Cooperation on World Oceans Day, at Rio+20 and Beyond

June 8 is World Oceans Day, and I’m thrilled to celebrate it from Rio de Janeiro, where I’ve just arrived for the U.N. Conference on Sustainable Development.  50,000 people are expected to visit in the coming two weeks for this global landmark event.  As my plane approached Brazil from the sky, thick cloud-cover obscured any sign of land or sea below us.  Even after deplaning, the clouds and thick drizzle shrouded the city.  Not until late afternoon did I catch a view of the water from my 11th floor apartment in the Center of the city.  There, in Port, my eyes landed on the massive tower of a floating offshore oil and gas rig. 

In the haze, it could have been mistaken for a wayward mountain, but this astonishing floating compound is a testament to the economic and environmental realities we face in 2012.  Humans have incredible technological skill and drive to produce and expand.  This skill and drive, however, is not yet matched by a drive to collectively curtail the massive environmental damage we are wreaking on the Earth and the systems that keep us alive -- but it needs to be.


This offshore rig is also a grim reminder that, as we make advances in one part of the world, we often play by different rules elsewhere.  This isn’t fair for anyone, but we have alternatives.  If we work together -- sharing information and expertise between nations -- we can raise the bar for everyone, rather than deepening inequalities.

This is the hope we are all banking on at Rio+20: from my colleagues and I with the Natural Resources Defense Council, to hundreds of other NGOs, businesses and leaders from nearly every nation, we are committed to making Rio+20 a beacon in the fog.  While the glacial pace and incremental gains of formal negotiations can push patience and hope to the brink, we still have confidence that external pressure from civil society and business can light a fire under global leaders.

International cooperation has never been more pervasive or more important.  We have the tools to  share science, experience and  advance smart, effective management of human activities and earth’s precious natural resources.

If safe, smart rules are in place in one country, why should polluters be allowed to foul the life-giving air, land and sea in others?  This question can be asked about so many examples: lead was phased out of gasoline in the United States but continued to be used as an additive around the world, by some of the same companies party to the lead-phase-out requirements.  Offshore oil and gas oversight was stricter in Norway than in the United States, as evidenced by the BP Deepwater Horizon, and concluded by the expert Commission that studied the issue.  In many places, manufacturers are required to be responsible for the pollution that is the by-product of their economic activity – in others they dump the cost on the public and the planet. 

This World Oceans Day, so there’s no better time to highlight systemic solutions to persistent plastic pollution and other ways to protect our oceans

I am joining colleagues and experts in Rio to advance solutions  to many different critical problems.  NRDC is advocating for the collection of all of the promises made by communities, corporations and countries at the Earth Summit into what we calling the  Cloud of Commitments.  This is a web-based platform that will enable the world to start to track the progress we are making towards a sustainable future.  This is the kind of real action that will make Rio+20 a success.

This post first appeared on the Natural Resources Defense Council Switchboard Blog roll.