My Eyeball and Envisioning the Rio+20 Earth Summit

After a year of Racing to Rio, I was suddenly not sure whether I would be able to travel there as scheduled this Monday night.  We've been long envisioning and advocating for a different kind of Earth Summit this June in Rio -- one that would produce real action and accountability (here, here, here…). Often I have dreamed of going to Rio to be a part of a truly transformative gathering of world leaders who recognizing our collective planetary peril, would stop talking and start acting.

But just a week before my scheduled flight to Rio, I had to undergo an emergency operation on my right eye. The surgeon repaired my torn retina and braced my aging eyeball.  For the last several days, I have had to nurse a serious shiner. It gave me a chance to think about my many years as an international environmental advocate and what this Summit will mean for my children and their futures. I also mulled over the recent scienitific studies on the declining health of our planet and wondered why their urgent pleas are not being heard ?  I thought a lot about what we can still do to ensure that the Summit is a success and to achieve its most important goal -- speeding up the transformation to a low-carbon green economy.  

I am well aware that some groups and commentators have already started to label the prospects for the Rio+20 Summit as “gloomy.”  There is definitely a possiblity of another meltdown in the formal negotiations like the one the world witnessed at the 2009 climate treaty talks in Copenhagen. Here again 195 national governments are attempting  to negotiate a detailed  “business plan for the planet"  without a strong, singular vision.  If the diplomats do succeed, they will deliver an 80-plus-page "output document" for the consideration of the presidents and prime ministers when they arrive on June 20 for the three day summit.. But the leaders would not be able to read through the whole document.  They would run the risk of not being able to reach agreement on the most significant proposals, including Sustainable Development Goals, high-seas biodiversity protection, and upgrading UNEP.  In the end, media could declare a Summit "failure." The public will not care; and no one will even remember what happened at the Summit two years from now when the world returns to Rio for the World Cup.  

In contrast, I am feeling really good about Rio+20. I was very fortunate; and my recovery has been quick. It appears now that I will be heading to Rio after all with with my vision pretty much restored.  I now have even greater hope that this Earth Summit will be important and historic. But we will have to be able to see how much has changed since the 1992 summit and what is really going on in Rio and the world.  The important story will not be what the governments in the end can agree or not agree to in a document. Instead it will be about the emergence of new  structures and arenas to drive sustainability. It will be about Rio's embrace of "globalization" and  "connectivity" -- the two most powerful forces of the 21st century, according to Tom Friedman. We are optimistic because we are seeing the gathering of a “cloud of commitments” around the Summit. We are going to highlight and record the hundreds of initiatives, networks, partnerships, coalitions, and other pledges that leaders at all levels will make in Rio. 

On June 17, we will be launching the “Cloud of Commitments” website, Version 1.0. We want the Cloud to be the portal for anyone interested in seeing who is making promises at Rio to take action and what are they doing to fulfill them.   We will have links to more than a dozen commitment registries, platforms, and events where pledges are being made. We expect major specific commitments in a broad range of areas, including sustainable energy, urban transportation, forests, oceans, and governance. When aggregated, these commitments will demonstrate that there is a powerful movement worldwide towards sustainability.  Over time, we hope the "cloud of commitments" will evolve into a global platform to enable all of us to share in meeting the challenge of creating a sustainable future to our children. 

See you in Rio!

Also published on NRDC's Switchboard here.