I am about to go north to our hut on the Northumberland coast with the family for half term. So, as a special treat over the coming 20 days, guest blogger, and my predecessor, Mark Avery will be sharing his thoughts on the global challenges we face ahead of the Rio+20 Earth summit. I know he'll be watching the outcomes of the summit closely. I also know he'll welcome your questions along the way so please do share your thoughts by commenting on his posts.
Can you remember 1992? In the UK, John Major won a general election, Liverpool won the FA Cup at Wembley and petrol was 40p/l. The European Union had 12 members compared with its current 27, the Bosnian war started and Ireland won the Eurovision Song Contest.
1992 was also a year of global environmental agreements with the first World Oceans Day, the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change and, in an unprecedented meeting of global leaders in Rio de Janeiro, the agreement of the UN Convention on Biodiversity.
Known now as the ‘Earth Summit’, that Rio meeting kicked off much of the collaborative global action that aims to stem the loss of biodiversity on this planet. This year, world leaders will again assemble in Rio to discuss how we can live sustainably on the planet which we share with millions of other species.
Today’s is the first of 20 short essays on the challenges that we still face in protecting nature on Earth. In the days running up to this year’s Rio+20 summit (20-22 June 2012) I will describe some of the successes and failures of global attempts to stop the loss of biodiversity around us - and that’s the last time we’ll use the word biodiversity, as from now on I’ll talk about species, habitats, wildlife and nature.
If we live unsustainably in our brief stay on this planet then we make future lives more difficult – future human lives as well as those of beetles and tigers. The message that we depend on the natural world, and its future depends on us too, has been accepted by decision makers during the 20 years since the Rio Earth Summit.
World leaders assembling in Rio on 20 June need to be conscious of the facts that whilst there has been some real progress in making human development more sustainable there is much, much more to do. We have reduced the proportion of the world population living in slums and increased the proportion with access to clean drinking water. Although the overall rate of deforestation has slowed we are still chopping down tropical rainforests at an alarming rate. More species are now listed as being threatened with extinction than were in 1992.
It’s easy to be cynical about international meetings and conventions. With over 170 participating governments at Rio in 1992, and similar numbers attending this year, it is a monumental task to get agreement on anything – and yet 1992 did produce agreements which have been enacted by governments within their own boundaries and through international collaboration ever since.
The overall report card on the last 20 years might read ‘Tried hard in some places at some times but needs to do much better’ and this month’s Rio+20 summit is a chance for the world to reenergise attempts to make our lives on this planet truly sustainable.
Over these 20 days we will visit rainforests and oceans, the tropics and the poles, and talk of sparrows and corals, fish and insects. This will be an opportunity to celebrate some of the successes of the past 20 years but also to face up to the size of the challenge ahead. Much has changed since 1992 – not just the price of petrol and Liverpool’s fate in the Cup Final.
20 years ago the original Earth Summit brought to life the idea of thinking globally and acting locally. Here at the RSPB we are convinced that by acting together we can change the world for the better – locally and globally – indeed that big idea is at the heart of Stepping Up for Nature. Mark’s thought provoking blogs should also provoke action and we’ll suggest some steps you can take on the road to Rio.
Dr Mark Avery is a former Conservation Director of the RSPB and now is a writer on environmental matters. We’ve asked Mark to write these 20 essays in the run up to the Rio+20 conference. His views are not necessarily those of the RSPB. Mark writes a daily blog about UK nature conservation issues.