What progress has been made since the first Earth Summit in 1992?
The United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development, more commonly known as the "Earth Summit", met in Rio de Janeiro in 1992. Bringing together more than 178 governments, the Earth Summit’s main outcome was the adoption of Agenda 21 – an action plan for sustainable development.
A follow-up conference, known as "Rio+20", was held in June 2012, also in Rio de Janeiro. More than 190 nations took part in the formal session, whilst more than 50,000 representatives from civil society and business groups took part in a separate "People’s summit". This makes Rio+20 much larger than the original summit, however it has been heavily criticised for not being as decisive or ambitious.
What progress and setbacks have occurred since the 1992 Earth Summit?
How can everyone in the world benefit from sustainable energy?
How do contributions to CO2 differ between countries globally?
"Humanity stands at a defining moment in history. We are confronted with a perpetuation of disparities between and within nations, a worsening of poverty, hunger, ill health and illiteracy, and the continuing deterioration of the ecosystems on which we depend for our well-being. However, integration of environment and development concerns and greater attention to them will lead to the fulfilment of basic needs, improved living standards for all, better protected and managed ecosystems and a safer, more prosperous future. No nation can achieve this on its own; but together we can - in a global partnership for sustainable development." Credit
Rio+20 acknowledged a number of global changes that have occurred, for best and worse, since the summit met in 1992. For example, the Rio+20 draft text notes: "1.4 billion people still live in extreme poverty and one sixth of the world’s population is undernourished."
Information technologies have empowered people
Nations more committed to sustainable development
Multiple interrelated economic and financial crises
Increased stress on natural resources and ecosystems
Volatile energy and food prices
The draft text notes: "despite efforts by Governments and non-State actors in all countries, sustainable development remains a distant goal and there remain major barriers and systemic gaps in the implementation of internationally agreed commitments."
During Rio+20, more than one hundred commitments were made to the United Nations’ Sustainable Energy for All initiative (UNCSD, 22 June 2012).
The global initiative requires action from players across all sectors including business, government and non-governmental organisations (NGOs). By 2030, it aims to:
Provide universal access to modern energy services. This will enable: improved health, empowerment of women, economic development and improved agricultural production
Double the global rate of improvement in energy efficiency. This will enable: affordable energy even where the grid does not reach, energy security and reduced environmental impacts
Double the share of renewable energy in the global energy mix. This will enable: fossil fuels to be used more effectively, more reliable electricity systems and reduced energy costs.
Source: Sustainable Development for All (April 2012)
Over 1 Billion people worldwide lack access to electricity
Nearly 40% of the world rely on wood, charcoal or animal waste to cook
Vietnam has increased electricity access by 1,960% in 35 years
Almost 20% of Denmark’s electricity is produced from wind power
Solar energy’s potential is hundreds of times greater than the world’s electricity use
Brazil’s hydroelectric dams produce 83% of the country’s electricity
Global energy-related carbon dioxide emissions could rise 20% by 2035
Equipment maintenance, thermostat settings and upgrade can reduce emission by up to 50%
These aims – all of which are necessary for long-term sustainable development – could be achieved by bringing together a range of different actors from business, the public sector and civil society. By working together it is hoped that they will be able to harness the power of technology to transform the world’s energy mix over a 20 year period (2010-2030). This, it is hoped, will create a change for generations to come. Practically speaking, there are seven areas of focus:
modern cooking appliances and fuels
distributed electricity solutions
grid infrastructure and supply efficiency
large-scale renewable power
industrial and agricultural processes
buildings and appliances
An initiative that arose from the focus on distributed electricity solutions, Lighting a Billion Lives aims to bring light to people in rural areas of the developing world. Originating in India – where 360 million people lack access to electricity – it acts to provide solar lights to replace kerosene lamps and candles (Lighting a Billion Lives)
Within the 10 year lifespan of each solar light, up to 600 litres of kerosene will be saved and 1.5 tonnes of Carbon Dioxide will be mitigated against. As well as enabling socio-economic activity beyond dark, there are also health and environmental benefits associated with the cleaner form of energy.
This practical solution fits into the Sustainable Development for All plans because it provides small-scale renewable energy to people living out of reach of a main electricity grid.
Activity: Explore the change for yourself
Look at this interactive map from The Guardian (8 December 2011). Use the drop-down menu to explore the global patterns of different CO2 and consumption indicators.
Compare "Current CO2 per person" and "Historical CO2 per person". Which measurement should be used when making decisions about sustainable development? Consider who should take responsibility for climate change, given each country’s need for economic development.
Now select "Change in CO2 since 1990". Which countries do you feel have taken their fair responsibility for reducing their CO2 emissions. Consider whether industrialising nations have a right to emit more CO2 if it means that they can develop.
View this image: World map showing each nation’s territory size according to their increase in CO2 emissions between 1980 and 2000. Credit: World Mapper
Use the graphs and raw data (XLS) to create your own analysis of the changing CO2 emissions since 1992.
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