If you’re worried about the future of the planet (and you haven’t yet had your fill of high-profile summits that seem to boil down to nothing much – see here and here), then you might be keeping a wary eye on what’s unfolding at the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development (or Rio+20).
UN secretary general Ban Ki-moon assures us the event is "too important to fail" – and so it should be … without development that is sustainable (and here’s a nifty one-minute explanation of what that actually means) we don’t stand a chance of tackling our endless environmental problems. So why is it that in the run-up to the summit (reportedly the biggest ever organized by the UN), most commentators have been predicting one of two possible outcomes: a walkout or a washout?
Those are some pretty low expectations for a 20-year follow-up to the historic Earth Summit of 1992 – an extraordinary meeting (attended by presidents, prime ministers and even royalty) that led to landmark agreements like the Kyoto protocol. Twenty years down the line, most high-profile leaders (Obama included) are giving Rio a wide berth and delegates are bracing for plenty of “blah-blah-blah." This is a worrying state of affairs given how urgent our situation has become: since 1992, the human population has reached 7 billion, we've pushed 25% of mammal species close to extinction, hundreds of thousands of square kilometres of Amazon rainforest have been lost, we've developed an ocean-choking plastic addiction and turned the Arctic sea ice into something resembling pea soup.
So how do you feel hopeful (or even interested) in the face of all the apathy? Our suggestion: watch this video. The angry speech, given by then-12-year-old Severn Cullis-Suzuki, silenced all the bickering delegates back in 1992. As the new summit kicks off, we could all use a little dose of her passion and childlike candour.