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June 27, 2012

The Writing on the Wall Series #71: Rio+ 20... Another Missed Opportunity

Hello Every One!

As a complement to the 2012 Meditation Focus Series – Week # 27: Envisioning Our New Earth, I've put together this little compilation on the Rio+ summit that, according to the many critics featured below, was not exactly a high point in term of leadership and actual steps to slow down, stop and reverse the steep decline of our sole planetary life support system.

So the ball is definitely in our court if anything is going to change for the better...

Jean Hudon
Earth Rainbow Network Coordinator

This compilation is archived at

STATS for this compilation: Over 15,000 words and 62 links provided.

Free subscription to a large weekly Earth Rainbow Network compilation by simply sending a blank email to


"The point is, if we play by the rules that corporations have set for our political life, we're going to lose. Corporate polluters channelled $350,000 to Ohio’s governor to make sure he was pushing fracking, and they made sure that the official text in Rio was a mush of weasel words and toothless promises. (...) Governments failed us in Rio -- and if we don’t shake things up, there’s no reason to think that they are likely to change."

– Bill McKibben -- Taken from Breaking the rules (June 26, 2012)

"Can we respond to the true nature of global climate change from just an economic or political perspective? Our ecological imbalance and the resulting crisis of climate change are caused by our industrial culture, by its chemicals, toxins and particularly carbon emissions. At the root of our predicament is a deep disregard for both the environment and for the consequences of our actions until it is almost too late. How can we expect to solve this ecological imbalance without an awareness of these roots -- that part of the real cost of our materialistic way of life is our loss of a lived connection and reverence for the sacred that is in all of life? Surely we need to recognize that there is a direct relationship between our outer, physical, ecological predicament and our forgetfulness of the sacred in creation. Spiritual Ecology is an exploration of the spiritual dimension of our present ecological crisis. At the core of Spiritual Ecology is an understanding that our present outer ecological crisis is a reflection of an inner spiritual crisis. Recently many people have been made aware that we are at the "eleventh hour," or even a few minutes before midnight, of a global ecological situation that could result in catastrophic climate change or other irreversible global situations. However we are less aware of the inner spiritual crisis that underlies this outer crisis -- that a lack of awareness of the sacred within ourselves and within all of life has created an inner wasteland as real as any outer landscape. The interconnection between the outer and inner is foundational to life, both our individual life and the life of all of creation, as has been understood by indigenous peoples since the very beginning; therefore we cannot address our outer ecological crisis without a real consciousness of the inner situation. We cannot redeem our physical environment without restoring our relationship to the sacred."

- Llewellyn Vaughan-Lee -- Taken from Spiritual Ecology: The Solution to Our Climate Change Crisis?


1. Cowards at Rio? Organizations decry 'pathetic' agreement
2. Pie in the sky: the Rio+ 20 story
3. Scientists: if we don't act now we're screwed
4. Earth's resources in peril, UN warns Goals for the Rio Summit almost all unmet: report
5. UN takes pulse of the planet: Prognosis isn't good
6. Earth 'going downhill' as consumption rises, report says
7. Apocalypse Soon: Has Civilization Passed the Environmental Point of No Return?
8. Rio+20: a call to responsibility, a call to action


Yes, there is an alternative to capitalism: Mondragon shows the way (24 June 2012)
Why are we told a broken system that creates vast inequality is the only choice? Spain's amazing co-op is living proof otherwise (...) In May 2012, I had occasion to visit the city of Arrasate-Mondragon, in the Basque region of Spain. It is the headquarters of the Mondragon Corporation (MC), a stunningly successful alternative to the capitalist organization of production. MC is composed of many co-operative enterprises grouped into four areas: industry, finance, retail and knowledge. In each enterprise, the co-op members (averaging 80-85% of all workers per enterprise) collectively own and direct the enterprise. Through an annual general assembly the workers choose and employ a managing director and retain the power to make all the basic decisions of the enterprise (what, how and where to produce and what to do with the profits).As each enterprise is a constituent of the MC as a whole, its members must confer and decide with all other enterprise members what general rules will govern MC and all its constituent enterprises. In short, MC worker-members collectively choose, hire and fire the directors, whereas in capitalist enterprises the reverse occurs. One of the co-operatively and democratically adopted rules governing the MC limits top-paid worker/members to earning 6.5 times the lowest-paid workers. Nothing more dramatically demonstrates the differences distinguishing this from the capitalist alternative organization of enterprises. (In US corporations, CEOs can expect to be paid 400 times an average worker's salary – a rate that has increased 20-fold since 1965.)Given that MC has 85,000 members (from its 2010 annual report), its pay equity rules can and do contribute to a larger society with far greater income and wealth equality than is typical in societies that have chosen capitalist organizations of enterprises. Over 43% of MC members are women, whose equal powers with male members likewise influence gender relations in society different from capitalist enterprises. CLIP


From Fred Burks ( - 8 June 2012

What wild, crazy, and exciting times we live in! If you watch the news or read the newspaper, it may seem that everything is falling apart, the world is filled with war, fear, greed, and hate, and we're all screwed. These are real challenges we are facing, yet there are also many amazing developments that the media is hardly reporting. The old media truism is that fear-mongering and sensationalism sell. But what if we make it more fun and even profitable to spread love, joy, and inspiration in life?

Below is a list of 10 most inspiring trends showing that we are not screwed, that despite the challenges, there are many great reasons for hope and optimism. These inspiring trends suggest that we are in the midst of a huge shift that could very well lead to a much more rich and enjoyable world for all. For each reason listed below, several links are given to verify the inspiring material presented and to dive deeper into it. Behold, 10 reasons to become hope-mongerers!

Reason #1 : Humans Are Not Lemmings! Global Population Leveling Off

Reason #2 : Solar Power Soon Cheaper Than Coal, Gas, and Oil

Reason #3 : The Internet Miracle – Unprecedented Networking, Information Access

Reason #4 : Children More Loved, Supported Than Past Generations

Reason #5 : Violent Crime Dropping Dramatically, Wars Much Less Vicious

Reason #6 : Focus Shifting from Left vs. Right to 99% vs. 1% to the Human Family

Reason #7 : Man Behind the Curtain Exposed – The Global Power Elite

Reason #8 : Interest in Personal Growth, Consciousness Expansion on the Rise

Reason #9 : Love and Cooperation Are Rockin' Our World!

Reason #10 : You Can Be Master of Your Own Life Now!!!


Owned & Operated (1 hour 46 min) Quite powerful stuff!!
Owned & Operated is a mosaic of the world through the lens of the internet. Showing our lives as consumers, under the thumbs of privileged individuals and their methods of control. But the world is awakening, and the experience is something outside the normal rules of social interaction, causing excitement in those who are not served by the current system... and fear in those who are pampered by it. This documentary attempts to present these events using the video, audio and written content uploaded to the internet by the collective human consciousness comprised of every individual participant. Oh yes, change is coming... and it will be more dramatic than anybody can imagine. This is a not-for-profit project, but we're attempting to use the film as a springboard to bring together other activist minded creative professionals and build a community online that fosters the development of resources needed for individuals to create higher quality awareness minded media projects in the future. The community forum is located at



Cowards at Rio? Organizations decry 'pathetic' agreement

Jeremy Hance - June 20, 2012

As world leaders head to Rio de Janeiro for the UN Summit on Sustainable Development, environmental and poverty groups are denouncing the last-minute text agreed on by dignitaries as "pathetic," (Greenpeace), a "damp squib" (Friends of the Earth), "a dead end" (Oxfam), and, if nothing changes, "a colossal waste of time" (WWF).

"We were promised the 'future we want' but are now being presented with a 'common vision' of a polluter’s charter that will cook the planet, empty the oceans and wreck the rain forests,“ the head of Greenpeace, Kumi Naidoo, said. "This is not a foundation on which to grow economies or pull people out of poverty, it’s the last will and testament of a destructive twentieth century development model."

Going into the UN's largest summit ever, few had expected a world-rattling or even an ambitious agreement. In fact, expectations had been low for months. But changes to the text during the last week weakened everything from combating poverty to valuing biodiversity, causing universal condemnation from NGOS. Strong words not only came from Greenpeace, which is known for them, but also the more diplomatic World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) and Oxfam.

"The revised text is a colossal failure of leadership and vision from diplomats. They should be embarrassed at their inability to find common ground on such a crucial issue," Jim Leape, the head of WWF said.

It wasn't just green groups, however, that were condemning the agreement's text but some officials as well.

"The EU would have liked to see a much more concrete and ambitious outcome, so in that respect I'm not happy with it," Danish Environment Minister Ida Auken told BBC News. Although she added that "we managed to get the green economy on the agenda, and so I think we have a strong foundation for this vision that can drive civil society and the private sector to work in the same direction."

The document does set up a plan for creating sustainable development goals (SDGs), but gives no sense of what these goals will be or a timeline for defining them. Other issues largely fell flat.

Despite a massive twitter campaign this week to end fossil fuel subsidies, big oil nations like Canada and Venezuela managed to weaken any increased effort to end the subsidies, which experts say are worsening climate change and wasting tax dollars. The current text merely reiterates a call to phase out "harmful and inefficient" fossil fuels subsidies without a set date. The language in the documents simply repeats a similar agreement made in 2009, although in the past three years such subsidies have actually increased.

While climate change is dubbed "one of the greatest challenges of our time" in the Rio document, the issue gets just three paragraphs (out of 283), making up 1 percent of the agreement. Forests receive four paragraphs and includes little more than reiteration of past agreements. Bizarrely, there is no mention of the Arctic in the document, although the ecosystem is warming at a faster rate than anywhere else in the world and, as such, has become a new staging ground for fossil fuels exploitation and fisheries.

One of the most anticipated sections of the agreement was the proposed creation of a new governing structure for the high seas. But this has been kicked down the road for three years at the behest of the U.S., Japan, Canada, Russia and Venezuela.

"It's like telling your girlfriend you promise to decide in three years whether or not to decide, whether or not to get married," Susanna Fuller, representing a coalition of NGOs entitled the High Seas Alliance, said of the text on the high seas.

For Greenpeace head, Naidoo, this was the last straw.

"What kept Greenpeace in the process was that it looked like we could get a decent deal on the oceans but we have now got a really watered-down text that has very little teeth," he told the Guardian today.

Not everyone sees the agreement as much ado about nothing, however.

"This agreement means we have made progress towards achieving what the Rio Earth Summit set out to do—to get the world on the right path to achieve cleaner and greener growth that ends the damage we have done to the environment and helps end poverty," Caroline Spelman, the Environmental Secretary with the UK, said.

But Craig Bennett with Friend of the Earth says that industrialized nations are living in a dream.

"Developed countries have repeatedly failed to live safely within our planet's limits. Now they must wake up to the fact that until we fix our broken economic system we're just papering over the ever-widening cracks."

Overall critics contend that while the agreement acknowledges that the world is facing a global environmental and humanitarian crisis due to climate change, resource scarcity, ecosystem degradation, entrenched poverty, and biodiversity loss, it outlines no actions to deal with it. The agreement is full of "we recognize" but very little "we must."

In fact the text has already spurred an online petition asking nations to "stop negotiating their short-term national agendas" and instead commit to "transitional actions for global sustainable progress." The petition is entitled, "The Future We Don't Want," a play on the title of the Summit.

Still time?

Some are holding out hope that the arrival of world leaders will spur more ambitious changes to the document. In fact, the Rio+20 meeting didn't officially kick-off until this morning.

"It's up to world leaders to get serious about sustainable development and save this process. If they approve what’s on the table now without significant changes, they’ve doomed Rio+20 to ridicule," Leape with WWF said.

However, dignitaries say the document is likely closed.

"I believe this document is done," Todd Stern, head negotiator with the U.S. told the BBC. Stern also called the agreement "a good step forward," though it should be noted that the Obama Administration has been widely viewed as pushing for a weak document overall.

Moreover, by all signs, host-nation Brazil, is not interested in having the agreement undergo more debate. According to observers Brazil aggressively pushed the current text through in a bid to have something on the table by the time world leaders showed up.

Still, if a significant bloc of nations resist the current text, it could be re-opened for negotiation.

"Everybody should look in the mirror and ask what history is going to make of this. We face connected crises. Rio+20 should be a turning point, but it is a dead end," Stephen Hale, spokesperson for Oxfam said. "This summit could be over before it's started. World leaders arriving tonight must start afresh. Almost a billion hungry people deserve better."

What's at Stake?

The weeks leading up to the summit have been full of bleak reports detailing progress on environmental and poverty goals, or lack thereof. A massive report by the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) found that the world has made good progress on only four environmental goals our of ninety. Major issues like climate change, increasing food production, desertification, and improving efficiency of resource use saw little to no improvement in the past 20 years. Some environmental problems, such as coral reef degradation, have actually worsened.

Meanwhile, the scientific journal Nature this week graded world leaders on the implementation of three major environmental treaties. In all three cases—climate change, biodiversity decline, and desertification—the journal gave world leaders an 'F'. At the same time 22 scientists found that that the Earth was reaching a global tipping point due to climate change, ecosystem destruction, overpopulation, and overconsumption.

Solutions to these issues are not illusory according to experts. A recent paper by some of the world's most notable scientists dubbed Environment and Development Challenges: The Imperative to Act has called for rapid reduction of greenhouse gas emissions (which continue to rise), aggressive deployment of renewable energy, decoupling consumption from environmental destruction, increasing energy efficiency, placing a market value on biodiversity and ecosystem services, replacing GDP for a more holistic measure of success, and addressing overpopulation through education and access to contraception.

Few attending the summit doubt that the obstacles are major, but it may be that the UN has run out of ways to deal with them. Some point to the failures in the document as more evidence of a stymied international system in an increasingly complex world. Dependent on the consensus of nearly two hundred countries as well as voluntary commitments that are often ignored once the summit goes dark, an argument could be made that the UN is too weak to tackle such massive issues. In fact, some have argued that the UN needs an overhaul to deal with crises such as climate change and global poverty.

Others, however, say that the real hope provided by the Rio+20 is not governments haggling over every word, but the fact that the massive summit has brought together thousands of experts, NGOs, and businesses concerned about the plight of a warming planet that is running low on resources and running out of ecosystems. For them the solution may be found in bottom-up and not top-down initiatives.

Perhaps anticipating that the text would be weakened further, the head of the UN, Ban Ki-moon, elucidated in part this argument in the Guardian on Monday. Arguing that while the agreement at Rio+20 was important, the world—from individual countries to corporates—was already shifting toward greener, more sustainable practices.

"Far more important [than the agreement] is what the Rio conference has already accomplished. And that is to build a global movement for change," he wrote, adding that "For too long we have sought to burn and consume our way to prosperity. That model is dead. At Rio, we must begin to create a new one—a model for a 21st century economy that rejects the myth that there must be a zero-sum trade-off between growth and the environment."

Yet civil groups don't see that model being forged in the document. Today, Greenpeace head, Naidoo, told the Guardian that civil disobedience was on the table for the group. Naidoo is very familiar with civil disobedience: as a South African teenager he was hugely active in the fight against apartheid.

"We have to ask ourselves what history teaches us in terms of how change happens when humanity has faced a big challenge, such as civil rights, apartheid or slavery," he said. "It is only when decent men and women said enough is enough and no more and were prepared to put their lives on the line and go to prison if necessary, and that is where we are. We have to intensify civil disobedience."

Earlier this month, former Brazilian presidential candidate Marina Silva told the AFP that the Rio+20 Summit should become "the Tahrir Square of the global environmental crisis," referring to non-violent protests in Egypt that helped spark revolutions across the Middle East last year.



Pie in the sky: the Rio+ 20 story

RIO DE JANEIRO, June 20, 2012

Differences galore over the commitments made at the Earth Summit

As the leaders met in a mountain-girdled Brazilian town for the crucial official round of discussions on the Rio+20 text, what was most noticeably missing was the kind of excitement that was witnessed two decades ago, when more than 172 governments, as many as 108 of them sending their heads of state, participated for the first-of-its-kind global awakening event. The developed nations are seen advising the developing nations to “look forward” and not to “look backwards,” to the promises made in 1992. They have made it known that they would remain non-committal on most of the issues by taking a stand that Rio+20 is not be treated as a “pledging event.”

The differences are over reconfirming the commitments made at Rio Earth Summit — its vision, financial commitments and sustainable development goals.

When the 1992 summit could come out with the Rio Declaration on Environment and Development — which consequently paved the way for the signing of the Kyoto Protocol and the UN Action Plan on Sustainable Development or the Agenda 21 — the nations are now fighting shy of any commitment on the promises they had made at the first summit, not to speak of making fresh commitments.

No developed country, many of them facing financial crises back home, want to carry out the commitment they had made on contributing 0.7 per cent of GNP to the implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

This time there has not been much talk about “North-South cooperation.” The emphasis has appeared to be on “South-South’ or even triangular cooperation.

The jugglery over words has led to rephrasing of “technology transfer” to “technology development,” and “green economy” to “green economy policies.” The European Union, Australia and New Zealand wanted “technology transfer.” These countries want to remove any reference to Intellectual Property Rights and patent rights held by the rich nations in green technologies. The U.S. and Canada are averse to making any commitment on increase in overseas development assistance.

The rich nations have taken a stand that the additional finances will have to come through South-South collaboration, Foreign Direct Investment and the markets.

The G-77 countries, of which India too is a part, argued — rather successfully this time — that the use of the expression “green economy’ could be misleading and faulty as each country’s situation varies and hence each should be allowed to figure out what is “green” for it. The title, “technology trap” in the text has been changed to “technology” with a reference that technology transfer would on the basis of “mutual agreement.”

As for the SDGs, there is a suggestion to appoint a steering committee of 30 experts by the forthcoming 67th meeting of the UN General Assembly.

The steering committee would be asked to present its proposal to the UN General Assembly at its 68th meeting.

As the draft undergoes changes and mutation, the responses too vary.

The developing countries now find it more acceptable. Yet they criticised it for ‘failing’ to address issues of finance.

The Algerian Chair of G-77 termed it “more reassuring” as it would lead to some outcome for Rio +20. Yet, the Algerian Ambassador was quoted as saying that the developing countries were being asked to take up new obligations without being given anything new in return.

Senior Brazilian officer Luiz Machado, involved in the discussions on the resolution, said if anyone was unhappy that was only normal in an exercise of this magnitude.

Coming out perhaps with the harshest response, the European Union termed the text “not worthy of being presented to the heads of states.”

See also...

Rio+ 20 summit: Brazil, China and India change the global governance game (27 JUNE 2012)

World Environment Day
What is the Green Economy? The global financial crisis that began in 2007, and is still resonant today, is considered by many economists as the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression of the 1930s. One of the key lessons we can draw from this experience is that running economies the way we’ve always done, doing business as usual, is clearly not an option. The new Green Economy is therefore a proposal for an alternative and far more sustainable way of doing business. A green economy is described as one that results in improved human well-being and social equity, while significantly reducing environmental risks and ecological scarcities. In other words, we can think of a green economy as an economic environment that achieves low carbon emissions, resource efficiency and at the same time is socially inclusive. CLIP



Scientists: if we don't act now we're screwed

Jeremy Hance - June 07, 2012

Scientists warn that the Earth may be reaching a planetary tipping point due to a unsustainable human pressures, while the UN releases a new report that finds global society has made significant progress on only four environmental issues out of ninety in the last twenty years. Climate change, overpopulation, overconsumption, and ecosystem destruction could lead to a tipping point that causes planetary collapse, according to a new paper in Nature by 22 scientists. The collapse may lead to a new planetary state that scientists say will be far harsher for human well-being, let alone survival.

"The odds are very high that the next global state change will be extremely disruptive to our civilizations. Remember, we went from being hunter-gathers to being moon-walkers during one of the most stable and benign periods in all of Earth's history," co-author Arne Mooers with Simon Fraser University explains in a press release.

If it all sounds apocalyptic, the scientists say it probably should.

"In a nutshell, humans have not done anything really important to stave off the worst because the social structures for doing something just aren't there," says Mooers. "My colleagues who study climate-induced changes through the earth's history are more than pretty worried. In fact, some are terrified."

A new bleaker world?

Much like a single ecosystem can collapse if overexploited or degraded for too long, the scientists argue that the global environment could also reach a tipping point, leading to a whole new world. While planetary states have changed throughout Earth's history—such as the mass extinction of the dinosaurs and the rise of the mammals—this would be the first global shift caused by a single species. The 22 authors—including ecologists, biologists, complex-systems theoreticians, geologists and paleontologists—examined how human pressures are modifying our atmosphere, oceans, land, and climate to an extent in which current ecological states could collapse, impoverishing the world.

"The data suggests that there will be a reduction in biodiversity and severe impacts on much of what we depend on to sustain our quality of life, including, for example, fisheries, agriculture, forest products and clean water. This could happen within just a few generations," says lead author Anthony Barnosky, with the University of California, Berkeley. Some species would likely come out as winners in this scenario, but overall biodiversity would crash with drastic impacts for human society.

Research on ecological collapse has shown that once 50-90 percent of an ecosystem is altered, it risks imminent collapse. Extrapolating this to the world as a whole, the researchers point out that today 43 percent of the world's terrestrial ecosystems have been converted to agriculture or urban use with roads covering most wild areas. Experts say that by 2025, half of the world's land surface will have been altered. Even untouched areas, however, are feeling the impacts of climate change, biodiversity loss, and pollution.

"Can it really happen? Looking into the past tells us unequivocally that, yes, it can really happen. It has happened," Barnosky says. "I think that if we want to avoid the most unpleasant surprises, we want to stay away from that 50 percent mark."

The scientists also compared today's environmental pressures to past tipping points that led to wholesale planetary changes.

"The last tipping point in Earth's history occurred about 12,000 years ago when the planet went from being in the age of glaciers, which previously lasted 100,000 years, to being in its current interglacial state," explains Mooers. "Once that tipping point was reached, the most extreme biological changes leading to our current state occurred within only 1,000 years. That's like going from a baby to an adult state in less than a year."

However, he adds: "The planet is changing even faster now."

Co-author Elizabeth Hadly says that tipping points may have already occurred in some regions, leading to a ruined environment, worsening conflict, and human misery.

"I just returned from a trip to the high Himalayas in Nepal, where I witnessed families fighting each other with machetes for wood—wood that they would burn to cook their food in one evening. In places where governments are lacking basic infrastructure, people fend for themselves, and biodiversity suffers," she says. "We desperately need global leadership for planet Earth."

Little progress

Global leadership will be attempted in a few week at the UN's Rio+20 Summit on Sustainability, which marks twenty years since a landmark environmental agreement was signed at Rio in 1992. But a new report by the UN Environment Program (UNEP) finds that in the last twenty years the world has made little significant progress on its ambitious environmental goals.

"If current patterns of production and consumption of natural resources prevail and cannot be reversed and 'decoupled,' then governments will preside over unprecedented levels of damage and degradation," said UNEP Executive Director Achim Steiner in a statement.

The report, entitled the Global Environment Outlook, is the fifth to be released by the UNEP and the bleakest. While the world has made good progress on four goals—eliminating ozone harming products, removing lead from fuel, increasing access to improve water supplies, and research on reducing marine pollution—it has not tackled 86 others.

On the plus side, forty of the goals have seen some progress, including the establishment of protected areas on land, which currently cover 12 percent of the world's land, and slowing the rate of deforestation. Although forests continue to fall worldwide for commodities and consumer products, nations like Brazil have achieved significant declines in deforestation. The report also finds some progress in fighting global hunger with the rate of people suffering from malnourishment decreasing even though the total number is on the rise.

Little to no progress was made on 24 of the environmental goals, including what many scientists say is the gravest threat to the environment (and humanity) today: climate change. Other goals in this category include increasing food production, combating desertification, saving endangered species, improving efficiency of resource use, and recognizing ecosystem services in the economy.

Declines were actually measured in eight of the goals, including on the health of coral reefs and wetlands, as well as in the consumption of freshwater.

The remaining fourteen goals, such as protecting freshwater ecosystems, lacked enough data to make a conclusion.

"The moment has come to put away the paralysis of indecision, acknowledge the facts and face up to the common humanity that unites all peoples," Steiner said. "Rio+20 is a moment to turn sustainable development from aspiration and patchy implementation into a genuine path to progress and prosperity for this and the next generations to come."

Fiddling while Rio burns

But observers do not expect much from Rio+20, at least not from world leaders and governments. Nations are working on a draft document called "The Future We Want" to be agreed upon at the summit, but the document is merely a pledge without any binding actions. Still, government negotiations over the document's wording have been fierce and persnickety according to observers, with the World Wide Fund for Wildlife (WWF) warning this week that negotiations over the already watered-down agreement could well "collapse."

Greenpeace reports that developing nations are stripping the document of any references to "accountability," making even calls for transparency difficult, meanwhile the U.S. has come out opposing the major reference for nations to deal with "unsustainable consumption and production patterns" and is cutting any reference to "equity."

The summit has already dropped any focus on global environmental crises like climate change and deforestation, but some are holding out hope that it will result in better marine protections and greater strength for the UNEP. Observers also say that the thousands of attending NGOs, businesses, and experts may help move the world forward, while governments stall. Several of the world's top leaders have opted out of attending the summit, among them U.S. President Barack Obama, UK Prime Minister David Camera, and German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

Solutions to the world's ongoing global environmental crisis are not mysterious. Scientists and experts urge a rapid transition from fossil fuels to renewable energy, ending harmful subsidies, conservation of global biodiversity, protection of standing forests, an overhaul of fisheries and ocean management, increasing energy efficiency and access, transforming agricultural systems, changing measurements of national success to focus on human well-being over GDP, and combating overpopulation through education and contraceptive access.

"My view is that humanity is at a crossroads now, where we have to make an active choice," integrative biologist Anthony Barnosky says. "One choice is to acknowledge these issues and potential consequences and try to guide the future (in a way we want to). The other choice is just to throw up our hands and say, 'Let's just go on as usual and see what happens.' My guess is, if we take that latter choice, yes, humanity is going to survive, but we are going to see some effects that will seriously degrade the quality of life for our children and grandchildren."

Related article:

Scientists give world leaders 'Fs' on climate change, biodiversity, and desertification (June 19, 2012)
It seems world leaders may need to retake environmental studies. As the Rio+20 Summit on Sustainable Development opens, the scientific journal, Nature, has evaluated the progress made on three treaties signed at the Rio Earth Summit in 1992: climate change, biodiversity decline, and desertification. Unfortunately the publication gives progress on all three treaties an 'F', highlighting how little progress has been made on the global environmental crisis.Nature point out that world leaders have failed to stabilize greenhouse gas emissions, which have actually increased by 45 percent between 1990 and 2010. Meanwhile while nations pledged to stem the loss in biodiversity by 2010, they failed to do so, and by all accounts overall biodiversity continues to decline. Finally a little-known treaty to stem desertification has not only failed to date, but has been largely ignored.Not all the grades, however, were 'Fs'. While Nature failed world leaders for overall climate action, they gave them 'As' on tracking greenhouse gas emissions and sinks, advancing climate research and policy, and establishing a diplomatic process. The problem is none of these actions have resulted in what really matters: cutting greenhouse gas emissions. CLIP



Earth's resources in peril, UN warns Goals for the Rio Summit almost all unmet: report

Agence France-Presse - June 8, 2012

Population growth and unsustainable consumption are driving Earth towards "unprecedented" environmental destruction, the UN said in a report ahead of the Rio Summit.

Of 90 key goals to protect the environment, only four have seen good progress, the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) said in a planetary assessment issued every five years.

"If current patterns of production and consumption of natural resources prevail and cannot be reversed and 'decoupled,' then governments will preside over unprecedented levels of damage and degradation," said UNEP executive-director Achim Steiner.

The June 20-22 summit aims at plotting a course for green development over the next two decades.

But the report warned of many challenges, painting a tableau of a planet whose resources were being stressed into the red zone.

Since 1950, the world's population has doubled to seven billion and is on course for around 9.3 billion by 2050.

At the same time, use of natural resources has zoomed as emerging countries follow rich economies in a lifestyle that is gluttonous on energy and use of water, habitat and fisheries.

"Burgeoning populations and growing economies are pushing environmental systems to destabilizing limits," said the report.

It analyzed 90 objectives for the environment identified by UN members.

Only four have seen significant progress: scrapping CFC chemicals that damage Earth's protective ozone layer; removing lead from fuel; increasing access to clean water for the poor; and boosting research to reduce marine pollution.

In 40 goals that UN member states asked to be monitored, there was "some" progress, such as expanding national parks and tackling deforestation.

But there was little or no progress in 24 others, including curbing climate change, fisheries depletion and desertification.

"The scientific evidence, built over decades, is overwhelming and leaves little room for doubt," Steiner said. "The moment has come to put away the paralysis of indecision, acknowledge the facts and face up to the common humanity that unites all peoples."

"Rio+20 is a moment to turn sustainable development from aspiration and patchy implementation into a genuine path to progress and prosperity for this and the next generations to come."

For climate change, the last decade was the warmest on record, and in 2010 emissions from fossil fuels were the highest ever.

"Under current models, greenhouse-gas emissions could double over the next 50 years, leading to (a) rise in global temperature of three degrees Celsius or more by the end of the century," UNEP said. "The annual economic damage from climate change is estimated at one to two per cent of world GDP by 2100 if temperatures increase by 2.5 C," it warned. The UN's target is 2 C.

However, there have been gains in energy efficiency and "some progress" towards meeting emissions targets under the Kyoto Protocol, UNEP said.

For eight goals, including preservation of the coral reefs, things have deteriorated.

The GEO report proposed a panoply of remedial measures for Earth's population to start living within its means, including more efficient use of energy and eco-friendlier resources.

Also important was to redefine human progress so that it goes beyond the simple yard-stick of economic growth to included quality of life issues.

The Rio Summit is to assess progress since the landmark 1992 Earth Summit.


Related articles:

Another Earth Summit in Disarray? (June 6, 2012)
(...) Countries are not being asked by the UN to legally commit themselves to anything, but only to sign up to an aspirational "roadmap" contained in a document called "the future we want" and to a commitment to the so-called 'green economy' of jobs generated from industries such as renewable energy and energy efficiency. It is hoped that they will also agree to introduce by 2015 a set of sustainable development goals (SDGs) similar in ambition to the millennium development goals which covered areas like HIV reduction and clean water provision. The SDGs could cover areas such as energy, water and food. However, in a repeat of battles played out in global climate and trade talks, they have fought bitterly over every comma and phrase in the prepartory meetings and in particular are still deeply divided over the definition and scope of the phrase "green economy." They are now expected to take several years to identify, formulate and agree on the goals.

(...) Many environment and development NGOs are also fearful of the green economy proposals, which they believe will encourage countries to put monetary value on all nature, reducing forest and ocean protection to markets and profits and undermining principles of ecological justice and collective well-being. "Instead of putting a price on nature we must recognise that nature is not a thing or mere supplier of resources. What we need is to forge a new system of development based on the principles of collective well-being, social and environmental justice, and the satisfaction of the basic necessities of all," said Pablo Solon, former Bolivian ambassador to the UN and now director of Bangkok-based NGO Focus on the Global South. "We cannot keep promoting such destructive model of development that does not acknowledge the planetary limits of economic growth," he said. Divisions between the countries are now thought to be as deep as any seen in the long-running and separate climate negotiations. Many developing countries are said to be distraught that the US is consistently trying to bury the principles guiding sustainable development agreed to after fierce struggles at the Rio earth summit in 1992 and its follow-up meeting in Johannesburg in 2002. "We are in real danger of going backwards. [The US] wants to reject principles including national sovereignty, the right to development, common but differentiated responsibilities, and the obligation not to cause environmental harm," said one observer. CLIP

Earth Summit: Can Rio +20 solve world's environmental problems? (June 8, 2012)
(CNN) -- Rio +20, a major international environmental conference held in Brazil this month, is being billed by its organizers as a "once in a lifetime" opportunity to safeguard our planet for generations to come.For three days from June 20, scores of world leaders and tens of thousands of people from all over the world will descend on Rio de Janeiro in the hope of reaching consensus on how to achieve this.Some critics have already dismissed the event as a hugely expensive talking shop that stands little more chance of succeeding than previous environmental summits. Others are more optimistic.Here we look at some of the key issues surrounding the conference.
(...) Why is it important? The world's environment has continued to suffer since the 1992 summit. The World Wildlife Fund's recent Living Planet report said the ever-swelling global population is still consuming far more than can be replenished. The report said there was a widening and "potentially catastrophic" gap between the ecological footprints of rich and poor nations. Global consumption of natural resources, carbon emissions and poverty have all continued to increase. Although some contest such claims, scientific research points to a steady rise in world temperature which, if unchecked, is forecast to have catastrophic consequences for the planet. What do organizers hope to achieve? It is hoped that the conference will produce, or at least lay the groundwork for, a set of sustainable development goals that can be adopted worldwide. These will set targets for consumption and production and put in place a system of checks to ensure they are met. Reports quoting documents leaked ahead of the summit suggest that countries will be asked to sign up to 10 separate goals. These could include a deal on protecting oceans, the establishment of a powerful global agency for the environment, financial support to encourage sustainability for poorer nations and the appointment of an ecological high commissioner. CLIP

W.W.F. report: 'Extra' Earth needed at current consumption rates (8 JUNE 2012)
"We are living as if we have an extra planet at our disposal. We are using 50 percent more resources that the Earth can sustainably produce and unless we change course, that number will grow fast - by 2030 even two planets will not be enough."

(...) Ecological footprint: consumption vs. Earth's biocapacityAside from assessing the world's biodiversity, the report looked into the difference between humanity's consumption and the Earth's regenerative capacity, a measurement tool called our "ecological footprint." This is derived by calculating the area required to produce the resources people consume, the area occupied by infrastructure, and the area of forest required for sequestering carbon dioxide not absorbed by the ocean. In 2008, our ecological footprint was 18.2 global hectares - where 1 global hectare represents a biologically productive area - or 2.7 global hectares per person. But the Earth's total biocapacity was only at 12 billion global hectares, or 1.8 per person. These numbers show that it would take one-and-a-half years for our planet to fully regenerate the resources people use in one year. Population growth, especially in urban areas, will create the need to develop new and improved ways of managing natural resources, the report said. World population is seen to grow to 7.8-10.9 billion in 2050, and two out of three of these are in cities around the world.

(...) Data from the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization indicates that demand for food, feed and fibers could grow by 70 percent by 2050. The report said this has considerable implications for land use and natural ecosystems, and also for the size of humanity's ecological footprint. Calculations indicate that by that year, humanity's consumption would require an equivalent of 2.9 planets under a "business as usual" premise. One Planet Perspective - The W.W.F. is calling on humanity to manage, govern and share natural capital within the earth's ecological boundaries, an idea it calls the "One Planet Perspective." With that, they seek that we make better choices along the entire system of production and consumption, with the support of government, redirected financial flows and better resource governance.These actions would help sever the ties of human development and unsustainable consumption and lead to reduced greenhouse gas emissions, the maintenance of ecosystem integrity, and promotion of pro-poor growth and development, the report said." The One Planet perspective reminds us that our choices are highly interdependent," the report said. "Preserving natural capital, for example, will affect decisions and possible outcomes relating to the way we produce and consume." Meanwhile, financial flows and governance structures will determine if our production and consumption choices will contribute to biodiversity conservation, ecosystem integrity, and food, water, and energy for all. "We all face uncomfortable choices and trade-offs, but only by taking brave, informed decisions can healthy, sustainable and equitable human societies be ensured, now and into the future," the report said.

To read the whole Living Planet Report click HERE

One Planet - Rio+20 - The future we want? (17 min 30 sec audio)
The challenges facing the upcoming Earth Summit, according to the UN's man in charge.

Political shift will make or break Rio+20 summit (May 11, 2012)
WASHINGTON/LONDON - The shifting sands of geopolitics, marked by rapid growth of big, emerging economies such as Brazil and China while traditionally rich countries fall behind, could undermine progress to define sustainable development goals at a United Nations conference next month. New divisions between old allies are adding to familiar disputes over finance and responsibility as preparatory talks in New York last week failed to find consensus, causing the United Nations to add an extra round of talks later this month. The Rio+20 summit in Brazil from June 20-22 is expected to attract more than 50,000 participants from governments, companies and environmental and lobby groups. It will try to hammer out aspirational, rather than mandatory sustainable development goals across seven core themes - including food security, water and energy - but will not seek to repeat the outcome of the Rio Earth Summit 20 years ago, which led to the Kyoto Protocol on capping greenhouse gas emissions and a treaty on biodiversity. One reason for the change in goals is the shift in global geopolitics that has come with the rising strength of countries like Brazil, South Africa, India and China - which are still classed as "developing" countries despite their rapid growth, while the traditional "developed" nations like those of Europe, the United States and Japan struggle with slower growth.

(...) While traditional rifts between rich and poorer nations linger on issues like finance, established groups of allies are branching out or splitting up in a reflection of their emerging economic status. The so-called G77 and China coalition of developing countries has started to split into individual nations and groups, and a group comprising Brazil, South Africa, India and China (BASIC) is gaining strength and prepared a parallel negotiating text to put forward next month, sources said. The issue of raising finance is a major stumbling block, echoing long-standing disagreements in separate U.N. talks for a global emissions-cutting pact. In that arena, industrialized countries have long been accused of not raising finance quickly enough to help more vulnerable countries adapt to climate change, and a fund designed to help channel up to $100 billion a year in aid is still an empty shell. Traditionally richer nations like those in the European Union, the United States and Japan have been facing tougher economic times, with many countries imposing austerity measures on their citizens and cutting spending dramatically.

Some developing countries are concerned that the tough economic backdrop will provide an excuse for richer nations to back out of old financial commitments and avoid new ones. "We hope that the financial crisis, which has hit both the developed and developing world does not lead us being short-sighted with respect to the Rio outcome," said Marlene Moses, chair of the Alliance of Small Island States negotiating bloc. "We've seen a lack of ambition from some of our partners with respect to the outcome document, but we're optimistic that we can bring them on board," she added. The European Commission, the EU's executive arm, which is sending representatives from its climate, environment and development divisions to Rio, as well as Commission President Jose Barroso, is still hopeful of a concrete outcome to the conference at final talks in June. "Even if the EU is in the worst economic crisis ever, it will still deliver on its aid commitments and recognizes additional efforts are needed," said Potocnik. "A range of resources need to be mobilized, including international, public and private sources. ... Enabling conditions, such as phasing out environmentally harmful subsidies (on fossil fuels), is being talked about and really makes sense." CLIP

Earth: 'A ship flying in space'
As an estimated one billion people around the globe take part in events to mark the 42nd Earth Day, Paolo Nespoli's images provide a striking reminder of our planet's awe-inspiring beauty and fragility as an eco-system. During a six-month mission to the International Space Station (ISS) last year, the Italian astronaut snapped around 26,000 images, posting daily updates on Twitter. CLIP

Analysis: United Nations' climate change talks 'sinking like the Titanic?' (May 27, 2012)
Hopes are fading that climate talks in Qatar late this year will make even modest progress towards getting a new globally binding climate deal signed by 2015, as preliminary negotiations in Germany this week have left much work to be done. The fear is that if work plans and agendas are not set by the end of this year at the latest it could have a knock-on effect, holding up the entire effort to avert potentially devastating global warming. United Nations climate talks in South Africa last year agreed a package of measures that would extend the 1997 Kyoto Protocol, a global pact enforcing carbon cuts, and decide a new, legally binding accord by 2015, coming into force by 2020. In the first negotiating session since that agreement, delegates from over 180 countries were nearing the end of two-week long session in Bonn, but progress has been hampered by procedural wrangling. Additional sessions later on look unlikely, due to a lack of funding, so a range of unresolved issues will be left until the two-week summit in Doha, Qatar, at the end of November. Delegates and observers fear there will be too much work to do to make proper progress on the new global deal and ensure deeper emissions cuts are made both up to 2020 and beyond. CLIP

Climate change damage could cost Latin Americans $100 billion annually by 2050 (June 5, 2012)
Damage from climate change could cost Latin American and Caribbean countries $100 billion per year by 2050 if average temperatures rise 2C (3.6F) from pre-industrial levels, as is seen likely, a new report said on Tuesday. The region accounts for only 11 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions, but it is considered particularly vulnerable to impact from climate change due to its geographic location and reliance on natural resources, the report commissioned by the Inter-American Development Bank said. The development bank released the study days before Brazil hosts the UN's Conference on Sustainable Development, the Rio+20 on June 20-22. The collapse of the coral biome in the Caribbean, the disappearance of some glaciers in the Andes and some degree of destruction in the Amazon basin were climate change damages highlighted in the report. For example, the net loss of agricultural exports in the region due to climate change would be between $30 billion and $52 billion in 2050. "Losses of this magnitude would limit development options as well as access to natural resources and ecosystem services," the report said. But the development bank pointed out that the cost of helping countries adapt to the effects of climate change would be minor relative to the price tag for potential damage. It estimates that around 0.2 percent of GDP for the region, or about 10 percent of the costs of physical impacts, would be needed to support climate adaptation. CLIP

Warmest temperatures ever recorded in US (June 8, 2012)
WASHINGTON - So far, 2012 has been the warmest year the United States has ever seen, with the warmest spring and the second-warmest May since record-keeping began in 1895, theU.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration reported on Thursday.Temperatures for the past 12 months and the year-to-date have been the warmest on record for the contiguous United States, NOAA said. The average temperature for the contiguous 48 states for meteorological spring, which runs from March through May, was 57.1 degrees F (13.9 C), 5.2 degrees (2.9 C) above the 20th century long-term average and 2 degrees F (1.1 C) warmer than the previous warmest spring in 1910. Record warmth and near-record warmth blanketed the eastern two-thirds of the country from this spring, with 31 states reporting record warmth for the season and 11 more with spring temperatures among their 10 warmest. CLIP

Waking up countries to the state of the planet (April 16, 2012)
(...) At a UN Food and Agriculture Organization conference late last month in Hanoi, Vietnam, climate change was identified as one of the "major challenges for ensuring food security in the long run." Also tagged were water scarcity, land degradation, and increased resource competition for biofuel.While the demand for food is steadily growing, the FAO conference pointed out, the supply of food has been "constrained by lack of productivity growth for major cereals, limited expansion of arable land and declining soil quality and water resources.""Increasing vulnerability to natural disasters, partly related to climate change, market imperfections and inadequacies of infrastructure and support services for agriculture as a result of years of underinvestment in the sector are other factors contributing to food price volatility," it said.

Indeed, when a group of 3,000 scientists-with expertise in a wide range of fields and concerns-met in London recently, they agreed that, among other things, the world's temperature is rising at an inexorable rate and that unless contained soon the negative effects of this global warming could reach an "irreversible" stage. At the end of their "Planet Under Pressure" ( conference, the experts-in such fields as climate change, environmental geo-engineering, international governance, the future of the oceans and biodiversity, global trade, development, poverty alleviation, food security-declared that "the continued functioning of the Earth system as it has supported the well-being of human civilization in recent centuries is at risk.""Consensus is growing that we have driven the planet into a new epoch, the Anthropocene, where many planetary-scale processes are dominated by human activities. It concludes society must not delay taking urgent and large-scale action," the scientists said in their "State of the Planet" declaration.The Earth has only one decade to "change course in some fundamental way" to avoid environmental "tipping points" at which the damage becomes irreversible, the declaration said.

These tipping points include the disappearance of summer sea ice in the Arctic, permafrost in Arctic regions releasing large quantities of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, and the drying out of the Amazon rainforest. "If these tipping points are crossed they can increase the likelihood of going beyond other thresholds generating unacceptable and often irreversible environmental change on global and regional scales with serious consequences for human and all forms of life on the planet."The London conference recommended a number of initiatives that governments and all others with varying interests in these issues can take. These recommendations include: 1) going beyond GDP by taking into account the value of natural capital when measuring progress; 2) a new framework for developing a set of goals for global sustainability for all nations; 3) creating a UN Sustainable Development Council to integrate social, economic and environmental policy at the global level; 4) launching a new international research program, "Future Earth," that will focus on solutions, and 5) initiating regular global sustainability analyses. CLIP

First State of the Planet Declaration published
Scientists issue first "State of the Planet" declaration at the world's largest gathering of experts on global environmental and social issues in advance of the major UN Summit Rio+20 in June Download declaration from



UN takes pulse of the planet: Prognosis isn't good

June 6, 2012

LONDON/SINGAPORE-Over the past two decades the Earth's vital signs have continued to deteriorate, from loss of rainforests, overfishing, air and water pollution to chaotic weather and rising greenhouse gas emissions, according to a United Nations report.

Three years in the making, the Global Environment Outlook report ( released on Wednesday found that out of 90 benchmark environmental goals and objectives, significant progress has been made in only four.

But it said that there is hope and environmentally friendly economic growth is still possible, despite the challenges of a growing human population, expanding urbanization and insatiable appetites for food and resources.

Following are some of the main findings of the GEO-5 report, the fifth global environmental health-check by the United Nations since 1997, and compiled by more than 600 experts.

Two weeks to Rio

The report's release came two weeks before the world's biggest environment summit in years in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, and 20 years after the landmark Rio meeting at which three UN environment treaties were adopted, including the Kyoto Protocol.

Green goals

The GEO-5 report said significant progress has been made in eliminating the production and use of chemicals that destroy the ozone layer, removal of lead from fuel, increasing access to improved water supplies and increasing research to reduce pollution of the marine environment.

A reduction in health risks achieved by phasing out lead-based fuels has estimated economic benefits of $2.45 trillion a year, or roughly 4 percent of global GDP.

Some progress was shown on 40 goals, including the expansion of protected areas such as national parks, while little or no progress was detected for 24-including climate change, fish stocks and desertification and drought.

Eight goals showed further deterioration, including the state of the world's coral reefs.

State of the planet

- Under current models, greenhouse gas emissions could double over the next 50 years, leading to a rise in global temperature of 3 degrees Celsius or more by the end of the century. Losses to agriculture, damage from extreme weather events and increased health costs will eat into global GDP.

The Asia-Pacific region will contribute around 45 per cent of global energy-related CO2 emissions by 2030 and an estimated 60 per cent of global emissions by 2100 under a business-as-usual scenario.

China, India and South Korea are promoting renewable energy and energy efficiency and agreed voluntary emissions reduction goals, in a positive turn towards greener power.

- Around 20 per cent of vertebrate species are under threat. Extinction risk is increasing faster for corals than for any other group of living organisms, with the condition of coral reefs declining by 38 per cent since 1980. Rapid contraction is projected by 2050.
Fish stocks have declined at an unprecedented rate over the past two decades. Catches more than quadrupled from the early 1950s to the mid-1990s and have stabilized or diminished since then.

- More than 600 million people are expected to lack access to safe drinking water by 2015, while more than 2.5 billion people will lack access to basic sanitation.

Since 2000, groundwater supplies have deteriorated further, while global water withdrawals have tripled over the past 50 years.

The report identified West Asia among the regions of greatest concern for water scarcity and water-use efficiency. Even as demand for water grows, per-capita renewable water resources in the region will decline by more than half by 2025, suggesting more energy-intensive desalination plants will be needed.

- The number of coastal dead zones has increased dramatically in recent years. Out of the 169 coastal dead zones worldwide, only 13 are recovering.

- Annual forest loss fell from 16 million hectares in the 1990s to about 13 million hectares between 2000 and 2010. That's an area about the size of England being cut down annually.

- Europe and North America are consuming the planet's resources at unsustainable levels.

- Consumption has also soared in the Asia-Pacific region, which has overtaken the rest of the world to become the single largest user of natural resources. A separate U.N. study found the region's use of materials more than doubled from 17.4 billion tons in 1992 to over 37 billion tons in 2008.


The report said there is a need for clear, long-term environment and development targets and stronger accountability in international agreements.

There is also a need for more programs that put a value on ecosystems and the services they provide economies, such as fresh air from forests, watersheds for rivers and storm protection from mangroves.

Nations should also incorporate the value of forests, rivers, deltas and other ecosystems into national accounts, thereby putting a price on nature.

Improving compliance and enforcement measures, including environmental courts, are also needed along with regional marine pollution management and better data collection on water pollution and improved water management tools.



Earth 'going downhill' as consumption rises, report says

By Hilary Whiteman,

Hong Kong (CNN) -- From high above the earth, an astronaut launched the latest report card on the health of the planet which once again paints an alarming image of over-consumption and exploitation.

In a recorded message, Andre Kuipers, an astronaut with the European Space Agency on his second mission to the International Space Station, said he had a unique view of the earth which he orbits 16 times a day.

"From space, you see the forest fires, you see the air pollution, you see erosion," he said, launching the World Wildlife Fund's Living Planet Report for 2012.

The biennial survey shows the world is still consuming far more than the Earth can replenish, along with a widening and "potentially catastrophic" gap between the ecological footprints of rich and poor nations.

"The report is clear that we're still going downhill, that our ecological footprint, the pressure we put on the earth's resources, continues to rise so we're now using 50% more resources that the earth can replenish and biodiversity continues to decline," said Jim Leape, Director General of WWF International.

The report includes a list of the world's top 10 polluting countries topped by Qatar, Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates in the Middle East. They're followed by Denmark, Belgium and the United States. Australia, Canada, the Netherlands and Ireland make up the remainder.

Countries are ranked on their consumption of renewable resources versus their biocapacity, or ability to produce renewable resources and absorb CO2 emissions. Dominating the list are high-income countries, whose average ecological footprint is now five times that of low-income nations.

And the gap is increasing. Between 1970 and 2008, the ecological footprint of high-income nations rose seven percent, the report said. Over that period, the same index for poor countries tumbled 60%.

The disparity indicates richer nations are buying resources from poorer countries which have natural resources available to exploit, the report said.

"What one of the things that we as a global community have been slow to realize is that even in an industrialized economy will still demand very directly on the health of natural systems to provide the water we drink and to keep the climate stable," Leape said.

"As you see forest loss continue, as you see the depletion of rivers, you are undercutting the foundation for economic development in those countries," he said.

Leape said there are signs some large business and governments are taking steps to reduce their burden on the environment. Denmark, for example, number four on the list of worst polluters, has pledged to double the nation's windpower and to wean itself off fossil fuels by 2050.

Top 10 polluting countries:

Qatar - Kuwait - United Arab Emirates - Denmark - Belgium - United States - Australia - Canada - Netherlands - Ireland

"What you see now is companies and governments who are on the vanguard beginning to make shifts but those shifts have to be driven down into entire markets and across all governments. We're not yet getting to the scale required to begin to bend the curves," Leape said.

The impact of rich nations worldwide is clear in figures showing that the steepest drop in biodiversity over the past 40 years has occurred in poorer countries. The decline, the report said, demonstrates "how the poorest and most vulnerable nations are subsidizing the lifestyles of wealthier nations."

"Growing external resource dependencies are putting countries at significant risk," said Mathis Wackernagel, President of Global Footprint Network, which collaborated with the WWF and the Zoological Society of London on the report.

"Using ever more nature, while having less is a dangerous strategy, yet most countries continue to pursue this path," he said.

The main feature of the Living Planet Report is the Living Planet Index which tracks the health of the world's ecosystems by monitoring 9,000 populations of more than 2,600 species.

It shows a near 30% drop in biodiversity since 1970, and an even faster decline in the tropics of 60%. However, the index for temperate regions rose 31%, as some species showed signs of recovery after huge biodiversity losses the previous century.

"The read down on the temperate zone masks much more precipitous declines in other parts of the world. You see a huge loss of biodiversity across the tropics and in the poorest countries and I think that's the most alarming fact in those indices," Leape said.

The report was released just five weeks before the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development in Rio de Janeiro, otherwise known as Rio +20.

"We need to see real leadership from the governments of the world coming together to commit themselves to step up to this challenge," Leape said.

"They can take some decisions in Rio that really would make a difference in terms of setting a new course for the global economy."


Related articles:

Research ship finds the world's oceans are 'plasticized' (May 22, 2012)
A marine expedition of environmentalists has confirmed the bad news it feared -- the "Great Pacific Garbage Patch" extends even further than previously known. Organized by two non-profit groups -- the Algalita Marine Research Foundation and the 5 Gyres Institute -- the expedition is sailing from the Marshall Islands to Japan through a "synthetic soup" of plastic in the North Pacific Ocean on a 72-feet yacht called the Sea Dragon, provided by Pangaea Exploration. The area is part of one of the ocean's five tropical gyres -- regions where bodies of water converge, with currents delivering high concentrations of plastic debris. The Sea Dragon is visiting the previously unexplored western half of the North Pacific gyre -- situated below the 35th parallel, and home to a massive expanse of plastic particles known as the "Great Pacific Garbage Patch" -- to look for plastic pollution and study its effect on marine life. Leading the expedition is Marcus Eriksen, a former U.S. marine and Ph.D student from University of Southern California. "We've been finding lots of micro plastics, all the size of a grain of rice or a small marble," Eriksen said via satellite phone. "We drag our nets and come up with a small handful, like confetti -- 10, 20, 30 fragments at a time. That's how it's been, every trawl we've done for the last thousand miles."Eriksen, who has sailed through all five gyres, said this confirmed for him "that the world's oceans are 'plasticized.' Everywhere you go in the ocean, you're going to find this plastic waste."

(...) Scripps Institute graduate Miriam Goldstein was chief scientist on a similar expedition to the Great Pacific Garbage Patch in 2009. According to her research, there has been a 100-fold increase in plastic garbage in the last 40 years, most of it broken down into tiny crumbs to form a concentrated soup.The particles are so small and profuse that they can't be dredged out. "You need a net with very fine mesh and then you're catching baby fish, baby squid -- everything," Goldstein says. "For every gram of plastic you're taking out, you probably take out more or less the equivalent of sea life." Scientists are worried that the marine organisms that adapt to the plastic could displace existing species. Goldstein said this was a major concern, as organisms that grow on hard surfaces tend to monopolize already scarce food, to the detriment of other species."Things that can grow on the plastic are kind of weedy and low diversity -- a parallel of the things that grow on the sides of docks," she says. "We don't necessarily want an ocean stuffed with barnacles."

(...) Eriksen says they have been discussing the concept of "extended producer responsibility"."As the manufacturer of any good in the world today, you really can't make your product without a plan for its entire use, because you could eventually have 7 billion customers buy your product," he said. "If one little button has no plan, the world now has a mountain of buttons to deal with. There is no room for waste, as a concept or a place -- there's just no place to put it anymore. That's the reality we need to face. We've got this plastic everywhere."

Pacific reef shark populations plummeting, study says (April 28, 2012)
Humans are causing a steep decline in populations of reef sharks in the Pacific Ocean according to a new study by a group of international marine scientists.The new estimates of reef sharks compared numbers around populated islands with those living near uninhabited ones. The results were sobering, say researchers."We estimate that reef shark numbers have dropped substantially around populated islands, generally by more than 90% compared to those at the most untouched reefs," said lead author Marc Nadon from the Joint Institute for Marine and Atmospheric Research at the University of Hawaii.Over 1600 underwater surveys across 46 U.S. Pacific islands and atolls were undertaken in the study and combined with data on human population, habitat complexity, reef size and satellite records.

(...) Co-author of the study, Julia Baum from Canada's University of Victoria says the human disturbances to reef shark populations are likely down to fishing -- either incidentally caught in the nets of commercial or recreational fishermen or by direct targeting for their fins."Reef shark fins are not the most valuable because they tend to be smaller than other sharks, but a lot of other oceanic sharks have already declined a lot so that's why fisherman are now turning to them," Baum said.She estimates these fins sell for around $100 per kilogram with demand coming from Asian markets where shark fin soup can be found on the menu for weddings and business banquets.Reef sharks, which are around six to eight feet long (1.8 meters to 2.4 meters), are the "apex predators" of coral reefs Baum says, and like predators in other eco-systems play an important role in structuring food webs. But there is still much to learn about their specific role. CLIP

Puma takes bite out of Apple to head ethical business list (May 3, 2012)
Tech giants Apple and Google may get an unofficial A grade when it comes to stock price, but they can only manage a D grade when it comes to sustainability. The U.S. technology companies both received the grade that would make most students wince in a new survey, published this week, that rated the sustainability performance of 2,063 global companies. The report evaluated companies according to their social, environmental and governance risks and impacts, taking into consideration human rights and supply chain labor standards among other issues. Top of the class in the Sustainability Report published by EIRIS, the British based corporate research company, is German sportswear company, Puma.

(...) The worst performers were graded E, with over 60% of mining and oil and gas producing companies including ExxonMobil and Chevron Corporation given the lowest rating. By definition fossil fuel focused companies are not able get the highest grade, but the report's authors say their grades can improve if they show greater commitment to developing cleaner alternative energy sources.The sector with the most A grades was in health care, because of the "positive social benefits of healthcare" and lower environmental impact, with four pharmaceutical companies in the top ten. Carlota Garcia-Manas, Head of Research at EIRIS, said environmental and ethical concerns are becoming a greater priority among many of the companies rated. "There are signs that companies are making sustainability a priority and acknowledging its importance, not only in terms of acting as good 'corporate citizens' but also in terms of ensuring their own long-term success," she said.

(...) According to EIRIS, Apple's poor grade was because of its links to suppliers in countries with human rights and labor issues, while another of titan of the corporate world, Toyota, received a C because of its leadership in developing cleaner technology vehicles. The report found that smaller companies were generally lagging behind on sustainability -- only 24% of the 50 biggest companies surveyed had D or E grades compared to 40% across the wider sample. "It's clear that companies need to do much more if they are to meet the concerns of their stakeholders and investors whilst managing the impacts of their businesses upon society and the environment in a sustainable way, both now and in the future," said Garcia-Manas.

Clean water shrinking in 'Last Call at the Oasis' (May 6, 2012)
LOS ANGELES - If you thought only Third World countries have water crises, a new documentary asks you to think again. Increasingly, problems are rising to the surface in the United States. Filmmaker Jessica Yu harnesses the celebrity power of actor Jack Black and environmental activist Erin Brockovich - immortalized by Julia Roberts in the 2000 movie about Brockovich's work - to give the looming U.S. water crisis a thorough wringing out in "Last Call at the Oasis". "A third of U.S. counties face water shortage by the year 2050," Yu told Reuters. "It's not really a solvable problem but we can manage it so much better." "Last Call at the Oasis" follows environmental activists as they try to hold accountable those who contaminate the Earth's most precious natural resource - clean water. In Las Vegas, they find a desert city is straining limited resources as it grows exponentially. Rural mid-western states are home to industrial cattle farms where tons of manure is improperly disposed, contaminating streams and drinking water. In farming communities, local towns see a spike in cancer cases after chemicals are used in pesticides. According to Yu's research, in just 60 years the aquifer in California's Central Valley could be depleted, leaving barren an area that provides one fifth of the nation's produce. Brockovich, who won a 1996 multi-million dollar settlement against energy giant Pacific Gas and Electric for polluting the water supply of a California town, said that water pollution is causing health issues throughout the United States. "There are 4000 individual communities on my map now, and I can barely keep up with the incoming data," she told Reuters.

"Tropic Thunder" comic actor Black appears in a spoof commercial for bottled water, dubbed Porcelain Springs, that has been reclaimed from sewage - a concept that has been a hard sell in the United States despite being practiced elsewhere. Singapore, for instance, satisfies 30 percent of its requirements through reclaimed water, the documentary notes. "We're taught that in a survival situation if you don't have any water, you can drink your own urine," laughed Brockovich. "I just think none of us want to be in a position where we find ourselves drinking our urine if we can just make other options and choices now." The sources of pollution include household products, pesticide manufacturers and the natural gas industry, to name a few. While the movie refrains from pointing the finger at any one company or group, industry representatives nevertheless declined to be interviewed for the film. "The film is not about a bad guy," said Yu. "These industries are representative of a system that lets these things happen. We give the benefit of the doubt to industry. The burden of testing being on the producers of the chemicals - that seems like something that is fundamentally flawed."

Solutions discussed in the film also include better oversight by the Environmental Protection Agency and tighter regulations particularly on the natural gas industry and chemicals used for hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, in drilling for gas. "Nobody wants industry and those companies to go away because these people need jobs, but they don't want you to poison them," said Brockovich. "There's a moment here where industry does not have to be the villain. You could create jobs to better dispose of waste - how we're going to reclaim and recycle that water, so that it's usable," she added. In a 2008 report, the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change estimated that by 2080 nearly half the world's population will be without clean water. "We see third world countries that have these problems," noted Brockovich. "If you think it can't be us, then think again."



Apocalypse Soon: Has Civilization Passed the Environmental Point of No Return?

Although there is an urban legend that the world will end this year based on a misinterpretation of the Mayan calendar, some researchers think a 40-year-old computer program that predicts a collapse of socioeconomic order and massive drop in human population in this century may be on target

By Madhusree Mukerjee - May 23, 2012

Remember how Wile E. Coyote, in his obsessive pursuit of the Road Runner, would fall off a cliff? The hapless predator ran straight out off the edge, stopped in midair as only an animated character could, looked beneath him in an eye-popping moment of truth, and plummeted straight down into a puff of dust. Splat! Four decades ago, a Massachusetts Institute of Technology computer model called World3 warned of such a possible course for human civilization in the 21st century. In Limits to Growth, a bitterly disputed 1972 book that explicated these findings, researchers argued that the global industrial system has so much inertia that it cannot readily correct course in response to signals of planetary stress. But unless economic growth skidded to a halt before reaching the edge, they warned, society was headed for overshoot-and a splat that could kill billions.

Don't look now but we are running in midair, a new book asserts. In 2052: A Global Forecast for the Next Forty Years (Chelsea Green Publishing), Jorgen Randers of the BI Norwegian Business School in Oslo, and one of the original World3 modelers, argues that the second half of the 21st century will bring us near apocalypse in the form of severe global warming. Dennis Meadows, professor emeritus of systems policy at the University of New Hampshire who headed the original M.I.T. team and revisited World3 in 1994 and 2004, has an even darker view. The 1970s program had yielded a variety of scenarios, in some of which humanity manages to control production and population to live within planetary limits (described as Limits to Growth). Meadows contends that the model's sustainable pathways are no longer within reach because humanity has failed to act accordingly.

Instead, the latest global data are tracking one of the most alarming scenarios, in which these variables increase steadily to reach a peak and then suddenly drop in a process called collapse. In fact, "I see collapse happening already," he says. "Food per capita is going down, energy is becoming more scarce, groundwater is being depleted." Most worrisome, Randers notes, greenhouse gases are being emitted twice as fast as oceans and forests can absorb them. Whereas in 1972 humans were using 85 percent of the regenerative capacity of the biosphere to support economic activities such as growing food, producing goods and assimilating pollutants, the figure is now at 150 percent-and growing.

Randers's ideas most closely resemble a World3 scenario in which energy efficiency and renewable energy stave off the worst effects of climate change until after 2050. For the coming few decades, Randers predicts, life on Earth will carry on more or less as before. Wealthy economies will continue to grow, albeit more slowly as investment will need to be diverted to deal with resource constraints and environmental problems, which thereby will leave less capital for creating goods for consumption. Food production will improve: increased carbon dioxide in the atmosphere will cause plants to grow faster, and warming will open up new areas such as Siberia to cultivation. Population will increase, albeit slowly, to a maximum of about eight billion near 2040. Eventually, however, floods and desertification will start reducing farmland and therefore the availability of grain. Despite humanity's efforts to ameliorate climate change, Randers predicts that its effects will become devastating sometime after mid-century, when global warming will reinforce itself by, for instance, igniting fires that turn forests into net emitters rather than absorbers of carbon. "Very likely, we will have war long before we get there," Randers adds grimly. He expects that mass migration from lands rendered unlivable will lead to localized armed conflicts.

Graham Turner of Australia's Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization fears that collapse could come even earlier, but due to peak oil rather than climate change. After comparing the various scenarios generated by World3 against recent data on population, industrial output and other variables, Turner and, separately, the PBL Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency, conclude that the global system is closely following a business-as-usual output curve. In this model run the economy continues to grow as expected until about 2015, but then falters because nonrenewable resources such as oil become ever more expensive to extract. "Not that we're running out of any of these resources," Turner explains. "It's that as you try to get to unconventional sources such as under deep oceans, it takes a lot more energy to extract each unit of energy." To keep up oil supply, the model predicts that society will divert investment from agriculture, causing a drop in food production. In this scenario, population peaks around 2030 at between seven and eight billion and then decreases sharply, evening out at about four billion in 2100.


Rio+20: a call to responsibility, a call to action

Statement of the Ubuntu Forumon the occasion of the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development - Rio de Janeiro, 20-22 June 2012

We are all going through a period of great confusion and uncertainty.

On the one hand, part of the world is dramatically affected by the consequences of the state of total submission of governments to the financial markets. These markets, supposedly anonymous, are not subject to any kind of control, due to the deregulating policies of the last decades. They have even overthrown democratically elected governments and substituted them by 'technocratic' ones.

On the other hand, the speculative nature of a great part of these markets is harshly affecting the price of commodities, including food, thus pushing more millions of people to hunger and malnutrition. This fact, in addition to the chronic failure in the fulfillment of international agreements related to development cooperation, is aggravated even more by the current financial and economic crisis.

In parallel, the world is immersed in another crisis that is threatening its own survival. The challenges of climate change and environmental degradation, together with unsustainable production and consumption models, are growing alarmingly, something that the present structures of global governance are not able to face, as shown by the repeated failures of the last COP meetings1.

In this framework, the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development, also known as Rio+20, will take place in Rio de Janeiro from June 20 to 22, twenty years after the celebration of the 'Earth Summit' in the very same city. This will be a key moment in the international agenda, to which everybody -including citizens, of course- must pay special attention.

There are several topics in the agenda resulting from intense negotiations that are still underway. In this respect, the World Forum of Civil Society Networks - UBUNTU wishes to underline the following, while demanding:

a) Regarding the two main themes, green economy and institutional framework:

The green economy concept must refer to a model of sustainable development that includes a holistic approach, with deep social roots and a strong commitment to environment. We shall reject the promotion of any other model that, based on subterfuge, conceals an option for an increased commodification of nature.

The need for reforming the institutional framework is obvious and more urgent than ever. We shall move beyond the organizational details of the new framework, which are also important, but the priority is to ensure that the resulting structure has the resources, independence and powers to guarantee the implementation and fulfillment of the environmental agreements, including the capacity to impose sanctions. This must go hand in hand with a process of promoting a system of democratic multilateralism. This is the only possible option for those who truly believe in the transition towards a model of real, global democratic governance that is both participatory and fair.

b) Regarding the other issues of the Summit:

One of these is the responsibility of making progress in all aspects related to the concept of climate justice, based on the principle of 'common but differentiated responsibility'. In this sense, the issue of financing is essential, highlighting once more, the need to move forward with respect to innovative mechanisms of financing for development, particularly, the proposal of a Financial Transaction Tax.

In the framework of a comprehensive proposal regarding the concept of sustainable human development, it is imperative to establish a legal framework that prevents speculation affecting food prices.

Moreover, the debate regarding the new ways of measuring development and sustainability must help us, in line with the Human Development Index, to overcome the current model based on the GDP. This model shuns basic criteria such as equity, sustainability or respect for Human Rights. In this sense, the proposal of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) may be a positive one, but only if it goes in the abovementioned direction, and if it is complementary to the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), with which in any case it must never compete.

It is also extremely important that the Summit renews and re-launches agreements as essential as the Agenda 21, which includes topics of utmost significance, such as the commitments regarding greenhouse gases, or the conventions on climate change, biological diversity or desertification.

Therefore, the undersigned make a call to promote the mobilization of all the involved actors, and especially citizens and civil society -at all levels: local, regional and global- in order to ensure that this new 'Earth Summit' measures up to the serious occasion we are going through.

The world cannot afford another fiasco in Rio. It is time for responsibility. And, above all, it is time for action.

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