At the Rio+20 Earth Summit — Some Thoughts

Rio is a beast of a process. Not only is every issue imaginable covered, but they have had only 6 months to come up with a meaningful outcome.

Negotiations began this past December and have slowly put a draft outcome document together. With the huge number of issues on the table and so much at stake, things have been hectic. Unfortunately this has lead to a watering down of the text. All the progressive proposals challenging the status quo have lost out in favor of business as usual. But all hope isn’t lost. There are number of important issues still on the agenda. In particular, fossil fuel subsidy reform.

One of the most important outcomes — and most tangible — of Rio+20 is eliminating fossil fuel subsidies and reinvesting that money in renewable energy and sustainable development. Every year we give $1 trillion dollars to the dirtiest corporations on the planet: big oil, coal, and gas. If politicians are serious about sustainable development, the theme of Rio+20, then ending handouts to polluters is the first step. And in Rio+20 negotiators can do exactly that.

Right now subsidies appear in two places in the text, Energy 6 and Trade 9. This is a good start, but the text is vague and lacks a timetable or enforcement mechanism. Negotiators can do better. Both New Zealand and Switzerland have been actively working to make the text more ambitious, but we need the EU and the US to join them. With the force of civil society making sure this is a priority, I think we can get there.

What keeps me going is the idea of what this might accomplish — the money reinvested from a phase out could transform the world overnight. That amount of good that could be done with $1 trillion dollars, the amount currently spent on fossil fuel subsidies each year, is staggering. The ‘future I want’ is one without polluter handouts and the finances necessary to make the threat of climate change a thing of the past.

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