Big polluters can lead in forging common purpose

By Frank-Jürgen Richter

South China Morning Post, June 11, 2012

Frank-Jürgen Richter says a US-China-India meeting could achieve more than a talkfest in Rio

Let me turn my back on the euro zone crisis. There have been 18 summits in the last two years with no real outcome, or rather no lasting solution. And each time there is a summit, the media react with hair-trigger headlines. Of course the euro zone is crucial for global financial stability, but there are other meetings about to occur which may have global portent.

The Rio+20 meeting will take place later this month. It was there in 1992 that the UN Conference on Environment and Development was held; the Earth Summit, as it was dubbed, was attended by over 100 heads of state over 10 days. They agreed on 27 principles for everyone to work towards.

Rio+20 will be a weak affair by comparison. Few senior figures have indicated that they will attend, and a three-day event will be too short to agree on anything. Of course, this is a difficult time, with all the financial worries around the world.

The first Rio meeting proclaimed that “human beings are at the centre of concerns for sustainable development. They are entitled to a healthy and productive life in harmony with nature”. Yet, over the last 20 years, we have raped our globe in pursuit of resources and in so doing have unleashed tonnes of pollution into the air, rivers and seas – spending little on clean-up measures, while failing to follow the Rio agreements.

The original accord was broken by George W. Bush who refused to ratify the 2005 UN Kyoto Protocol as he believed pollution controls would cost the US jobs. At the 2011 climate change meeting in Durban, many statesmen argued for more stringent pollution controls given the rising sea levels and flooding threats to their countries. Few seemed to care – certainly not the general public.

This malaise has now spread to Rio+20 with its “zero draft text” issued by the United Nations in January, suggesting leaders would not have to sign anything that was not in the Rio declaration 20 years ago. I don´t think this is progress. There are too many people in these meetings, all with their own positions, resulting in meaningless accords. But, what if there were only three parties discussing the issues; might they not come to an accord quickly?

This may be the situation in the future if China, India and the US come together for trilateral dialogue, as US Secretary for State Hillary Rodham Clinton suggested during her Asian trip in May. These nations are all heavy polluters and economic heavyweights. Such a meeting should feature sensible accords on achievable targets on a massive spectrum of trade. A new common geopolitical purpose would stabilise much of our global anxiety – and maybe create a good basis for meetings like Rio+20.

Frank-Jürgen Richter is founder and chairman of Horasis, a global business community