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The RIO+20 talks are upon us and many wonder what will actually come from another international meeting of delegates who, since the original Earth Summit in 1992, have yet to agree to anything legally binding to adapt to climate change. The Guardian reported on June 6 that the director general of the World Wildlife Fund is already predicting failure with two likely scenarios,

“-an agreement so weak it is meaningless, or complete collapse. Neither of these options would give the world what it needs. Country positions are still too entrenched and too far apart to provide a meaningful draft agreement for approval by an expected 120 heads of state.”
All that is being asked for at this meeting is for countries to sign onto a “roadmap” toward future commitments to a green economy and the introduction of a new set of goals.
    This comes on the heels of the European Parliament announcing on May 16 that it will not attend the talks due to the highly inflated hotel costs. Europe has been the biggest ally of the Small Island Developing States (SIDS) in their fight for aid for sustainable development and for emissions targets at the Conference of the Parties (COP) talks. This news angered many from the islands who had significantly less funds to begin with but still needed to show a presence. Opting out is not an option for those states which will be most affected by climate change.
    Traditional development is highly destructive when one lives with limited resources. SIDS nations have found it difficult in this globalized world to balance the health of their natural environments with the demands of urbanization, tourism, job growth, and consumer demand. Without infrastructure for recycling and the ever more reliance on the importation of most commodities, many islands deal with post-consumer waste, poor health, and expensive petrol. Sustainable development mechanisms will not only ‘green’ these economies, but assuage other public ills which contribute to poverty. Small island nations see this as an important step and are already working to make such changes.
    A few years ago, the former President of the Maldives put solar panels on his public residence; the St. Thomas airport has them parallel to the runway. But there is more to do. I attended the International Small Islands Studies Association (ISISA) Islands of the World Conference XII last week hosted at the H. Lavity Stoutt Community College on Tortola, BVI. One of the most impressive presentations of the conference was that of Mosquito Island, a property of Richard Bransons’ destined to be developed for sustainable tourism. After an extensive environmental study, the resort island will not only use the usual forms of renewal energy (wind/solar) but will be built to make the best use of rain water, sunlight lighting, recycled building materials and waste water systems, and tropical breezes for cooling.
    However, what struck me was the enormous cost that was going into this 124-acre island which would only sustain one resort. While the technology is available to re-construct our world, the initial investment looks to be way out of reach for the SIDS nations. Small islands need to be sustainable for the sake of positive economic growth and poverty reduction. The price of import-based consumer economics is already more than many nations bear, whether in the Caribbean, Pacific, or Indian Ocean.
    Now, Richard Branson cannot single-handedly fund all the clean and sustainable development needed in on small islands or developing countries, but this example can be seen as an opportunity to change the way in which traditional development aid is used. No international treaty is necessary for this, only the will to redirect money away from the ‘usual’ development partnerships to those with new, innovative, and truly sustainable solutions. These will require better planning and more time for analysis, but will provide the kind of results that will create jobs and alleviate some of the cost of living factors which increase poverty. It’s a win-win.
        The question is: when will the developed world get on board? The RIO meetings and COP negotiations continue to highlight the lack of will to redevelop the global North and divide this against the urgency felt by the global South. But there is one shining gem; Copenhagen. The city has recently announced its goal to be the first carbon neutral city by 2025 and will do so through a public/private partnership to the tune of $4.7 billion dollars. RIO+20+Denmark. Who’s next?  

*Cross posted at

Andrea C.S. Berringer, Ph.D., is an independent researcher on the subject of climate change and forced migration issues who has studied at Oxford University’s Refugee Studies Centre and the United Nations University program on Environment and Human Security.

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