Editor’s note: Correspondent Bob Keefe will provide agenda-setting tips and inside information for reporters and observers tracking the United Nations’ Rio+20 Earth Summit. Follow his dispatches and send him tips.
“I just want to say one word to you -- just one word. Are you listening? Plastics.” -- Mr. McGuire, The Graduate (1967)
Greetings from Brazil and the windup to next week’s United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development (a.k.a. the Rio+20 Earth Summit), where Mr. McGuire’s “great future in plastics” is revealing its dark side -- especially when it comes to the health of women and children worldwide.
We’re learning more about the dangers of plastics every day, including BPA in our food containers. As the Washington Post reported this week, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration is finally considering a ban on BPA in infant formula packaging (although good luck getting it out of anything else).
The problem of plastic pollution in our oceans, meanwhile (see OnEarth’s recent cover story, “The End of a Myth,”) will be highlighted in a series of panel discussions and conferences on Saturday. About 80 percent of the pollution that ends up in our oceans is plastic, including sandwich bags that choke sea turtles and monofilament fishing line that ensnares sea lions and seals.
All the plastic talk culminates next Thursday, when NRDC (which publishes OnEarth) and other environmental groups host an all-day conference at Rio+20 called Plasticity. It’s designed to highlight the growing impacts of plastic on our environment and how we can reduce them.
Bosses are on the way
Rio+20 doesn’t officially open until next Wednesday, but a lot of the work is being done in advance to (hopefully) smooth the way for when world leaders arrive. (Although President Obama still isn’t planning to make the trip, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is now leading the U.S. delegation.)
The final UN preparatory committee meeting (in Rio+20 parlance, Prep Comm) is scheduled to end today -- not that anybody actually expects the negotiations to wrap up on time. That would be too easy. Most likely, the talks will go deep into the weekend as negotiators try to inch closer to a working document on sustainability goals that their bosses could actually sign.
We’ve already had more than a year of hemming and hawing by negotiators to create a draft document for presidents, prime ministers, and kings to consider when they arrive. The first draft (again, in Rio+20 jargon, the “zero draft”) was released in January. Since then, the document has been revised half a dozen times. Here’s the work in progress.
Going deep on oceans
Not surprisingly for a city on the edge of the Atlantic, the oceans are a hot topic in Rio. Saturday at Rio+20 consists of daylong discussions, conferences, and demonstrations about everything from ocean acidification to overfishing.
According to the journal Science and the BBC, we need to do more and talk less about oceans. Little has been done to protect marine life since the last Rio summit 20 years ago, according to the publications. As Jonathan Baillie, director of conservation at the Zoological Society of London tells the BBC: “Almost every commitment made by governments to protect the oceans has not been achieved.”
Maybe more attention might help.
An Internet film channel devoted to oceans coverage at Rio+20 is about to get rolling. Meanwhile, some folks are trying to raise awareness about ocean health even though they’re thousands of miles away -- including 5,000 kids and a few adults who turned themselves into a beached shark in Los Angeles to protest ocean pollution.
And check out this video from big wave surfer Laird Hamilton on the recent “peace paddle” for the ocean that he did with NRDC. For more news about our oceans and the threats facing them, see OnEarth’s extensive reporting on the subject.
Rio+20 In the News
- Negotiators from developing countries balked -- and then walked -- out of a meeting on green economies after some negotiators raised Europe’s financial crisis as an excuse for not doing more to develop clean energy and other types of green jobs, reports the Guardian.
- Many Rio residents are paying scant attention to the summit that is expected to attract 50,000 attendees to their city, according to a Christian Science Monitor story.
- Even so, a new report shows that 95 percent of Latin American countries (like Brazil) are well aware of and preparing for more negative effects from climate change.