UN conference returns to Rio with new emphasis

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Representatives from around the world will be returning to Rio de Janeiro this June — 20 years after the U.N. Earth Summit — but this time the focus will be on sustainable development, not climate change, a Brazilian diplomat said Tuesday.

Andre Correa do Lago, who heads the Brazilian delegation negotiating a draft of the outcome document for “Rio plus 20,” said that climate change was too sensitive an issue for many countries, while sustainable development was something everybody could get behind.

“Climate change has very strong resistance from sectors that are going to be substantially altered, like the oil industry,” Correa do Lago said. “The feeling we have, when we are discussing with such different countries, is that sustainable development is the right answer.”

He said the refusal of many U.S. Republican candidates vying to challenge President Barack Obama in this year's elections to even acknowledge global warming was a problem highlighted the difficulty of addressing the issue in an international forum.

While the 1992 Earth Summit focussed the world's attention on the dangers of global warming, this year's conference takes place in a world where economic concerns overshadow almost every other issue.

And while some fear that may doom the conference's chances of having much impact, Correa do Lago says it could also present an opportunity.

“We know we have an environmental crisis, we have a financial crisis, we have a job crisis, we have many crises at the same time now, in some countries many of these crises together and the fact is that sustainable development is the answer to that,” Correa do Lago said.

The Earth Summit ended with a great spirit of optimism with representatives from 172 countries, including 108 heads of state or government, signing on to the United Nations Framework on Climate Change.

But since then, with United States failing to ratify the Kyoto Protocols on global warming, and no real progress in reducing the emissions of the greenhouse gases believed to cause global warming, public interest has waned.

So June's conference will seek figure out how to implement policies that allow the world to grow and develop in a manner that is sustainable, not just environmentally but economically and socially as well, Correa do Lago said.

“To really make a change it has to have an economic logic, that's why we come back to the issue of having sustainable development as a paradigm for the economic sector,” he said.

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