The start of bottom-up governance
The media centre in the Rio+20, or the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development, that was held in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, was packed with hundreds of journalists for two days, yet few seemed to pay much attention to the two giant screens that broadcast live the speeches by leaders from about 130 countries.
It was mostly the kind of uninspiring speeches you hear time and again. On Friday these leaders, many coming a long way across the oceans, signed a 49-page document called The Future We Want, but the watered-down version of the original text is really a tiger without any teeth and is far from the actions needed to meet the urgency of a planet in crisis.
It is certainly not the kind of future most people want as leaders are not willing to be committed to major actions required for the sustainable development of human beings on Earth.
After all, when top negotiators from the world's 190 nations haggle, what do you really expect?
That is why the UN Secretary-General, Ban Ki-moon, said at the beginning of the talks: "Let me be frank: Our efforts have not lived up to the measure of the challenge. Nature does not wait. Nature does not negotiate with human beings."
In the past weeks there have been protests in Rio de Janeiro or just outside Rio Centro, where the Rio+20 meetings were held. As for the media shunning the speeches of heads of state and governments, I would interpret it as another protest against the current top-down governance framework in the world. When I talked to Zhang Jianyu, programme manager of the Environmental Defence Fund, on Friday, he made the same argument.
Having come to the venue every day since June 14, I feel Rio+20 was not about leaders, who while they were there only contributed to more traffic jams on roads heavily guarded by soldiers and police.
The hope, excitement and future are often found in the hundreds of side events hosted by members of the public, including youths from many countries who are deeply worried about the legacy left by our generation. As I talked to many participants of Rio+20, they also shared the feeling that rich side events, whether on renewable energy, green economy or public participation and new ways of consumption, were the real highlights of the conference.
For example, a 10-day learning programme on sustainable development that I visited several times was winding up. From it hundreds of students were graduating, and they will go around the world to spread the message of sustainable development. In a sense, it is sowing the seeds for sustainable development internationally.
To me, spreading messages and sharing experiences and best practices seems to be far more important an achievement of the Rio+20 than the empty promises of leaders.
If anyone wants to make Rio+20 a landmark, it certainly will not be for producing the document The Future We Want. Rather, it will be a landmark because civil society is building up awareness and strength in a big way. People are getting ready to force government leaders into action.
Bottom-up governance is preparing to replace the top-down structure.
The writer, based in New York, is Deputy Editor of China Daily USA.
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