Rio de Janeiro — The official opening in Rio de Janeiro on Wednesday of the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development has coincided with a large street demonstration with up to fifty thousand people protesting at what they consider to be a complete lack of commitment by many political leaders to protect the world's environment.
The opening of the two day summit was witnessed by Mozambican President Armando Guebuza and over a hundred other heads of state. It is more commonly known as Rio+20 in recognition of the summit held here twenty years ago which adopted a series of consensual measures aimed at supporting sustainable development whilst protecting the environment.
Protestors argued that the summit is not taken seriously by some world leaders, and they pointed out that United States President Barack Obama, Britain's Prime Minister David Cameron and Germany's Chancellor Angela Merkel will not even be present, despite the environmental destruction caused by multinationals based in these countries.
For those on the demonstration, the summit will at best agree to palliative measures, rather than any steps that would be instrumental in saving the environment in a sustainable manner.
However, it is increasingly clear that this is also the view of many of the summit's participants, including its leading figures.
Before the arrival of the dignitaries, a 56 page draft document was put together by officials. But in reaching consensus the document is seen by almost everyone as lacking vision.
The weakness of the draft was diplomatically recognised by the President of Brazil, Dilma Rousseff, and the Secretary General of the United Nations, Ban Ki-moon, when both referred to the need for more ambitious measures.
The summit's two leading figures stressed at the opening session that it is imperative to take bolder measures swiftly and without delay, given that it is already very late in the day to implement measures to rein in the destruction of the environment.
Referring to progress over the last twenty year, Ban Ki-moon said, "let me be frank: our efforts have not lived up to the measure of the challenge". He continued, "nature does not wait - nature does not negotiate with human beings".
The UN leader stressed, "let us not forget the scarcest resource of all: that is time. We are running out of time. We no longer have the luxury to defer difficult decisions. We have a common responsibility to act in common cause, to set aside narrow national interests in the name of the global public good and the betterment of all".
President Guebuza is one of the world leaders strongly supporting the summit, as shown by the large delegation accompanying him which includes senior government members such as Foreign Minister Oldemiro Baloi, Environment Minister Alcinda Abreu, Planning and Development Minister Aiuba Cuereneia, Agriculture Minister Jose Pacheco and Minister of Natural Resources Esperanca Bias.
The delegation also includes the country's Ambassador to Brazil, Isaac Murargy, and the Ambassador to the United Nations in New York, Antonio Gumende.
Also attending the summit is former President Joaquim Chissano and former Prime Minister Luisa Diogo.
According to a source involved in the negotiation of the summit document, the drafting was not easy because some unnamed countries refused to adopt measures that they viewed would jeopardise their economic, military or geo-strategic interests.
The source gave the example of discussions lasting for weeks over single words that were considered to be completely unacceptable for one country or another despite consensus among the other members of the United Nations.