With outstretched arms, the 38-meter statue of “Cristo Redentor” on Corcovado Mountain dominates the Rio de Janeiro skyline. Since 1931, this Brazilian icon has withstood lightning, bird’s nests and the occasional vandal. It’s in the 2007 list of the world’s “seven wonders.”
The “Redeemer” reechoes, in concrete and steel, the ancient vow: “Whatsoever is done for little ones is done to Me.” Rio+20, or the UN Conference on Sustainable Development, heard from the young.
“You have 72 hours to decide the fate of your children—my children, my children’s children. And I start the clock now,” 17-year-old New Zealander Brittany Trilford told delegates from 190 countries. “Are you here to save face? Or are you here to save us?”
Her blunt questions echo in the “youth bulge” here. The population topped 93.2 million last year. More than half (57 percent) are below 20 years of age. These youngsters’ hormones are on overdrive. They also tarry in the reproductive bracket longer. Many are jobless.
But Rio+20 closed with the kids shut out. The final document shoved into the freezer key provisions on water, universal energy access and doubling renewables by 2030, etc. “The word ‘encourage’ bobs up 50 times [but] the phrase ‘we will’ just five times,” noted the World Wildlife Fund. “The word ‘support’ appeared 99 times, but ‘must’ only thrice.”
Both veterans and novices “wonder if such negotiations produce meaningful outcomes,” the Washington Post commented. “Rio+20 may produce one lasting legacy: convincing people it’s not worth holding global summits.”
The nonbinding declaration was “a staggering failure of responsibility,” University of Surrey professor Tim Jackson told the Guardian. “[It] betrayed the vision of a green economy.” With Peter Victor of Toronto’s York University, Jackson, author of “Prosperity Without Growth,” argued for prodding capital markets to get behind an alternative investment route.
Failure to budge beyond old economic models is self-defeating, Jackson added. “It makes no sense to get the London Philharmonic Orchestra to play Beethoven’s ninth symphony faster and faster each year.”
The 2009 climate summit at Copenhagen demonstrated the difficulties of striking ambitious deals between so many disparate countries. Today, crises also clog the radar screen.
The Arab Spring wilted as Syria’s Bashar al-Assad waged war on his people, with Russian weapons. A missile shattered a Turkish F-4 jet fighter. Of 7,000 Filipino overseas workers in Syria, 1,643 flew home. In Europe, “Grexit” is a term heard with increasing frequency as Greece flounders. Athens could opt out of the Euro zone within weeks.
In our backyard, Vietnam slammed China’s National Offshore Oil Corp. for auctioning nine offshore blocks. They “lie entirely within Vietnam’s 200-mile exclusive economic zone,” Hanoi bristled.
The Philippines has the same beef about Panatag (Scarborough) Shoal, which is only 124 nautical miles off Zambales—well within Manila’s own EEZ. Nonetheless, China claims the shoal that’s 550 miles from its nearest coast.
In the post Rio+20 letdown, the Philippines has no choice. It must push forward to ensure a “green economy”—one that buffs up human well-being and closes the gap between beggared masses and miniscule elites. The odds include rebels and oligarchs, who plunder forests and seas at whim, until recently.
Yet, the country has some things going for it. Once the region’s “ne’er-do-well, the Philippines today is Asia’s second fastest growing economy. It moved 10 slots up to rank 75 in the latest Global Competitiveness Report. But serious bottlenecks remain: slow infrastructure upgrade, low quality in public institutions and primary education.
The conviction of then Chief Justice Renato Corona and the detention of former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo are about “big fish.” Acting Chief Justice Antonio Carpio has instituted reforms. The voters’ lists in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao are being scrubbed of ghost voters. Critics even fume over how President Aquino combs his thinning hair. Yet they grudgingly admit he is not corrupt.
But the window of opportunity is small—and narrowing fast. Rising temperatures have widened the “Tropical Belt,” notes Nature Geoscience. The tropics expanded by 2 and 4.8 degrees latitude. As the world warms, edges of the “Belt”—outer boundaries of the subtropical dry zones—drift toward the poles.
Temperature and rainfall changes are altering yields. Affected are politically volatile crops like corn and rice. “In the Philippines, rice yields drop by 10 percent for every one-degree-Centigrade increase in night-time temperature,” BBC’s environment correspondent Richard Black writes.
The slump is regionwide. Droughts dry reservoirs, and flash floods from scalped forests swamp croplands. Yields slumped by 10-20 percent over the last 25 years. More declines are ahead. How many more Filipinos will need food, clothing, shelter, schools, etc. when P-Noy steps down in 2016?
The sea level has risen rapidly as glaciers melt. Seven out of 10 Filipinos cluster in coastal areas. Warmer seas trigger El Niño episodes. “These caused coral bleaching on massive scales never seen before,” notes Ocean Heritage. Fishermen reel from the impact.
Erosion blights 53 percent of crop lands, wrecking the soil that feeds us. Reversing that threat will make battling today’s insurgency seem like child’s play.
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