June 20, 2012 7:29 pm

Brics top bill at Rio as wealthy stay away

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Announcing plans for the Rio+20 summit this month, Brazil’s defence ministry said it would fly in leaders and delegations from 10 developing countries in Africa and the Caribbean.

“The expectation at the moment is for these planes to transport 66 delegates but the number could be increased according to demand,” said the ministry.

This show of hospitality was seen by some as a sign of concern that not enough heads of state were planning to attend the current summit in Rio de Janeiro.

Those worries were well-founded. Despite the event’s significance, 20 years after the ground-breaking Earth Summit in Rio, it is not re­ceiving the expected level of interest, particularly from the developed world.

Only two leaders from the Group of Seven industrialised countries – France’s François Hollande and Italy’s Mario Monti – are expected to show up. President Barack Obama is staying home to fight the US election campaign, while Europe’s other politicians are occupied with the eurozone crisis. Canada and Japan’s leaders are expected to be elsewhere.

In contrast, senior figures from the Bric nations – Brazil, Russia, India and China – are due to attend, prompting some to hail a turning point on the world stage.

“This is potentially the moment we will look back at in 10 years’ time and say this was the time when the emerging economies took over to become the major influence on the international process,” said Lasse Gustavsson, the WWF environmental group’s delegation leader in Rio.

If there is a winner among the Bric nations from a conference that critics say is likely to produce few if any concrete results, it is Brazil. The country is easily the “greenest” of the so-called Brics, with its huge sugar cane ethanol and hydroelectric power industries and its guardianship over the world`s largest rainforest, the Amazon.

Despite heavy criticism from environmentalists of its new “forest code” law, it arguably has the most advanced legal framework regarding the environment among its Bric peers.

“Brazil is the moral victor here because it is the one country where legislation has advanced the furthest,” said Marcos Troyjo, director of the BRICLab forum at Columbia University in New York.

Yet, the jury is out over whether Bric leadership will bring the world any nearer to a concrete action plan on the environment.

Mr Gustavsson pointed out that countries such as China and India had more immediate first-hand experience of the cost of environmental problems, such as pollution.

However, Bric nations have attracted criticism from some at Rio for holding back negotiations by insisting they cannot do more environmentally unless wealthier states contribute more financial help.

Months of squabbles have preceded the Rio summit over one of the themes the UN has chosen for the conference – how to create a green economy that puts the world on a path to sustainable development.

Many developing countries were wary of the term “green economy”, said Martin Khor, executive director of the South Centre developing world think-tank. They feared it could be misused as grounds for trade protection or new obligations they could not afford.

“They have thus been reluctant to give high status to the ‘green economy’ term, insisting it is one of several concepts and tools that can be used to achieve sustainable development, and that it should not be used as a policy prescription or a new international policy framework,” he wrote in a recent article.

Other analysts caution against giving too much significance to the Brics’ dominance of Rio+20. The reason some leaders have not turned up may be partly bureaucratic. The current summit agenda is packed, with the Group of 20 meeting in Mexico a few days ago and the European Council meeting next week.

Chris Garman, a Eurasia Group analyst, said the rich nations’ absence was more due to a cold assessment that Rio+20 was un­likely to produce results at a time of more pressing issues.

“They have bigger fish to fry right now,” he said.

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