5. The Outcomes: Confrontational NGOs
Assumption Three: Human societies need vanguard institutions (some with international scope and scale), usually called NGOs, whose job is to monitor the boundaries and frontiers of global civilization’s future and to assess, forecast, warn, cajole, plead, shout, protest in anger or otherwise attempt to move societies in different directions.

So, one would expect that the failure of the actions of the 180 countries acting together would greatly frustrate the leaders of these NGOs. Their job is to deliver criticism – particularly in the case of businesses and governments – on the speed and effectiveness of the other institutions moving to a sustainable future.

It was the NGOs’ expectations (read: disappointments) which were featured in many of the media accounts of the conference. So, we heard statements from Friends of the Earth International saying, “Once again, corporate polluters have held UN decision-making hostage to furthering their economic interests, at the expense of people’s well-being and the planet.” Kumi Naidoo, the global head of Greenpeace, said the organization was so “disappointed” by what Rio+20 could deliver that they decided to move to a “war footing” with the financial sector of global business. I thought to myself, “Just doing their job in the ecosystem of institutions we all live among.”

6. The Outcomes: Media
Assumption Four: Taken together, the global media organization is also an institution. Its job is to report what is happening, often by being stenographers for the rhetoric of the leaders of other sectors. Because they have to depend on attracting readers, the media tend to focus their stories on conflict and the most outrageous behavior of people in the other institutions.

The journalists, print, TV, and film, who were at Rio+20 (mostly) provided headlines such as these:

“A colossal failure of leadership and vision” (quoting World Wildlife Fund). “Environmental summits lose value as past pledges go unmet” (Toronto Globe and Mail).  “Diplomats agree on ‘weak’ text for Rio +20 green summit” (Reuters). “Rio+20 declaration talks fail almost before they begin” (New Scientist). “Rio+20: Progress on Earth issues ‘too slow’ – UN chief” (BBC).

Thus, the media, for the most part, delivered the news in fragments focusing as much as possible on the sharp edge of the debates and the most audible critics.

7. The Outcomes: Initiator NGOs
Assumption Five: Many NGOs can use their institutional flexibility and influence to convene, organize, and institutionalize large initiatives that governments and businesses find difficult to get off the ground.

Some NGOs gathering together with governments and businesses made major announcements and commitments along these lines. They showed what they could deliver. One of these is a major reforestation initiative.

USAID’s Deputy Administrator, Ambassador Donald Steinberg, announced that the U.S. Government and companies of the Consumer Goods Forum are forming a new partnership to work together to reduce deforestation by “greening the supply chain” and, within 100 days, would hold a global partnership dialogue. With all due respect to my colleagues who have been in the room negotiating, I don’t think these are side events. This is the main event. For me, this was the most succinct summary of Rio+20.

The Consumer Goods Forum, representing more than 400 companies and brands operating with combined annual revenues of over US$3.1 trillion, has pledged to achieve zero net deforestation in its supply chains by 2020.

Summing up the conference, Sha Zukang, a Chinese diplomat and Secretary-General of the summit, reported that 692 side commitments by governments, businesses, and NGOs were made at Rio valued at $513 billion.

8. The Outcomes: Individual Governments
Assumption Six: Governments of nation-states are major institutions and have somewhat more flexibility in what they can accomplish acting separately than they can have acting together with other governments.

Individual governments are also major institutions in the world. A number of individual governments made announcements of significance. Notable among these, for example, was British deputy prime minister Nick Clegg’s announcement that the British government will require all companies listed on the London Stock Exchange to report their greenhouse gas emissions publicly.

The Brazilian state of Pará that covers a large part of the Amazon committed publicly to get to zero net deforestation by 2020.

South Africa, Denmark, France, and Brazil said they would implement UNEP’s global reporting of environmental country footprints for their companies.

Countries like Kiribati and Cook Islands in the Pacific and the Maldives, which had been leaders in the group of “Small Island States” announced that they were creating the world’s largest marine reserves incorporating the ocean around their more than 2000 km islands. They also noted that they were becoming the first “Large Ocean States”.

Assumption Seven: Individual governments can also make bilateral and multilateral agreements and join with other NGOs and businesses to start new initiatives (that are easier to accomplish than coming to consensus with the other 180 nations).

That happened at Rio+20 – in a big way. Here are some examples of that.

The US government announced a $2 billion commitment to a clean energy development program of aid for Africa. And the US Agency for International Development announced a conference within 100 days to implement the Consumer Goods Forum’s pledge to have zero net deforestation by 2020. A large number of big international companies are part of this including Coca-Cola, General Mills, Kraft, and Colgate.

I noted in Axiom One that national governments are limited by what their domestic politics will permit (i.e., you cannot do anything if you are not reelected). The corollary to that axiom is that nation-states do have more flexibility to act within their own borders, again, domestic politics permitting. A few months prior to Rio+20, a group of parliamentarians calling themselves Global Legislators Organization (GLOBE) released a report that showed significant movement at the domestic level among many governments. Their report said:

“Legislation is being advanced, to varying degrees, in all of the countries studied [16].
Most of the legislative activity has taken place over the last year and a half – contrasting sharply with the difficulties experienced by the international negotiations over the same timeframe. This demonstrates that the shape of the debate is changing from one about sharing a global burden – with governments naturally trying to minimize their share – to one of a realisation that acting on climate change is in the national interest. It is particularly encouraging that the large developing countries of Brazil, China, India, Mexico and South Africa – who together represent the engine of global economic growth – are developing comprehensive laws to tackle climate change.”

GLOBE President, Rt Hon. John Gummer, Lord Deben wrote, “The study illustrates that the shape of the debate on climate change is shifting from being about sharing a global burden – with governments naturally trying to minimise their share – to a realisation that acting on climate change is in the national interest.”

What this says to me is that a growing awareness has been arising over the last 20 years since the 1992 Rio Earth Summit and is being translated into possibilities for action within nations. And as the awareness of sustainability and climate-change challenges increases what individual nations can deliver, the way of change is itself changing.

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