Rio summit: vague on climate change and sea levels

World leaders at the U.N. Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro said a lot of the right things about climate change and sea level rise (and many other aspects of how to promote economic growth that doesn’t damage the environment) — except details of what to do.

The final document at the June 20-22 summit was widely criticised as too much aspiration and too little action. That’s a shame for a once-a-decade summit attended by about 100 heads of state and government.

For a flavour, try some of the main references to sea levels and climate change in the leaders’ document, “The Future We Want”.

There’s this elegant get-out-of-jail phrasing about climate change: “We reaffirm that climate change is one of the greatest challenges of our time, and we express profound alarm that emissions of greenhouse gases continue to rise globally.” (…i.e. the alarm is only about the ‘global’ problem, not about rising emissions “by my country”).

How to tackle global warming change is of course being negotiated under the U.N. Climate Convention, but shouldn’t a big summit should give a clearer sense of the way forward?

And then this paragraph about sea levels: “We note that sea level rise and coastal erosion are serious threats for many coastal regions and islands particularly in developing countries and, in this regard, we call on the international community to enhance its efforts to address these challenges.” (…no real hint of how, what, when.)

And the section about small island developing states (SIDS) says: “Sea-level rise and other adverse impacts of climate change continue to pose a significant risk to SIDS and their efforts to achieve sustainable development and for many represent the gravest of threats to their survival and viability, including for some through the loss of territory.”

And finally: “We emphasize that adaptation to climate change represents an immediate and urgent global priority.” (again, a ‘global’ priority lets a lot of people off the hook).