By Cicero Lucena
As world leaders prepare for the Rio+20 meetings from June 20-22 in Brazil, now is a fitting moment to assess the true legacy of the original Earth Summit in 1992.
In many respects, the Summit was a watershed moment for the environment. It brought together a remarkable 172 countries, more than 100 of which were represented by their leaders, to start to address at the global level the unsustainable use of natural resources and man's impact on the environment.
Yet, two decades on, all the major scientific indicators continue to flash red. And, sadly, it is now clear that a large part of the Summit's original potential has been squandered.
Since 2000 alone, forests equivalent in size to the landmass of Germany have been lost; 80 per cent of the world's fish stocks have collapsed or are on the brink of collapse; and the Gobi desert is growing by roughly 10,000 square kilometres every year. The list of environmental pressures grows by the day, and there can be little doubt that the unsustainable use of natural resources will be the biggest challenge facing mankind in the 21st century.
So why haven't we done better since 1992, and what needs to be done to achieve a course correction now?
Crucially, it is not that leaders committed to the wrong objectives at Rio 20 years ago and in Johannesburg 10 years later. These summits led to the creation of the UN conventions on biological diversity, climate change and desertification, the principles on sustainable forestry and Local Agenda 21.
By any standards, these are remarkable achievements that have set in train some key advances. Examples include the significant decrease in deforestation seen in Brazil, and the qualified success of the recent climate summits in Durban and Cancun.
Instead, the major problem in the past 20 years has been the failure of Governments to implement properly their commitments from Rio and Johannesburg. Three particular parts of the jigsaw puzzle have been missing since 1992.
First, there has been a lack of domestic legislation to underpin the Rio principles and conventions. Second, there was a lack of credible and independent international scrutiny to monitor delivery. And finally, the international community failed to convert the original Rio agenda into a language that would hold sway in the most powerful Departments in each Government: the Treasuries and Finance Ministries.
These are three critical omissions and, if Rio+20 is to be a success, they must be addressed by the current generation of world leaders.