Green economy: Does it include us?

Datuk Dr Goh Ban Lee

TWO important events relating to the environment take place this month. Today is World Environment Day (WED), and the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development will be held in Rio de Janeiro from June 20-22.

A day for positive environmental action, the origin of WED can be traced to 1972 when members of the UN met in Stockholm for the Conference on Human Environment. It has been a landmark event and spawned numerous inter-governmental forums in which global environmental issues are discussed with a view to taking corrective action.

Since then, WED, also known as “Earth Day”, has been hosted every year by a different city with a different theme. The theme for 2012 is “Green Economy: Does it include you?”, to stimulate “the inspirational power of individual action that collectively becomes an exponential force for positive change”.

Last year’s theme was “Forests – Nature at Your Service”, and that of 2010 was “Many Species, One Planet, One Future”. The overall objective is to stimulate economic growth and at the same time reduce carbon emissions, enhance energy efficiency and prevent loss of biodiversity and ecosystem services.

Nothing has been heard of Malaysia’s proposed activities to celebrate this year’s WED. A visit to websites of the Natural Resources and Environment Ministry and Department of Environment yielded nothing. It is possible that something is being planned and that the absence of information is not the result of neglect, but of the organisations not being very good at making full use of the internet to broadcast their activities.

The only news relating to WED in Malaysia is the Eco Cyclothons by a property developer to promote the use of bicycles as an environment-friendly mode of transportation. The events, with “Cycling towards a green future” as the theme, are planned to be carried out in the developer’s projects in Selangor, Johor and Penang.

While the developer should be congratulated for its intitiative, it would be more productive for it to work with local authorities to promote the theme – to stimulate them to be more concerned about the environment and the provision of facilities for cycling or walking.

The more important event is the UN Conference in Rio de Janeiro. Also known as “Rio+20”, it marks the 20th anniversary of the notable 1992 UN Conference on Environment and Development, which took place in the same city.

The 1992 conference can be considered one of the most successful international conventions. Among agreements adopted by the international community was Agenda 21, a comprehensive plan of action for sustainable development. Local Agenda 21 or LA21, a term commonly used in local newspaper reports, is an off-shoot of Agenda 21.

Unfortunately, despite the success of the 1992 forum, Planet Earth is still in danger of being destroyed and becoming uninhabitable. Furthermore, although some countries have achieved an economic boom, poverty is still a serious problem. As such, one of the main themes of the 2012 Rio summit is “a green economy in the context of sustainable development and poverty eradication”. The conference is also expected to produce an institutional framework for sustainable development.

Despite pre-conference meetings and the annual meetings of environmental ministers, there is no guarantee that Rio+20 will be a success. One is never sure of the success of international conventions or the effectiveness of protocols and agreements. For example, the much touted Kyoto Protocol on climate change has not been effective.

To the sceptics, what is certain about this month’s conference is the cost of hosting it – the cost to the environment in terms of food consumption and logistics, including the carbon generated by the flights of thousands of delegates to Rio de Janeiro.

Datuk Dr Goh Ban Lee is a senior research fellow at the Penang Institute, interested in urban governance and planning, and housing. Comments:

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