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Updated: Panel wades into science, politics and the perils of the anthropocene

Updated at 7:30 p.m.: Brazil’s chief negotiator, Luiz Alberto Figueiredo, now says he expects the preparatory negotiations to wrap up this evening, leaving tomorrow free before the high-level government officials and heads of state begin arriving for the formal negotiations on Wednesday. Three days of preparatory talks were scheduled to end on Friday, but Brazil has already added an extra three days. Given the difficulty countries have had on everything from their commitments to pursue a green economy to funding arrangements and a new set of sustainable development goals, many had expected the informal talks to continue into Tuesday.

“What I told our colleagues is that if we compare this to a football game, the time for the match has expired, ” Figueiredo said Monday evening. “We are in extra time, and the extra time is never longer than the match itself.”

It is unclear exactly what the text will look like when it is released, nor is it clear how much work negotiators might be leaving for their bosses. Environmentalists are pessimistic, however, and have begun looking toward the ongoing G20 summit in Mexico for signs that political leaders will ramp up their ambitions in Rio. 

RIO DE JANEIRO – Following a day-long meeting focused on science and global environmental policy, a group of high-profile scientists, entrepreneurs and leaders of various stripes – including the king and queen of Sweden – released a new statement calling on governments to ratchet up their social, economic and environmental commitments at Rio+20. The statement asserts that humans have entered the “Anthropocene“, a newly proposed geologic epic in which many of the fundamental planetary-scale processes are dominated by humans, and declares that governments must move quickly to avert potentially “catastrophic outcomes” of endless and lopsided growth.

Running into Sunday evening, the forum featured a solemn video message from Prince Charles decrying a “dangerous disconnect between the public, scientists and the private sector” followed by a lengthy discussion of how best to inject the latest science into the political process. In some ways, the process served as a reminder of the difficulties faced by government negotiators this week: Even within this group of a few dozen people who vehemently believe that the potential dangers ahead warrant decisive government action, there was some disagreement about how to most effectively craft an effective political statement. Does one keep it short and sweet? Should it cite detailed scientific evidence? How do you balance hope and fear?

In the end, more than 30 of the leaders including Brazil’s Environment Secretary Izabella Teixeira signed a short statement (available in PDF form here) that sought to underscore the need for action while reminding the government leaders that the world simply cannot continue upon its current path indefinitely. The group expressly framed its statement in terms of “planetary boundaries”, an idea first proposed in Nature by Johan Rockström and colleagues (discussed further in an earlier post). As it happens, Rockström organize the forum and has also co-authored a book about the concept, which was launched on Sunday as well. Language citing planetary boundaries was included in an earlier draft of the agreement being negotiated in Rio; although it was deleted at the insistence of the G77, a core block of developing countries, there is a movement within the Brazilian science ministry to restore the language.

Signatories are presenting the statement at Rio+20 today in concert with an event hosted by United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon’s High-level Panel on Global Sustainability (broadcast live here). The statement is one among many calls for action, however, and barring a sudden change of heart at the highest political levels there are limits to what can be accomplished this week in Rio. But Katherine Richardson, a signatory and marine biologist at the University of Copenhagen in Denmark, remains hopeful. “I can promise you 100-percent that what comes out of Rio is not going to save the world, but the dialogue is critical,” she says. “These talks are part of a process, and if we gave up on them we would lose something that is incredibly important.”

SOURCE: Mattias Klum

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