Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Commentary: Rio+20: Understanding the Present in Light of the Future By Mikhail Gorbachev

GENEVA, Switzerland, June 12, 2012 (ENS) - They say if you want make God laugh share your plans. I planned to come to Rio+20, but my 81st birthday has had unwelcome toll on my plans.

2012 will inevitably be a year of reflection. Those of us who are concerned for the future of our Earth and its inhabitants must do all we can to ensure it is also a year of action, and one that marks the end of a period of apathy and shortsightedness. Overcoming such lack of vision was what brought us to Rio 20 years ago for the first Earth Summit on Environment and Development. But that event's tangible results, and those of the many subsequent conferences here and around the world since, have fallen far short of what is needed to steer our world onto a sustainable path.

Looking back to 1992, when I switched the focus of my activities from national politics to international development and the environment, the situation was very different. During and just after the Rio Earth Summit, there was an overwhelming air of enthusiasm and hope for the future. It was a time of optimism and, in retrospect, innocence, as everyone celebrated the end of the Cold War.

Then, incredible social and political changes that were deemed impossible just a few years earlier were, in fact, implemented. This was no accident. In order to unleash these energies on both sides we had to overcome the strong opposition of the existent power structures that blocked the way ahead. But the changes resonated the hopes of the time and leaders had the courage to respond to the call. The Berlin Wall was brought down in the belief that future generations could solve challenges together.

Today, 20 years later we are instead surrounded by cynicism and, for many, despair. This is hardly surprising at a time of an economic crisis exacerbated by increased pressure on natural resources, spreading of poverty, diminishing human security, continuing violent conflicts, and environmental degradation. More