How Rio+20 can herald a ‘constitutional moment’

The conference should focus on assessing the governance reforms required to put the planet on a more sustainable path

Frank Biermann and Steven Bernstein
The Guardian [UK]
15 March 2012

Governments have a historic opportunity this June to create the institutions needed to fulfill the promise made at the 1992 Earth Summit. The Rio+20 UN conference on sustainable development should mark nothing less than a constitutional moment, putting the planet on a more sustainable path. But, it is in grave danger of being stillborn, lacking the political will to commit to the transformations required to collectively thrive within planetary boundaries.

The need for action hardly needs rehearsing. To put it bluntly, humanity is demanding more of the Earth than it can supply, sending us toward tipping points beyond which the planet’s air, water and other natural systems can’t recover.

The current structures can’t cope with this new reality, as was underscored by the disappointing outcome of the recent climate change negotiations in Durban, South Africa. Despite the more than 900 environmental treaties in the past 40 years, human-induced environmental degradation continues, reaching levels that prompted the International Council for Science (ICSU) to warn last year that we have “reached a point in history at which a prerequisite for development – the continued functioning of the Earth system as we know it – is at risk.”

While the science could not be clearer, far less systematic attention is devoted to assessing the governance reforms required.

How to create a “constitutional moment” will be a focus of the ICSU-sponsored Planet Under Pressure conference in London later this month…

…Finally, the environment crisis is part of a wider set of issues; including poverty, financial and political instability, and uneven economic development.  [emphasis CAJ] This interconnectedness increases our collective vulnerability. It makes effective earth system governance even more imperative.

Read the entire article at The Guardian.

• Frank Biermann is chair of the Earth System Governance Project and professor of political science at the VU University Amsterdam, the Netherlands.

• Steven Bernstein is professor of political science and director, master of global affairs programme at the Munk School, University of Toronto, Canada.

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