Karen Tam Wu

Rio +20: Where's the progress?

Friday Jun 22, 2012

I was a teenager when the Rio Earth Summit was first held in 1992. Back then, the anticipation and the outcomes of the Rio Earth Summit were a symbol of hope – of what nations coming together could accomplish. Canada was a key player in the development of the Convention on Climate Change, and ratified the Conventions on Climate Change and Biodiversity coming out of Rio.

Back then, the hole in the ozone layer and deforestation of the Brazilian rainforest were the environmental challenges of the day.

Today, we’ve been able to reverse most of the damage done to the ozone layer. Sadly, I can’t say that we’ve done the same to address decreasing biodiversity and increasing deforestation, and we now face much more complex problems associated with climate change.

As an adult, I look at where we’ve come from and where we’re headed, and it’s hard not to worry. Under the current Harper government, we’re heading farther behind than from where we’ve come.

The recent passing of Bill C-38, the omnibus “budget” bill demonstrates how the Harper government is swiftly putting in place measures to erode many of the environmental gains that had been made over the past 20 years: stripping regulations that protect the environment, fish habitat, and species at risk; fast-tracking approval for industrial extraction and export of fossil fuels; and reneging on Kyoto.

Today, as Rio +20 is being held, Canada, once a leader on the international stage with respect to environmental issues, has become an international embarrassment. International meetings such as Rio +20 have become a source of cynicism with Canadians. But now is definitely not the time to sit back on the couch feeling frustrated and defeated.

So where’s the hope?

When government fails to do the right thing, it’s time to look elsewhere to shift power. ForestEthics has been able to achieve some amazing feats using different sources of power. In 2006, ForestEthics, along with other conservation groups, First Nations and the BC government announced protection of 5.5 million hectares of the last remaining intact temperate rainforest on the planet, the Great Bear Rainforest. The world’s largest catalogue producer, Victoria’s Secret, stopped sourcing paper for its catalogues from the Boreal forest in 2007.  To date, ForestEthics has convinced over a dozen high-profile companies to shun fuel from the tar sands.

I hope that citizens of all ages, young and old - who should rightfully be outraged by the injustice the current Harper government is wreaking on the environment - can find inspiration by such examples, and have faith that active, engaged citizens can create positive change, in spite of their government.

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