Rio +20: The future we’re certain we don’t want…

(Rio de Janeiro, Brazil) As over 100 heads of state and thousands of participants flocked to the Rio + 20 Earth Summit, most delegates focused on the summit’s priority topics: energy, sustainable cities, food security and sustainable agriculture, forests, water, oceans, green jobs and disaster readiness.

As the final Rio + 20 outcome document The Future We Want was released, more than 1000 public interest organizations and global networks, including scores of Australian organizations, issued a Global Common Statement for a Toxics-Free Future demanding the right to live in a pollution free world, to drink clean water, breathe clean air, fish in clean seas and eat uncontaminated food.

Overall the text of the outcome document is weak and doesn’t reflect the urgency of the global crisis affecting us all. Yet, in terms of chemical and waste management, many of the issues raised by National Toxic Network and our global network IPEN have at least been least addressed.

It’s heartening that governments have reaffirmed their commitments to the Strategic Approach to International Chemical Management and the World Summit on Sustainable Development’s Chemical Safety 2020 goal. They also called for environmentally sound and safer alternatives to hazardous chemicals in products and processes, as well as giving special mention to life-cycle assessment, public information and importantly, extended producer responsibility.

Importantly, the Rio+20 outcome document urges all governments to take every possible measure to prevent illegal dumping of hazardous waste. This is an especially important message for Australia who has been responsible for dumping electronic waste in Ghana. On the negative side, governments have put off taking action to clean up ocean plastic debris until 2025, and simply invite countries to consider rationalising the fossil fuel subsidies that support polluting coal fired power stations.

Most worrying is the support for energy recovery from burning waste. By supporting this approach countries risk giving  dirty ‘waste-to-energy’ incinerators, rather than the intended support for sustainable and cleaner solutions such as anaerobic digestors using organic waste or methane recovery from landfills.

The UN Human Rights Council has warned that basic human rights to life and health are ‘threatened by exposures to toxic chemicals, hazardous wastes, and contaminated drinking water and food’, but the outcomes of Rio+20 are unlikely to result in any substantial reduction in the chemical contamination affecting us all.

While countries recognized that sound management of chemicals is crucial for the protection of human health and the environment, no new actions were agreed upon to ensure our children are not exposed to a poisonous toxic chemical cocktail before they are even born.

Dr Mariann Lloyd-Smith

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