It’s hard to know what to say about the first week of Rio+20.  The PrepCom ended as it had begun, with a bloated document running over two-hundred pages, and hundreds of  brackets reflecting areas of disagreement.

This came after weeks of “informal-informal” negotiations at the UN.  With the end of the PrepCom the co-chairs turned over the document to Brazil, since the host country manages  the next steps.   Rio Centro had been rife with rumors that Brazil, with the input of certain other key players, already had in its pocket a revised draft which it would use to continue  negotiations.  So not surprisingly, a fifty page “Brazilian” draft appeared late Saturday afternoon.

The responses have varied, with some environmental advocates expressing satisfaction that key elements had been retained or even enhanced from the PrepCom, and that in some  matters important progress had been made.  Regarding oceans, for example, the Brazilian draft includes an agreement to initiate negotiation of an implementing agreement to the Law of the Sea Convention that would address the conservation and sustainable use of marine biodiversity in areas beyond national jurisdiction, a matter of critical concern.

However, other participants convey outrage over omissions.  Some sustainable development advocates called the document “a complete breach of legal, moral and ethical reasonableness” arguing that It will “condemn millions of vulnerable children, women and men to avoidable death and suffering and threatens to be the final phase in the human obliteration of earth’s ecosystem.”

So what can we reasonably hope will come out of all this?  Maybe we should go back to our roots, and look at the original Rio Declaration.

In twenty-seven short paragraphs it articulated, often eloquently, the hopes and aspirations of the thousands who came to Rio and the millions who supported them.  It includes:

Principle 1

Human beings are at the centre of concerns for sustainable development. They are entitled to a healthy and productive life in harmony with nature.

Principle 3

The right to development must be fulfilled so as to equitably meet developmental and environmental needs of present and future generations.

Principle 4

In order to achieve sustainable development, environmental protection shall constitute an integral part of the development process and cannot be considered in isolation from it.

Principle 10

Environmental issues are best handled with participation of all concerned citizens . . . .  Effective access to judicial and administrative proceedings, including redress and remedy, shall be provided.

Principle 15

[T]he precautionary approach . . . . Where there are threats of serious or irreversible damage, lack of full scientific certainty shall not be used as a reason for postponing cost-effective measures to prevent environmental degradation.

Principle 25

Peace, development and environmental protection are interdependent and indivisible.

Secretary General Ban Ki-moon must have hoped that Rio+ 20 would produce similarly lofty and inspiring language, since from the beginning he has urged that the outcome document be concise and compelling.  But so far we have not delivered.

Perhaps it is too much to wish for a clarion call that will inspire and unite.  Perhaps it’s too much to wish for bold public leaders to come forward.  National administrations are struggling with their economies.  The EU is shuddering through its latest upheavals.  And perhaps in twenty years we have made environmental protection so mainstream that we don’t need concise compelling statements.

Instead we need the nitty-gritty tiresome working out of the ways that we will continue to implement the lofty goals of the first Rio.  Surely twenty years from now no one will be teaching Paragraph 1 of the outcome document, but perhaps we will have achieved the myriad of commitments in the new document.  Perhaps, perhaps, perhaps . . . .

But if nothing else comes of the summit, the outpouring of passion, enthusiasm, hope and even outrage and anger, the mixture of people from all parts of the globe, and the interaction of people and their governments gives hope for the next twenty years.