Date: June 24 2012
Green groups and some political leaders from around the world declared it a failure, but the Prime Minister, Julia Gillard, has insisted the United Nations Rio+20 environmental summit made progress on sustainable development.
Ms Gillard said the meeting had committed to creating sustainable development goals by 2015, decided to strengthen UN environmental decision-making bodies and achieved pledges on the protection of oceans beyond individual countries' exclusive economic zones.
''I do not believe that this meeting will make change tomorrow, but I do believe that the things that have been agreed here over time will make a difference to the world's environment,'' she said as she prepared to fly home for the final week of parliamentary sittings before the winter break.
''I can certainly understand that there were many groups and many people … who would have had an ambition for more progress at this meeting … but we shouldn't forget where progress has been made.''
The meeting was never intended to reach a binding agreement, but the deal it did reach was so watered down that many activists and some ministers were openly questioning whether it was worth the massive effort of bringing 45,381 participants and almost 100 world leaders to Brazil.
The British Deputy Prime Minister, Nick Clegg, freely admitted it was ''disappointing'', blaming the concerns of increasingly assertive developing countries worried about the implications for their growth of committing to specific goals. The British economist Lord Nicholas Stern said the summit was a missed opportunity.
''The two defining challenges we face today are eradicating global poverty and managing the risks of climate change,'' he said. ''But the conference has failed to acknowledge the compelling evidence about the scale and urgency of action required.''
Environment and aid groups said the meeting had achieved very little.
The Greenpeace executive director, Kumi Naidoo, expressed anger at the meeting's outcome. ''Rio+20 has been a failure of epic proportions,'' Mr Naidoo said. ''We must now work together to form a movement to tackle the equity, ecology and economic crises being forced on our children. The only outcome of this summit is justifiable anger, an anger that we must turn into action.''
The director of the aid agency Oxfam, Barbara Stocking, agreed. ''Heads of state came here, they didn't agree anything new or different. So all those poor people that we work with - who don't have food, don't have water, have no electricity - there is nothing that's happened that's going to make their lives any better.''
In a speech to the conference, the US Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, said Brazil had done the world ''a great service'' by leading the conference to achieve an agreement in these ''fractious times''. Quoting the late Apple chief executive, Steve Jobs, she said people were leaving Rio thinking not just big, but different. But she conceded ''governments alone cannot solve all the problems we face'', echoing activists who said change must be driven by civil society in the absence of global government action.
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