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Environmental groups call on President Obama to attend Rio+20

Source: Thomson Reuters Foundation - Tue, 22 May 2012 16:49 GMT
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NEW YORK (AlertNet)—More than 20 American environmental, social and health groups have sent a letter urging U.S. President Barack Obama to attend the Rio+20 Earth Summit in Brazil this June.

“Your presence at this summit would signal its critical importance to all Americans,” said the letter, which was signed by Frances Beinecke, president of the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), and the chief executives of more than 20 other groups, including Earthjustice, the Sierra Club, Environment America, Greenpeace, the National Wildlife Federation, Physicians for Social Responsibility and Defenders of Wildlife.

“We believe it is really crucial that the president attend Rio and show leadership…making it clear that the United States is going to be a contender in this race to a carbon-free environment,” said Jacob Scherr, NRDC director of global strategy and advocacy, during a conference call on Monday outlining NRDC’s goals for the summit. 

“The key here is not to negotiate another treaty or plan of action but to get countries and companies to take action” on already existing commitments and goals, he said.

Scherr called Rio+20, officially the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development, “perhaps the first summit in history that will result in commitments…to actually make progress toward sustainability.”


One area of concern is investment in clean energy, which is at “a critical stage,” said Jake Schmidt, NRDC international climate policy director.  Last year, countries invested some $264 million in clean energy – not nearly enough to begin making renewable energy a dominant source of power.

At the same time, global subsidies for fossil fuels to produce electricity amounted to $750 billion.

“How can we be subsidizing these fossil fuel subsidies at a time when we need to be investing in clean energy?” asked Schmidt. He said the NRDC will shortly release a scorecard listing the investment by G20 countries in solar, wind and other clean technologies to generate electricity.

“We want to be, in 20 years, where renewable energy is the major source of electrical energy around the world,” he said.

Finding ways to begin dealing with the health of the world’s oceans, specifically ocean acidification related to climate change, also will be important at Rio, according to Lisa Suatoni, a NRDC senior scientist with a specialty in oceans.

Ocean acidification, due to absorption of increasing carbon emissions in the world’s oceans, results in a host of ecological and economic problems. These include shellfish, such as oysters, experiencing difficulty building their shells. That problem, already evident in the U.S. in states such as Oregon and Washington, is expected to worsen, she said.

 Cutting  the amount of plastic waste ending up in oceans also is crucial, she said.

“We’re putting out a global call to end plastic pollution,” she said. Over the last 60 years, the amount of plastic collecting in the world’s oceans has increased dramatically, she said, posing a danger to wildlife,  a possible threat to human health and a blight to tourism on shores littered with plastic bottles, bags and other detritus.

“Alternatives to plastic need to be promoted to shift consumer behavior,” she said, noting “the root cause of plastic pollution is the design and marketing of products without proper consideration of their impact.”

Speaking of Rio+20, she added, “This summit is the perfect opportunity to stop plastic pollution at its source.”


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