When the leaders of more than 100 countries meet this June to discuss the small matter of the Future of Life on Earth, President Obama might be there. Then again, maybe he’s got a golf match scheduled that day. He’s not saying.
Yes, it’s true, the guy who just picked up an early endorsement from Big Green groups like the Sierra Club and the League of Conservation Voters, the man who announced in his last State of the Union Address that “America remains the one indispensable nation in world affairs,” may be a no-show at the 2012 Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
When asked about the president’s plans on Tuesday, U.S. Special Envoy on Climate Change Todd Stern told The Washington Post, “I don’t have any understanding that the president has any intention of going.” A White House spokesperson was noncommittal: “I don’t have any scheduling announcements at this time.”
Ouch. What ever happened to “Love Your Mother”?
The Earth Summit, officially titled the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development, is widely known as “Rio+20” because it marks the 20th anniversary of the first Earth Summit in Rio in 1992. You may recall that our fearless leader at that time, President George H.W. Bush, was in the same state of limbo at this time 20 years ago. He agreed to go only at the last minute, and didn’t bring much life to the party.
Despite the flaccid showing from the U.S., the first Rio summit produced several important policy landmarks, including a major commitment to protect biological diversity and a climate change framework that led to the Kyoto Protocol, a global climate treaty that Bush Jr. famously refused to sign.
Another product of the summit was Agenda 21, a non-binding document that is currently a favorite bogeyman for wing nuts and conspiracy theorists — including the Republican National Committee, which wants to include an anti-Agenda 21 statement in the GOP’s national party platform this fall.
This may explain why President Obama is wary of attending the Earth Summit. I mean, who would want to be associated with a document that promotes such nefarious goals as “fulfillment of basic needs, improved living standards for all, better protected and managed ecosystems, and a safer, more prosperous future.”
And in an election year! It’s political suicide!
To be fair, it doesn’t look like the 2012 Earth Summit will produce anything as bold as the original summit did. Months of political jockeying have produced a proposal that has been dubbed, in wildly ironic U.N. speak, the “zero draft.” The Obama administration has called on the world community to boil this nebulous tome down to a five-page list of action-items, and wants delegates to bring a “cloud of commitments” that they are willing to undertake country-by-country.
Of course, it would help their cause if the president could commit, himself, to showing up. “If President Obama is not in Rio, it will be noticed,” says Jacob Scherr, who tracks international policy for the Natural Resources Defense Council. “It will signal that the United States is relinquishing its leadership role in regard to the environment, and more generally.”
Several groups have started online petitions urging Obama to attend the Earth Summit, including this one on Change.org and this one on Facebook. Seeing as he’s planning to attend the G20 economic summit in Mexico a few days prior, maybe we should just send him a plane ticket from there to Rio.
Oh, right! The president has his own plane! Let’s just send him a map — or better yet, a globe. If he’s going to run his planet, Obama had better get serious about saving it.
Watch for more coverage of the 2012 Earth Summit in Grist in the coming weeks. We’ll also report live from Rio in June.