Global Lead Network: Making Rio+20 Work
Making Rio+20 Work
The Rio 2012 United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development (Rio+20) to be held in Rio de Janeiro on June 20-22 is a major international gathering to assess progress since the 1992 Rio Earth Summit. As part of its participation in the preparatory process for Rio+20, the Alliance is disseminating the following position sheet:
MAKING RIO+20 WORK: LESSONS FROM LEAD POISONING PREVENTION
Do Not Re-Event the Wheel: Rio+20 needs to take account of, build on, and move forward from past commitments and initiatives and not bog down in repetitious argumentative discussions about principles and commitments already agreed upon.
Continue to Close the Implementation Gap: The biggest challenge to sustainable development is closing the “implementation gap” – the still gaping divide between defined goals and principles and their realization in practice. Although it is important, knowledge is not self-executing: indeed, calls for ever more data collection and analysis can constitute an excuse for inaction. During the effort to eliminate leaded gasoline, for example, recalcitrant countries cited the need for more country-specific studies despite the overwhelming evidence that leaded gasoline was invariably harmful to health and the environment. Rio+20 should follow up the World Summit on Sustainable Development and concentrate on how the international system can facilitate program implementation and concrete projects. Notably, the effectiveness of WSSD partnerships to date should be disinterestedly critiqued.
Finish the Job: The imperative to address new threats such as global climate change should not diminish the need to solve long-standing problems that impede the achievement of sustainable development. Lead poisoning continues to provide a primary example of a persistent but practically solvable problem that particularly hinders the intellectual and social development of children – the future.
Despite the virtual elimination of leaded gasoline worldwide for vehicular use, the vast reservoir of lead dispersively deposited in the environment by past leaded gasoline use still must be addressed. The multiple other sources of lead exposure must be concurrently remediated and abated. Solution of “classic” problems such as lead poisoning should serve as optimistic-engendering precedent for successfully tackling the other sustainable development problems the world faces.
Sustainable Production and Consumption: An essential component of the green economy theme of Rio+20 is an analysis of the environmental health effects of products and consumption patterns. Leaded gasoline was one of humankind’s worst inventions; lead-based paint remains in surprisingly widespread use. Viable substitutes exist for most uses of lead. Demonstrating that progress is not linear, potentially harmful products such as the manganese-based gasoline additive, MMT, pose the potential for repeating some of the worst experiences with lead-containing products. Technology-forcing regulation and incentive structures should both be brought to bear to promote healthful product substitution.
Strengthen Internationalized Solutions: Governance models need to integrate all levels and all actors from the community to the international. Phasing out leaded gasoline has been a success story largely because of the “squeeze play” strategy employed, which consisted of pressuring national governments simultaneously from community activists and international institutions. One internationalized strategy to address toxics pollution is to conduct community-based needs and resource assessments supported by external expertise and support.