The Earth Summit, taking place this June 20-22 in one of the most beautiful cities on the planet, Rio De Janeiro, Brazil, presents a milestone in the environmental policy arena. Marking the 20th anniversary of the 1992 Earth Summit also held in Rio, the international gathering of more than 150 world leaders, along with thousands of participants from governments, the private sector, and NGOs, is focused on developing policy to reduce poverty, advance social equity and ensure environmental protection on an ever more crowded planet to get to "the future we want." "The Future We Want" is the guiding theme of the summit organized by The United Nations.
With the summit fast approaching, the RSVP list is missing perhaps the most significant invitee, American President Barack Obama.
An all-out campaign to urge Obama's attendance is being waged by the United Nations, environmental groups and civil society. U.N. secretary general Ban Ki-moon made a personal appeal to Barack Obama to attend the Rio Earth Summit, saying his presence would be critical to the summit's success.From the Guardian:
"President Obama will be crucial," Ban told a forum hosted by the Centre for Global Development, an independent think tank in Washington. "We count on the United States." He urged the audience to lobby the White House on the meeting, convened 20 years after the international community first pledged to work together on climate change and other global concerns. "Please tweet, please tweet," he said.
The Natural Resources Defense Council and more than 20 other environmental, social and health groups sent a letter to President Barack Obama strongly encouraging him to attend the summit and issuing a press release to increase public pressure on Obama. "Your presence at this Summit would signal its critical importance to all Americans," Beinecke and other CEOs wrote to President Obama. It also would "demonstrate our country's deep concern over urgent global issues that will inevitably affect our security and well-being, and highlight our nation's determination to be a contender in the race to a low-carbon green economy," they wrote. Along with NRDC, other groups whose CEOs signed the letter include Earthjustice, Sierra Club, Environment America, Greenpeace, National Wildlife Federation, Physicians for Social Responsibility and Defenders of Wildlife. To read the letter in full and for a full list of signatories, click here.
In addition, winners of the prestigious Goldman Prize for Environmental Leadership released a statement on World Environment Day calling upon all world leaders to attend the Earth Summit, and reminding them that any political risk is greatly outweighed by the risk of inaction to the future of humanity. The statement recognizes that much of the progress achieved in environmental protection since the original Earth Summit in 1992 came from the grassroots level, but that there is now a pressing need for leadership at the government level to rise to the challenge of climate change and sustainable development. The complete letter can be viewed here.
There are several petition campaigns underway to persuade the president to go to Rio. Jacob Scherr, Director of Global Strategy and Advocacy at NRDC lists several in his blog: they are hosted by NRDC, Citizens for Global Solutions, Global Green USA, and Human Impacts Institute. NRDC also is working with Stakeholder Forum and Road to Rio+20 on Earth Summit Watch 2012 to showcase which top national leaders are committed to coming to Rio and their agendas for the summit.
New French President Francois Hollande and recently inaugurated Russian Vladimir Putin informed Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff that they will attend the summit when she called them each to congratulate them on their recent elections. Germany's Chancellor Angela Merkel and Britain's prime minister David Cameron have opted out of attending the summit to focus on Europe's debt crisis.
U.N. summits like the Rio+20 are a potential political minefield for American presidents in an election year. George Bush Sr. famously dithered about attending the first Rio earth summit, in 1992. He decided to get on the plane only after it looked like he might be upstaged by Al Gore's attendance at the meeting and that his absence might cost him independent voters come the elections.
George W Bush opted to skip the 2002 summit in Johannesburg.
Will Obama avoid the summit to curry favor with Tea Party Republicans who voice disdain for multinational institutions like the United Nations and continue to deny the science proving climate change? Many believe that trying to appease the the far right is a fruitless task for Obama who has struggled in vain to gain Republican support for his agenda in Congress. By not attending the summit, Obama risks loss of support from his own party and loss of respect in the international community where admiration of his yet to be fulfilled agenda led to a Nobel Peace Prize. Attending the Rio Earth Summit and taking a bold stand for the future of humanity would provide Obama the opportunity to prove himself worthy of the world's highest humanitarian award.
Click here to see how Hollywood is engaged in the petition to get Obama to Rio.