05/14/2012 10:17 am ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

You Can't Make Sushi With Lasagna: A Potluck Approach to the Rio+20 Earth Summit

Imagine you are trying to come up with the perfect recipe for a summer solstice party you're hosting with 193 friends. The caveat: Each guest insists on picking one ingredient to include in the final dish, and your guests are from 193 different countries. This is what you all might come up with:


It's clear after two weeks at the UN that negotiators for the Rio+20 Earth Summit on June 20-22 shouldn't quit their day jobs to become chefs. After splitting up the 200+ page document into two "manageable" chunks -- basically, the "green economy" and everything else -- and introducing a "chairs selected text" consolidating and removing repetitions, we then went back to line-by-line jockeying for inclusion of our favorite ingredients for success. The weeks of negotiation ended with one consensus: to meet one more week at the end of May.

Each country's negotiators want to make their mark. The European Union wants to talk about roadmaps, the G77 has as many favorite dishes as countries, and many want to give more emphasis in the final document to food, oceans, education, and on and on. Unsurprisingly, the community is still fighting over what handful of sustainable development goals should rise to the top for adoption in Rio. Kazakhstan made waves when it tried to include an actual initiative in the single adopted outcome; the response was resounding: This is not the place for that.

So I ask: Wouldn't a potluck suit the occasion much better? A smorgasbord of actions that bring the best each country has to offer? We all recognize that the world's changed a lot since 1992, and that's why the organizers have set aside several days prior to the big event in Rio to include other influencers. From the Global Town Hall to the Corporate Eco-Forum, we're living in a world of diverse tastes, capabilities and challenges.

A potluck approach to Rio+20:


For this bite at the Rio apple, how about a radically new approach: where we focus on the activities and actions that are actually happening...on the ground, affecting people's lives, and that don't have to be reiterated in a formal document to make them "real" somehow. NRDC has helped launch the Earth Summit Watch to bring to light these details. Some incredible changes are going on beneath our feet (just read how the G20 countries are leading on clean energy) and NRDC has called on numerous occasions for the creation of a global aggregator of sustainability commitments -- affectionately known as the "cloud of commitments." This needs to be front-and-center if the Earth Summit is going to live up to its promise.

The outcome document is part of what comes out of Rio -- and Kelly Rigg of GCCA has some tips for those scrambling to pull it together. But my generation will be living with the Earth Summit 2012 legacy for our most productive years -- and I don't think we need more paper. It will be too late to change the system's inertia if we wait until Rio+40 to get our act together, so let's stop debating text and start cooking.

Photo credit: sporkist via Flickr/Creative Commons

This blog was drafted by my colleague Michael Davidson and initially posted on NRDC's Switchboard .