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Insiders: Global Conferences Becoming Obsolete


Presidents and dignitaries pose for the group photo at the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development, or Rio+20, in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Wednesday, June 20, 2012. Bottom row, from left, France's President Francois Hollande, Sha Zukang, Secretary-General of the Rio+20, UN General Assembly Nassir Abdulaziz Al Nasser, Brazil's President Dilma Rousseff, United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon, Sweden's King Carl XVI Gustaf, Indonesia's President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono.(AP Photo/Victor R. Caivano)

This week, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton is heading up the U.S. delegation to the United Nations Rio+20 Summit on sustainable development, but no one seems to be paying much attention. Part of the problem is the collapse of public confidence in the U.N. process and the inability of recent global conferences such as Rio to produce measurable results. 

In light of this trend, most National Journal Insiders say that it’s time for negotiators to trade in mammoth environment and climate summits for smaller, focused meetings that might yield more results.


Fifty-three percent of Insiders say that the world should forgo the high-profile conferences like Rio+20 and the U.N. climate summit later this year for smaller, more incremental meetings. 

Recent global environmental summits have seen divisions between developed and developing countries and clashes between those with big goals and those with smaller appetites for action. The result has been few meaningful agreements, and most Insiders say they don’t expect much more from Rio this week. 

Big conferences, Insiders said, are unmanageable and too ambitious. Too often, they are “used more for grandstanding rather than focusing on narrow regional issues that can actually be practical and drive down greenhouse-gas emissions,” said one Insider. 


“Little of substance has been accomplished in these conferences. It’s time to pursue a different strategy,” said another Insider. 

Some Insiders went so far as to argue that U.N. conferences, as a whole, are obsolete, calling the process a “manufactured and failed apparatus.”

“For years, these conferences have been a boondoggle,” one Insider said. “The world would be better off [if] the geniuses at the U.N. stopped having meetings [altogether],” said another.

Still, 47 percent of Insiders argued that global conferences serve an important purpose. Without the high-profile nature of these meetings, pressure for change will slacken and there will not be any incentives to achieve results on environmental problems.


“Without the periodic high-profile conferences, there would be no impetus to achieve progress in the smaller incremental meetings,” said one Insider.

Another Insider added that “smaller, more incremental meetings would still be ineffective, since they would be attended by lower-ranking officials with even less decisional authority.”

Some Insiders said that the small meetings will work only if they are alongside ambitious, major conferences. 

“It is not an either/or choice,” explained one Insider. “Large events are important for galvanizing interest, but only in closed small-bore settings can we expect results.”

Another Insider summed it up this way: “The world needs to continue talking about these issues if it [is] ever going to come up with solutions.” 

Regardless of some support for the overall U.N. process, 100 percent of Insiders still agreed that the Rio+20 Summit going on this week will not yield any meaningful results. Insiders cited the global financial crisis, arguing that it will hold back countries from making commitments or keeping them. 

"With the world focused on global economic issues, there is not enough oxygen left in the room to make meaningful progress on environmental issues," said one Insider. 

"The world isn't in a position to agree to much right now," added another. Even if there is any progress, Insiders said that it would be minimal.

Given the lack of results from a variety of United Nations conferences such as the Rio+20 UN sustainability conference going on right now, should international negotiators forgo the large, high-profile conferences like this and the U.N. climate summit later this year for smaller, more incremental meetings?

(32 votes)

  • Yes  53%
  • No  47%



“The stage is too big, and used more for grandstanding rather than focusing on narrow regional issues that can actually be practical and drive down greenhouse-gas emissions.”

“How about they forgo the entire manufactured and failed apparatus? The only negotiations that matter are those that happen bilaterally or multilaterally, country to country. The U.N. is beyond obsolete in terms of environmental and energy cooperation and is now an actual barrier to progress.”

“Equivalent or greater progress can be had at more focused meetings at the ministerial level, with a smaller number of key nations.”

“With the global economy on the brink of falling back into recession, nations should focus on more focused meetings with more narrow, achievable goals.”

This article appears in the June 21, 2012 edition of NJ Daily.

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