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I‘ve read a lot of conference recaps and assessments over the years, but nothing comes close to the grim report on the Rio+20 conference just posted by Mark Halle, executive director of the Europe division of theInternational Institute for Sustainable Development. It reads almost like an obituary of sustainable development itself, but certainly it’s an RIP for the global green movement as currently structured.

I‘ve read a lot of conference recaps and assessments over the years, but nothing comes close to the grim report on the Rio+20 conference just posted by Mark Halle, executive director of the Europe division of theInternational Institute for Sustainable Development. Based in Winnipeg, Manitoba,  the IISD is one of the official homes of sustainable development ideas. Maurice Strong, one of sustainable development’s founding fathers, is a native of Manitoba and helped establish the IISD in Winnipeg.

In a review of the events at Rio+20, and of the two-year buildup to the conference last week, Mr. Halle begins with a general observation: “Yet another UN mega-conference ends in disappointment, the low expectations fully justified. Once again, our governments have failed to demonstrate leadership, have lacked courage to make the compromises necessary to ensure a fairer, more stable world. Once again they have kept their eyes riveted on short-term electoral deadlines and sold out future generations. We have come to a sorry pass.”

But Mr. Halle is doing much more than blaming governments. Much of Mr. Halle’s  commentary is harsh and dismissive of a process that others have long ago seen as unworkable. He also has no time for those who attempt to gloss over the Rio outcome. “Calling a failure a success — even a guarded success — is to paper over the ever-widening cracks in the system.”

The Rio+20 declaration, so jeered at by skeptics and critics, fares not much better under Mr. Halle.  Readers can review Mr. Halle’s critique — Life after Rio — for themselves, one of the most honest and heart-felt overviews of the great global enterprise that has, for 20 years, staggered to its current failed state.

His most pointed and telling comments are directed at the entire global system of agencies, institutions, governance regimes, UN outfits and policy setters that have come to represent the global sustainable development, climate change and environmental movements.

Some key points:

Intergovernmental structures beyond reform:  “Intergovernmental structures are tired, lack vision and courage, and are increasingly left behind by the natural momentum of creativity and innovation in our societies. Worse still, there can no longer be any doubt that they are to all intents and purposes unreformable. Instead of once again launching attempts to streamline the UN system, we should simply assume that coordination, efficiency, accountability, responsible use of scarce funds, good governance and transparent process are now and always will be elusive goals and act accordingly.”

Corporate sector more innovative: “For all the problems still associated with corporate activity, there is more advanced strategic thinking, more deep analysis of problems, more attachment to innovative thinking in the corporate sector than is evident in inter-governmental dialogue.”

Sustainable development governance: “The real disappointment comes in the failure of the conference to agree on any serious reform of sustainable development governance. If there is a consensus on anything in the international system, it is that the configuration of organizations, conventions and forums dealing with sustainable development is overlapping, inefficient and unresponsive to the fundamental needs. But 60 years of reform ambition have unearthed another immutable rule: that the multilateral system is in essence unreformable. It is possible to add new organizations, forums or processes to the existing maelstrom, but it is impossible to shift what is already there in any fundamental way.”

Rio failure not isolated: “Worse still, this failure is not an isolated one. Although it reached a consensus conclusion, what happened in Rio is a mirror of what happened at the climate change summit in Copenhagen, and resembles the failure of the last few WTO ministerial meetings. Far from being a sad exception, low expectations and disappointment in global intergovernmental process have become the new norm, at least when success requires consensus on economic policy. We can no longer afford years of straining that ends up giving birth to a mouse.”

Finally: “We must put a stop to the massive waste of money represented by events like the Rio conference.”

Overall, Mr. Halle’s commentary reads almost like an obituary of sustainable development itself, but certainly it’s an RIP for the global movement as currently structured. Nobody involved in the sustainable development industry can read Mr. Halle’s words without seeing them as writings on  a gravestone.