Columbans Remain Committed to Environmental Justice after RIO+20

Sandra Sandoval
July 31, 2012

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In 1992, the first Rio Earth Summit took place in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. This global event was the first of its kind within environmental, social, and economic movements.  As a result of the first Earth Summit, countries made commitments to issues such as climate change, water scarcity and protection of biodiversity. Leaders of these countries were called to take action and raise consciousness about respecting Creation.  Through the years, much has been achieved.

Twenty years later, from June 20-22, 2012, the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development, also known as RIO+20, took place in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.  More than 22,000 people participated.

The conference focused on two themes:

  • Green economy
  • Institutional framework for sustainable development

The transition to a “green economy” was encouraged. In RIO+20, the stated intention of “Green Economy” promotes the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions, implementation of new sources of economic growth, social equity,  the efficient use of resources, and the reduction of negative and harmful environmental impacts.

After days and nights of negotiations, agreements and commitments were made by the 193 member states of the United Nations.  The world leaders approved the outcome document entitled “The Future We Want,” with the following main points:

  • establishment of sustainable development goals by using green economy;
  • consolidation of the UN Environment Programming and promoting corporate sustainability reporting measures;
  • taking steps to go beyond GDP to assess the well‐being of a country;
  • developing a strategy for sustainable development financing;
  • adopting a framework for tackling sustainable consumption and production.

While some advances were made, after the closing ceremony on June 22, global civil organizations expressed their disappointment. They felt that the interests of society and the environment had been move aside for economic benefit and that the “green economy” presented wouldn’t end environmental destruction.  Many activists, including Columban missionaries, believe that what is being promoted as a “green economy” isn’t enough because solutions posed rarely involve serious commitments on the part of developed countries.

Columban Fr. Sean McDonagh, is an internationally recognized eco-theologian who was recently awarded the Partnership for Global Justice annual Justice Award.  Fr. McDonagh has worked tirelessly for the Columbans to advocate for environmental justice.  He believes some level of success was achieved at Rio.  He says the conference “gave rise to some very important environmental agreements” and “endorsed the ‘polluter pays’ principle, the right to development for all people and the common but differentiated responsibilities between poor and rich countries to address issues of environmental degradation.”

Columbans will continue this important work, advocating for the protection of the environment and justice for the poor.  The Columban Center for Advocacy & Outreach in Washington, D.C., also advocates in four priority social justice areas, including environmental justice.  Each semester, they bring in interns to help them look at international policy through the lens of Catholic Social Teaching.  This summer, I had the opportunity to research this issue.  I feel that advocating for the protection of the environment and especially the people affected by these damage to it is really important. Sometimes, we forget that Creation is a gift by the Lord, and we are here to take the best of it, but we need to be grateful and respectful.

“They will neither harm nor destroy on my entire holy mountain, for the earth will be full of the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea.” Isaiah 11:9.