Eco-92: pioneering conference on climate change turns 30 years old with little progress and the prospect of ‘collapse’

Aerial image of forest fires in the city of Altamira, State of Pará (Victor Moriyama / Greenpeace)

Marcela Leiros – Cenarium Magazine

MANAUS – 30 years ago, between June 3rd and 14th, the first United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (Eco-92) took place in Rio de Janeiro. The event gathered more than 150 countries and is considered a milestone in the history of the fight against climate change, being the first to count with the massive presence of governments, civil society and private initiative in favor of a single interest: to define measures to face the growing problems of greenhouse gas emissions. But despite so much time having passed, environmental specialists analyzed to CENARIUM that there was little progress and that the collapse of human life on earth is on the not too distant horizon, and the Amazon is at the center of this event.

Socio-environmentalist Muriel Saragoussi was part of the organization of the event. At the time co-chair of the International Commission of NGOs and Social Movements for Eco-92, she participated in the mobilization of civil society for the conference that took place in Rio-Centro. “It was effectively the first event where not only the environment was discussed, but also development. Not only concepts, but practical ideas on how to move towards sustainability,” she explained to the report.


Among the most important outcomes of Eco-92 were the signing of agreements related to the exploitation of the world’s natural resources and sustainable development, such as Agenda 21, the Biodiversity Convention, the Desertification Convention, the Climate Change Convention, Declaration of Principles on Forests, The Rio Declaration on Environment and Development, and the Earth Charter.

“Has that advanced? Yes, it has. We would be much worse off if we hadn’t had these [agreements]. Now, even so, we have advanced little in relation to what needed to be done, so much so that climate change is there. We already see them in our daily lives, and if we had better applied what both governments and society have committed to, and companies among them, we would not be in the situation of counting hundreds of deaths in events that are consequences of human actions,” said Saragoussi.

Muriel Saragoussi was part of the organization of the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (Eco-92). (Reproduction)


The director of the Association for Wildlife Conservation (WCS Brazil), Carlos Durigan, explains that in the environmental debate scenario, at the time, researchers were already warning about the “worrying process of climate change”. The discussion intensified after the report “Our Common Future”, or “Brundtland Report”, which presented a study of global environmental problems after ten years of the Stockholm Conference, and the report “Limits to Growth”, of the Club of Rome, one of the first scientific studies on environmental preservation.

“Since the 1960s and 1970s, scientists had been warning about the worrying process of climate change, but it was a debate that took place in restricted circles and there was still a lack of technology to prove the processes that, at the time, were suggested as causes of this process. As of the 1990s, we had an important increase in investments in science and in conservation actions, and in the case of knowledge there was a huge advance that made it possible not only to measure and monitor ongoing processes, but to predict with greater accuracy what may happen in the future”, he added.

Director of the Association for Wildlife Conservation (WCS Brazil), Carlos Durigan (Ricardo Oliveira)

Reflections in the Amazon

Saragoussi recalled that progress over the past 30 years has not been enough to “brake” or reverse climate change, and catastrophic events like the rains in Pernambuco and Petropolis, and even in Germany, as well as the historic floods and droughts in the Amazon, are results of the collapse that is coming ever closer and will drive human life on earth to extinction.

“The collapse is coming. Slowly, but it is coming. If we don’t change our modes of production and consumption, we will have climate catastrophes first, and then biodiversity catastrophes, which is the basis of our food, of our life, which are very serious. I know it sounds very catastrophic, but we are heading towards the extinction of life as we know it, starting with the human species. It is not something that will happen in 20 or 30 years, but we are contributing to it happening much faster”, explained the researcher.

The Amazon, more specifically the loss of much of its vegetation, is one of the points that contribute to the point of no return. In the article “Pronounced loss of Amazon rainforest resilience since the early 2000s”, the authors indicate that deforestation associated with climate change effects may have already made the Amazon rainforest reach a state of irreversible imbalance, capable of transforming it into savannah in just a few decades.

“Science shows us that we have reached a point of no return. This means that this process of global warming is ongoing and this is due to the large concentration of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, especially carbon from burning fossil fuels. So, now, the alert is for us to be more efficient in reducing these emissions. In addition, we have to stop the destruction of our forests, since they help us capture carbon from the atmosphere and are important allies in the fight to reduce the concentration of these dispersed gases,” concluded Durigan.

Official photo of the heads of delegations at the Eco-92 Earth Summit (Michos Tzovaras/UN)


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