Mark Kenber: Where are Rio+20's real headlines?

20 June 2012

Mark Kenber, CEO, The Climate Group, writes for The Huffington Post on Rio+20.

I've been asked by a few journalists in Rio this week whether I was pessimistic about the chances of meaningful agreement. Media coverage has -- to a certain point understandably -- included stories about negotiators quibbling over punctuation, subliminally painting images of Roman emperors, lyres, and blazing urban backdrops.

But success comes in many forms. Right now, Rio is bustling with sessions, panels, conferences and forums. Perhaps Rio+20's real headlines lie here, away from the convoluted communiqués?

One example in point: last Sunday The Climate Group hosted a session with Philips where they launched a report about LED lighting technology. It unveiled the results of a massive trial involving LED street lighting in a dozen of the world's biggest cities. It showed you could reduce energy consumption by up to 85%. Almost one fifth of all the world's electricity - and therefore a major slice of CO2 emissions -- is linked to lighting.

The two organizations went on to issue a call for an international low carbon lighting standard. OK, maybe light bulbs alone are not going to save the world. But in the United States alone, cutting the energy used by lighting by an entirely feasible 40% would save US$53 billion in annual energy costs. Plus it would reduce the energy used by the equivalent of nearly 200 mid-size power stations. The low carbon lighting standard would help get us there - globally - in double-quick time, and we'd all save a lot of money too. That's not a bad headline.

Here's another headline. Five years ago The Climate Group's network of State and Regional Government partners promised to plant a billion trees. Yesterday we learned that they are already half way there. Half a billion trees is the equivalent of several years of deforestation at the Amazon. Now that's a real success story.

Interestingly, the UN tells us that as much as 80% of the actions needed to tackle climate change will be taken not by national governments but by regional and state ones. National governments may be debating split infinitives right now. Regional governments are getting on with it. Exclamation point.

Among the myriad reports, sessions and forums, the picture can certainly seem fragmented. But there is a lot going on that's all pointing in the right direction. There is real change happening. As Tony Blair said in a speech screened at Rio this week: "Because of the current financial crisis, acting on climate change is more than ever before an opportunity to lead the world out of recession and to tackle the increasing geopolitical tensions created by the lack of energy security."

Agreed, it all needs to happen a lot faster. But it's certainly worthy of a few headlines. And maybe they could be the impetus we need to help us move from grammatically perfect texts to really meaningful actions -- such as scrapping subsidies on fossil fuels.

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