During the first few days of my arrival at Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, I had been asking different people from different countries a question – “What do you expect from the ‘Rio+20’ conference?” Their answers varied, but they largely shared a pessimistic view of the prospects for the conference. On June 16, a Brazilian senator told me that the heads of state of many countries may be absent from the “Rio+20” conference, officially known as the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development in Rio de Janeiro.
Currently, only over 70 heads of state are certain to attend the conference, far fewer than the number of attendees at the previous conferences in 1992 and 2002 respectively or at the 2009 United Nations Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen. Among the heads of state of developed countries, only France's newly elected President Francois Hollande is certain to attend the conference, which, however, will probably be just a show.
There are multiple reasons for developed countries’ lack of interest in the “Rio+20” conference. First, the public enthusiasm for environmental protection has waned. A recent Pew poll found that 50 percent of American respondents would support new measures introduced by the federal government for strengthening environmental protection, 29 percent want the government to continue with existing environmental protection measures, while 19 percent would oppose any new measure for strengthening environmental protection. Due to the declining public enthusiasm for environmental improvement, the “Rio+20” conference has naturally become low on the agenda of Western nations.
Second, Western politics is rife with opportunism and short-sightedness. The “Rio+20” conference, which is unlikely to produce any breakthroughs, may become ballot-box poison for U.S. President Barack Obama and other Western leaders facing re-election.