The good, the bad and the downright unacceptable

Those in charge stand around accepting the gravity of the situation, but no one is willing to step forward and be the one doing something about it. (Andre Penner, AP)

Those in charge stand around accepting the gravity of the situation, but no one is willing to step forward and be the one doing something about it. (Andre Penner, AP)

We waited for Rio+20 filled with doubt, and we still dared to hope that world leaders might finally make transformational change.

Alas, Rio+20 came and went with an alarming sense of déjà vu as, once again, an environmental conference failed to deliver on its mandate.

Governments should have taken the opportunity to focus on urgent action now, especially to end deforestation, enforce a rescue plan for our oceans, change to renewable energy supply to reduce the impact of climate change and commit to end the travesty of vast subsidies being paid to the fossil fuel industry.

Unfortunately the results of Rio+20 can, at best, be blamed on bad leadership.

While we acknowledge that summits and conferences are the first step to a worldwide system of protection for the environment, it is long overdue for world leaders to learn the rest of the steps.

It is not enough to say: "We came, we saw, we talked".

Far too much time is spent on inconsequential details; they literally cannot see the forests for the trees.

Alarming situationIt is an alarming situation in which those in charge stand around accepting the gravity of the situation, but no one is willing to step forward and be the one doing something about it.

Leaders would find it easier to take responsible steps if their behaviour was not controlled by the corporations that are behind the problems.

Way too often, the very same companies that claim to be green and socially responsible are making big profits from exploiting and polluting the planet and blocking others from moving forward.

The hypocrisy of these companies is downright unacceptable. Greenpeace has released a report, Greenwash +20, which contrasts the rhetoric with the reality of behaviour.

The report finds that the corporations showing images of pristine waters were in fact polluting those waters.

The companies that spoke in reverent tones of their respect for the forests were cutting them down.

Avoiding responsibilityThe firms that had adopted and co-opted environmental imagery and language were abusing the Earth.

And the groupings of elite environmental business leaders were banding together to promote voluntary corporate responsibility but resisting all attempts to hold them responsible for their actions.

Instead of using their might to change the basis of our economy for the better, many of them have chosen to stand in the way.

These powerful corporations must steer and be steered in a different direction, and ultimately brought under a more democratic control.

Back in South Africa, despite an ambitious emissions-reduction pledge made in Copenhagen, South Africa's emissions trajectory is still rising fast because of Eskom's new investments in coal.

Indeed, the investment decisions being made by Eskom will do little to alleviate poverty, and instead will use massive amounts of scarce water, creating the double crises of water scarcity and unaffordable electricity.

In fact, 45% of South Africa's electricity is used by just 36 companies, including global giants such as ArcelorMittal, BHB Billiton and AngloAmerican, who are guilty of robbing South Africans of both environmental and social justice.

Common senseKusile power station will cost South Africans as much as R60-billion, each year that it operates, in hidden costs.

Again we see business interests trumping common sense, social justice and environmental protection.

With South Africa the 14th-highest emitter of greenhouse gases, one would hope for a greater effort to reduce greenhouse gases and ensure development.

Despite this, the government's Integrated Resource Plan shows that renewable energy constituted 0% of energy in 2010 and is expected to only have 9% by 2030.

This is despite the enthusiasm shown by the investment community in the renewable energy sector.

In Germany, 81% of all installed power capacity in the last decade was renewable.

Last year, investments in renewable energies globally were higher than investments in old and dirty fossil fuel technologies.

Wind energyBihar in India has seen an increase in decentralised energy, empowering Bihar, one of the poorest places in India.

China has proven that renewable energy can be up-scaled quickly and Brazil, too, has experienced an exciting boom in wind energy.

Some governments, Germany for one, are taking the right steps, such as phasing out nuclear power. Some companies are also starting to lead, with Google investing heavily in renewable energy.

Twenty years ago at the Rio 1992, the renewable energy sector was not the force it is now.
Technology to support ambitious roll-out of renewable energy has proven itself on scale time and time again.

Government insistence on fossil fuels can only be attributed to a protection of vested interests of the few that have control.

Renewable energy has the possibility to increase energy access through decentralised energy access, leading to poverty alleviation, to increase jobs through the renewable-energy value chain, to protect our environment and provide the energy security we need.

Where our leaders fail to deliver, society must not passively stand by. This makes us just as guilty. We must hold our leaders accountable when they fail to make the choices that are in our best interests.

Ruth Mhlanga is the youth and solutions campaigner for Greenpeace Africa.

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