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Brittany Tilford speech at Rio+20, a date with history
Brittany Tilford

Years from now we will be looking back at the failure of Rio+20 as The Great Abdication. This phrase was coined by from Paul Krugman’s (OP-ED columnist, NYT). He uses the phrase to describe the world economy and the dangers of policy abdication – “when nobody with the power to contain the crisis stepped up to the plate; everyone who could and should have acted declared it was someone else’s responsibility”.   He might as well be talking about the environment. To me, The Great Abdication is Rio+20.

Remember the name Brittany Tilford (a 17-year old from New Zealand) whose speech, which she called A Date with History was given at the opening of the Rio+20 Summit. It will become iconic. She ended her speech this way:

Are you here to save face? Or are you here to save us?

Britanny cut through all the rhetoric and the diplomatic face-saving bullshit and told the honest, plain, obvious truth that she understands. Following are excerpts from ‘A Date with History’:

I stand here with fire in my heart. I’m confused and angry at the state of the world and I want us to work together now to change this. We are here to solve the problems that we have caused as a collective, to ensure that we have a future.

You and your governments have promised to reduce poverty and sustain our environment. You have already promised to combat climate change, ensure clean water and food security. The promises remain empty.

Multi-national corporations have already pledged to respect the environment, green their production, compensate for their pollution. These promises have been made and yet, still, our future is in danger.

We, the next generation, demand change. We demand action so that we have a future, that you put our interests before any other interests. I am here to fight for my future.  That is why I’m here.

I’m a child. Today in this moment, I’m all children, your children, the world’s 3 billion children. Think of me as the world of the future. You have 72 hours to decide the fate of your children, my children, my children’s children. We are all aware that the clock is ticking and time is running out. I start the clock now, tick, tick, tick, tick……

Blogger on Uprage, Dr. Peter D. Carter
Dr. Peter D. Carter

The article that featured Brittany’s speech was written by Dr. Peter D. Carter who is a retired family MD. He spent many years working with environmental health development policy. He is now focused on global climate change, because “if we fail to fix this, we fail on everything”. His blog (Uprage) includes a recent commentary on the dismal results of the Rio+20 conference which ended last week.

Developed countries and developing countries have the resources and the knowledge they need to avoid a catastrophic future and to restore environmental balance. We know more about the planet and its environment – biosphere, atmosphere, oceans, climate, ecosystems – than previous generations. None of this should be happening. As Krugman says,

knowledge and resources do no good if those who possess them refuse to use them. And that’s what seems to be happening. The fundamentals…. aren’t, in themselves, all that scary; it’s the almost universal abdication of responsibility that fills me…….. with a growing sense of dread.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon described the document as a “firm foundation for social, economic and environmental well-being”. Rio+20 has affirmed fundamental principles, renewed essential commitments, and given us new direction,” Ban said in a statement.

The final Rio+20 outcome document ‘The Future We Want’  is pathetically inadequate and outrageous. It’s a ‘train wreck” to use a colleague’s expression. It is toothless fluff, comprised of more false intentions and empty promises – an insult to humankind.

Rio+20 only proved that world leaders are not able to come together and lead for the sake of humanity.  Once again the world’s leaders have abdicated their responsibility for the future of our children and grandchildren. I am truly ashamed of all of them.

 Rio+20 is The Great Abdication.





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  1. […] It was the most Obama had said on climate change for some time, and it was a much stronger affirmation of the science underlying climate change and the urgency to move beyond debating options and alternatives. More international conferences and lofty declarations by world leaders are not needed (See Leadership on Climate Crisis , and  Rio+20 ). […]

    • Thanks for your comment. Obama is making strides in the right direction but faces huge obstacles, namely Republicans.


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