As world leaders arrived for the Rio+20 Earth Summit earlier this week, the skies began to darken over Rio de Janeiro — a sign of how attendees were feeling after negotiators presented a watered-down document on Tuesday night outlining global sustainability aspirations.
When U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton landed in Rio early this morning, she arrived amidst a torrential rainstorm that soaked the streets of the city. And that’s about how many people were feeling as the conference neared a close today: a little soaked.
In an effort to break the clouds and show that the U.S. has done something other than commit to weak aspirational goals, Clinton was in Rio today to announce a new U.S. initiative to leverage private financing for clean energy projects in Africa. The partnership, which includes the State Department, the Overseas Private Investment Corp., and the U.S. Trade and Development Agency, will provide $20 million in grants to business owners in Africa to help leverage hundreds of millions in private financing.
“This initiative is part of an across the board push to make clean energy and energy security cornerstones of our foreign policy,” said Clinton, speaking at a side event before her speech to the full conference.
Clinton then highlighted other key initiatives supported by the U.S., including a partnership with Brazil on developing sustainable cities, an international program to stop deforestation, and $2 billion in commitments to the UN’s Sustainable Energy For All program.
While environmental groups have been very critical of the formal negotiated outcome in Rio, the announcement from Clinton received some cautious praise.
“This is a positive step for leveraging scarce resources to deliver clean energy access for the poor. I’m more than happy to see Secretary Clinton putting her weight behind these kinds of initiatives,” said Justin Guay, head of the Sierra Club’s international program.
Some of the public and private commitments made in Rio are older and have been re-packaged for the summit, making groups watching the pledges skeptical. But this is a new program, said Jake Schmidt, international climate policy director for the Natural Resources Defense Council.
“This will help unleash the large potential for renewable energy that exists in Africa. This proves that renewable energy is ready in all continents as it expands OPIC investment into a continent in desperate need of renewable energy to help address energy poverty and the growing energy needs in key African countries,” said Schmidt.
After leaving the side event, Clinton moved to the plenary where she addressed the entire summit and again highlighted “targeted action” supported by the U.S. in an attempt to weave a positive message. She made no mention of the sense of disappointment about the negotiated text coming out of the conference.
But others were more blunt about the overall outcome.
“Opportunities to bring together political leaders in this context happen so rarely, this summit is correctly perceived as a missed opportunity,” said Manish Bapna, executive vice president of the World Resources Institute, speaking about the official document coming out of Rio.
Bapna said he was excited to see new initiatives coming out of Rio like the one announced by Clinton today. But he lamented that the official document from the summit has “few deadlines, few numbers, with very little that is truly concrete.”
Stephen Lacey is reporting from Rio this week. For a full wrap up of the conference, stay tuned to Climate Progress.