Reports: June 20, 2012
At the special ceremony to commemorate the twentieth anniversary of the 1992 Rio Earth Summit held at Rio Centro on 15 June, former secretary general of Rio 1992 Maurice Strong delivered an honest and cautionary note to governments, delegates, observers and major group members about the Rio+20 outcome current state: “We call this a celebration but frankly there is not a lot to celebrate. … This is not just a conference about environmental sustainability,” he admonished. “It is really a conference about the future of our civilization. ... I really fear that we are further now from the necessary course of action than we were twenty years ago.”
Consistent with this grave/somber assessment, Sisters Áine O’Connor and Mary Bilderback report from Rio that current negotiations on the Zero Draft of the Outcome Document continue to lack ambition and vision. Even worse, the negotiations fail to set the stage for any historical and urgent outcome to ensure equitable, sustainable development for all and for the future sustainability of our planet.
We continue to see serious tensions in the rounds of negotiations especially between developing and developed countries regarding reaffirmation and implementation of the Rio Principles, especially the principles of common but differentiated responsibility, polluter pays, and the precautionary principle. Moreover, a lack of real agreement on the framing and underlying principles of the green economy predominate discussions. Developing countries continue to reject the predominantly developed countries’ approach of a one-size-fits-all and a universal transition to a green economy. Instead the developing countries favor restoring the focus on sustainable development and implementation gaps, with the green economy as one of many tools to enable sustainable development.
These tensions also focus on the framing of the sustainable development agenda for the next twenty years using a rights-based agenda. Although governments responded to the uproar caused by civil society when rights were being deleted and bracketed in the text, it is fair to say that the recognition of the right to food, to water and sanitation, and to development continues to be diluted. Negotiators largely persist in attaching conditions to language that expresses or claims these rights. Moreover, the vision of intergeneration justice and the rights of Mother Earth are subverted in this text.
Perhaps the greatest number of questions and tensions surround how the future sustainable development agenda will be implemented and financed. Developed countries oppose making any changes from the market driven growth paradigm and from new pledges to finance sustainable development, especially for developing countries. One country negotiator declared, “This is not a pledging conference!” Most developed countries cite their own current economic and financial crises as the key reason why funds cannot be pledged to enable the implementation of the Rio+20 outcomes. In addition to tensions over financing, it is not surprising that negotiations focus on technology transfer and the need for capacity-building to support developing countries to advance sustainably.
What is clear is that some powerful countries are reneging on previous commitments made in Rio 1992 to transfer technology to developed countries. Each time technology transfer is named in the negotiations, some countries insist that this should be voluntary and accomplished on mutually agreed terms.
A clearly pervasive and disturbing movement throughout these negotiations is that the private sector (predominantly transnational corporations) appears to be afforded more rights that human beings and is being favored as a primary funder of the sustainable development agenda and the Rio+20 outcomes. Yet there is a total lack of willingness of countries at large to shift from a market based approach to sustainable development and to holding corporations accountable for negative environmental, social and economic impacts. Moreover, there is still no real systematic conversation (especially in the context of the green economy discussions) about committing to the development of local green economies, restoring public rights, and prioritizing enabling investment in the public good.
Unfortunately, the negotiating governments persist in their preferred stance of refusing to enter into any legally binding commitments or pledges.
Everything is voluntary in the Rio +20 negotiations! And there is no shortage of ways to express this lack of political will in the text. Again and again we read words like, “we take note of … we recognize … as appropriate … we stress the need for … we emphasize the importance of...” However, with a few exceptions, in this United Nations Sustainable Development Conference that aims primarily to renew its political commitment to the sustainable development agenda, the language of “we commit to” is essentially absent or, where stated, has regrettably been diluted or deleted from the text.
Like Mr. Maurice Strong, we also fear “that we are further from the necessary course of action than we were twenty years ago.” Unlike twenty years ago, however we do not have the luxury of another twenty years to go about business as usual. Meanwhile, inequity increases, human rights continue to be violated, poverty overwhelms, and our planet reaches its limits for the provision of a sustainable future for all.
As of 16 June, thirty-seven percent of the text has been agreed upon and the Brazilian Government as host country has taken the lead to shepherd the consultations and negotiations on a consolidated text between now and 18 June and to deliver a text for adoption by heads of state and member states during the Conference days of 20-22 June.
In the hallways of the Rio +20 negotiations, Sisters Áine and Mary had the opportunity to interview some key members of Civil Society, many of whom are veterans of United Nations sustainable development negotiations, on important aspects of the Rio+20 negotiations, vision, and outcomes:
Click the links below to listen to a number of short interviews:
Neth Dano of the ETC Group on the need for technological assessment.
Chee Yoke Ling of TWN Network on the reasons why the principle of common but differentiated responsibility is at risk and could die at the Rio +20.
Barbara Adams of Social Watch, who speaks about the process needed for the proposed Sustainable Development Goals.
Anil Naidoo of the Council of Canadians on the need to lobby on the human right to water and sanitation, especially at the national level.
Rio de Janeiro, 16 June 2012