July 10, 2012

Rio Report: Outcomes and Reflective Summary (MGA)

On June 22, 2012, Heads of State and high-level representatives from almost 200 countries adopted the outcome document of the Rio+20 Conference. (To download the full text in English or Spanish, click here )

What happened to the four primary Rio+20 issues lobbied so intensely by Sisters of Mercy worldwide?

Mercy Global Action Coordinator at the UN, Áine O’Connor RSM, provides a first-hand perspective through this initial take on each of the following four issues as they are treated (or not) in the final outcome document:
1. Reaffirmation of the Rio Principles and commitment to an equitable and sustainable future for all peoples and Earth
2. Reaffirmation of a rights based commitment to sustainable development and, in particular, reaffirmation of the human right to water and sanitation
3. Commitment to the need for mining regulation and recognition of the free, prior and informed consent of Indigenous Peoples for mining activities impacting their land, territories and resources
4. Reining in of transnational corporations and ensuring their accountability and transparency to enable sustainable and equitable development for all in harmony with nature and within our planetary boundaries.

1. Reaffirm the Rio principles and commit to an equitable and sustainable future for all peoples and earth.

The two key elements here are the Rio Principles and Equity.

Rio Principles

The final outcome document reaffirmed the Rio Principles, including the principle of Common But Differentiated Responsibility (CBDR). Without this reaffirmation, many hold that the United Nation's Conference on Sustainable Development would have been a sham, and the conference could have rightly been dubbed, as some have called it, “Rio minus 20”.

Given the tone of negotiations prior to the Conference, this reaffirmation was by no means guaranteed. Martin Khor of South Center captures best this tension: “The biggest battle in the last week of the negotiations in Rio was to get developed countries, especially the United States, to renew the original commitments of the historic 1992 Earth Summit. Without that, the summit would have been a disaster.” He goes on to point out that, “the CBDR as well as equity are also ‘recalled’ as the basis of action in the global climate regime, a victory for developing countries since these two principles were notably absent in the decision at the climate talks last December on starting negotiations on a new Durban Platform under the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change.”

Sisters of Mercy sent a strong and consistent message to their heads of state on the need to reaffirm the Rio Principles. As late as Monday, June 19, tweets were sent to Secretary Hilary Clinton of the United States, from the Institute Justice Team of the Sisters of Mercy of the Americas saying: Don't delete the Rio Principles. Reaffirm them in our name!

On almost the last day, the U.S. joined in the reaffirmation.

Going forward, Mercy International Association will build on this achievement and will continue to remind governments of their commitment to the Principles, especially CBDR, Polluter Pays and the Precautionary Principle.

See #1 of Adopted text addressing the Rio Principles in the final outcome document: The Future We Want


With a clear understanding of equity born out of on-the-ground experience, many Sisters of Mercy worldwide wrote letters to their heads of state and to the Rio+20 negotiators urging them to address this widening global inequity.

Without doubt, their efforts and the efforts of thousands of members of civil society paid off in some measure because the outcome document recognizes that sustainable development must be achieved by promoting equitable economic growth and equitable social development while also considering the need for ecosystem “conservation, regeneration and restoration.”

Make no mistake; affirmation of the principle of equity was no easy task during the negotiations. Incredibly, some powerful countries moved to delete any reference to equity! Moreover, some echoed the 2011 Durban climate change debates by claiming that all countries could now more closely stand on an equal footing. During the Rio negotiations, one country even openly denied any real gap between the North and the South.

However, while it is noteworthy that the issue of inequity was recognized in the common vision statement of the final outcome document, there is unfortunately little concrete action to support addressing the issue of inequity in the document’s implementation section.

This omission has not been lost on members of civil society who, in the lead-up to Rio+20, expressed their deep concern by developing a Peoples’ Sustainability Treaty on Equity. In this document, they declare:
“The way forward cannot be based on piecemeal reforms and after the fact transfers, but must instead tackle the fundamental, underlying mechanisms and policies which inform, generate and protect growing inequality. Economic systems which inherently generate ever larger concentration of economic and non¬economic wealth must be replaced by institutions and mechanisms which incorporate democratic and community based decision-making and support shared prosperity. Economic, financial and taxation policies must support such democratically controlled, equality generating decision-making structures and processes. The perpetuation of ever growing shares of economic wealth within privileged sectors of the economy, including large corporations and economically dominant families, must be addressed through altering the economic mechanisms which drive it, including inheritance and immortal corporate personhood.”

This Peoples Sustainability Treaty on Equity is now open for public endorsement and action. (Click here to read the treaty in its entirety.) http://sustainabilitytreaties.files.wordpress.com/2012/05/peoples-sustainability-treaty-on-equity-draft-for-rio-201.pdf)

Perhaps only when the global community attacks the real causes of escalating global inequity will countries agree to and implement ambitious and urgent targets and policies to realize some measure of equity among nations.

See #2 of Adopted text addressing equity in the final outcome document: The Future We Want

2. Reaffirm a rights based commitment to sustainable development, and, in particular, reaffirm the human right to water and sanitation.

The two key elements here are the reaffirmation of human rights and the right to water and sanitation.

Human Rights

Another critical outcome is the Rio+20 is the reaffirmation of human rights that form the basis for equitable sustainable development. However, as readers will recall from earlier MIA postings, the inclusion of human rights in the Zero Draft of the Outcome Document was under constant threat during the negotiations process.

Thanks to the unwavering efforts of civil society, the office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, and the lobbying efforts of many, including Sisters of Mercy worldwide, basic human rights to development, food, water and sanitation; the right to an adequate standard of living; the right to health; and the right to access to information, etc., were not deleted or bracketed in the final outcome document. Furthermore, paragraph 7 reaffirmed the Charter of the United Nations and the importance of the Universal Declaration Human Rights, as well as other international instruments relating to human rights and international law.

However, UN High Commissioner Navi Pillay was quick to point out in her Rio press conference that the final text lacks any strong provision on human rights and businesses. She also underscored that it failed to include any reference to the need for a human rights impact assessment in issues of sustainable development.

The task for Mercy International Association and the Sisters of Mercy is clear: to monitor and advocate for the full implementation of these fundamental human rights and to promote the realization of a rights-based approach to sustainable development. Moreover, perhaps our most compelling and visionary work is to continue to promote the rights of Mother Earth as Mary Bilderback RSM reported in her posting on the signing of the Universal Declaration for the Rights of Mother Earth organized by the Global Alliance at Rio Centro on June 19, 2012. (Click here to read)

See #3 of Adopted text addressing human rights in the final outcome document: The Future We Want

Right to Water and Sanitation

For the Sisters of Mercy worldwide who lobbied long and hard at the national and international level during Rio+20 to reaffirm the human right to water and sanitation, we are tremendously grateful!

On the ground in Ireland, England, Canada, New Zealand, and the United States of America, Sisters of Mercy repeatedly and urgently impressed upon their governments the need to reaffirm and recognize this right. On the ground in Rio, Mercy International Association representatives joined many civil society groups, including the Council of Canadians, IBON International, Food and Water Watch and many other religious organizations at the UN to impress upon the RIo+20 country negotiators at the UN of the need to reaffirm – and not delete – this right. New Zealand, the United States of America and England agreed to drop the proposed deletion. However, Canada remained the final hold-out. Yet with mounting pressure from civil society groups and their own citizens, Canada finally agreed – admittedly with concessions – to recognize and reaffirm the human right to water and sanitation.

And so at the eleventh hour on June 19, the text reaffirming the commitment regarding the human right to water and sanitation was adopted by heads of state and thus was included the final outcome document.

It should be of interest and encouragement to our readers and to members of the Mercy family who lobbied intensely on this issue on the ground to learn that one country negotiator advised the water lobby group (partnered by MIA at the UN) to “keep up the pressure; it works!”

We must indeed keep up the pressure going forward! Anil Naidoo of the Council of Canadians argues: “Now that there is unquestionable consensus even amongst hostile states on the human right to water, social movements and campaigners must strongly demand implementation, take up campaigns in their own countries to move implementation forward, and expand the scope to include collective rights and rights of water to ensure nature is protected.”

See #4 of Adopted text addressing the human right to water and sanitation in the final outcome document: The Future We Want

3. Commit to the need for mining regulation and recognize the free, prior and informed consent of Indigenous Peoples for mining activities impacting their land, territories and resource.

MIA is once again indebted to the Sisters of Mercy worldwide (and to the Irish Presentation Sisters joining forces with us in Ireland) who lobbied long and hard for a text that includes the introduction of important mining safeguards and regulation, and that respects the right to free, prior and informed consent of indigenous peoples. These concepts were introduced relatively late in the Rio+20 negotiations by the co-chairs.

Sadly, the final text on mining includes blatant weaknesses, namely the failure to acknowledge the growing and widespread negative impact that unregulated mining has on poverty eradication, sustainable development, and the realization of human rights. Yet as a result of pressure from civil society, indigenous peoples, and some strong government allies, the final text does recognize “the importance of strong and effective legal and regulatory frameworks, policies and practices for the mining sector that deliver economic and social benefits and include effective safeguards that reduce social and environmental impacts, as well as conserve biodiversity and ecosystems, including during post- mining closure.”

From close observation of the negotiation process on the mining text it is clear that, without direct intervention and advocacy, language on the need for regulation of mining could have been deleted from the text. However, it is disturbing and seriously problematic that governments have made no real commitment to recognize and adequately address this growing problem of extractive industry abuse, particularly as it relates to the promotion of sustainable development. Moreover, despite the repeated assertions by the Indigenous Peoples’ Major Group during the negotiations that “this human rights safeguard (of free, prior and informed consent) is a condition for mining to make a contribution to sustainable development and poverty eradication objectives,” and the repeated pleas from many of the major groups – Women, Youth, NGOs and Indigenous Peoples – and numerous other civil society groups, countries failed to include and recognize within the body of the mining text respect for these rights of indigenous peoples and their land, territories and resources.

This being the case, it is also important to note that the UN Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) – which includes the need to respect free, prior and informed consent of indigenous Peoples – was for the first times since its adoption in 2007 given international recognition in the Rio+20 final outcome document.

Further, some encouraging provisions in paragraphs 38, 39, 40, 41, 43, 49 and 58 of the final text can be utilized in ongoing efforts to address the urgent issue of extractive industry abuse.

No doubt, this is an important and strategic area of advocacy and Mercy Global Action for Mercy International Association going forward.

See #5 of Adopted text addressing mining in the final outcome document: The Future We Want

4. Rein in transnational corporations and ensure their accountability and transparency to enable sustainable and equitable development for all in harmony with nature and within our planetary boundaries.

Transnational Corporations

During the Rio+20 negotiations, the Sisters of Mercy and Mercy International also lobbied governments to mandate transnational corporation responsibility, accountability and transparency.

Clearly, one of the most egregious failures of the Rio+20 Conference is the blatant denial of governments to acknowledge and address the increasingly abusive power of transnational corporations. Readers will take note that the final paragraphs adopted on corporate responsibility are far too weak to guarantee any positive impact. Member States utterly failed to take into account the push by civil society, Indigenous Peoples, small farmers, fishers, pastoralists – even members of business and industry – to mark this historic moment by reining in transnational corporations and mandating sustainability, accountability, responsibility, and transparency outcomes and measures.

Countries, especially the most industrialized, fiercely opposed any such mandatory measures. In fact, one could claim that as a result of the Rio+20 process the private sector (namely transnational corporations) were entrusted with even greater power to solve the problems of sustainable development and poverty, using false market- based solutions to achieve sustainable and equitable development. The number of paragraphs dedicated to private sector in the final text attest to the value placed on the market and on the private sector to achieve an equitable and sustainable outcome.

However, despite the amount of power given to the private sector in the final outcome document, developing countries and civil society groups were indeed successful in preventing the universal promotion and legitimization of the green economy (more commonly referred to by many opponents as the greed economy or green capitalism), as the definitive answer to addressing sustainable development.

As a result of the failure to reign in transnational corporations and the promotion of green capitalism, inequality will increase, poverty will escalate, and nature will be commodified. Moreover, unregulated corporate control and a green capitalism agenda will fail to recognize and act within the limits of the planetary boundaries, which must deal with if we are to ensure future viability and sustainability of the planet.

Mercy International Association plans to strategize at both national and international levels to determine how to most effectively address this systemic and root cause of poverty, inequity, and degradation of Earth.

See #6 of Adopted text addressing transnational corporations and the private sector in the final outcome document: The Future We Want

Summary Reflection

Once again, we are deeply grateful for the efforts, the skill, the commitment and the contributions of Sisters of Mercy worldwide in the many months leading toward and during the days of the Rio Conference.

As acknowledged in our statement to governments prior to Rio+20, Mercy International Association remains convinced that at no other time in history have humans been so capable of grand, creative and ethical partnerships with the natural world in order to bring about justice, ecological and economic abundance for all.

At the same time, never have we experienced the level of poverty and devastation to life-supporting ecosystems that place in peril the entire community of life.

We have both the gift and the responsibility to create the future we want.

The planet and future generations radically depend upon us and our governments and our positive action -- NOW.

Messages to: Aine O’Connor rsm -  MGA Co-ordinator at the UN
July 11,2012 

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