“The future we want” is still bracketed

Co-Chair Kim Sook (center) at
the meeting in New York.
(Photo: IISD)

Government representatives have failed last week to reach consensus on “The future we want,” the global plan of action to be adopted next month by the UN Conference on Sustainable Development (Rio2012). The second round of informal negotiations on the draft outcome document, held at the United Nations headquarters in New York, saw intense debates and divides among delegates, who agreed to meet again for other five days of deliberations to bridge differences.

After two weeks of negotiations concluded less than 50 days before the summit in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, the representatives set another additional session to be held from 29 May to 2 June, also in New York. The new meeting was not previously scheduled and was proposed by the bureau of the preparatory process for the Rio2012 Conference.

Over the two weeks of the second round of informal negotiations (23 April to 4 May), “apart from divergent exchanges over the ‘green economy’ […], discussions were also interesting as regards the framework for action and follow-up on some of the thematic areas such as water, energy, agriculture and sustainable development goals,” reported Meena Raman, of the Third World Network (TWN).

Only 21 paragraphs of the draft outcome document have been agreed ad referendum (provisionally agreed with no bracketed text and subject to the whole outcome document being agreed to), with over 400 paragraphs still remaining without agreement.

The major differences between the developing and the developed countries referred to the “principles and characteristics” that “should guide” the sustainable development goals; the “human right to safe and clean drinking water and sanitation”; the “access to modern energy services”; and “the right of everyone to have access to safe and nutritious food, consistent with the fundamental right of everyone to be free from hunger”.

Many developed countries opposed mentions to food or water as human rights, even when that has already been agreed upon by the United Nations in previous consensus resolutions.

The Group of 77 (G77), that represents 132 developing countries and China, supported the full set of 19 “principles and characteristics” by which sustainable development goals “should be guided”. But Canada, Norway, Switzerland and the United States proposed, by example, the deletion of the “principle of common but differentiated responsibilities”.

New Zealand, the United States and the European Union (EU) also wanted the deletion of the principle of contributing to fulfill “the right to development and achieving equity at all levels”, also supported by the G77. Switzerland expected to remove the references to the development and the equity as a “right”, and to add the adjective “sustainable” to the word “development”.


On “green economy”

The differences on the concept of “green economy” also became apparent. The EU considered it an “essential tool” for achieving sustainable development, and expressed its discomfort because “in some paragraphs of the draft outcome document there was no mention” of those words “and only references to sustainable development”, according to Raman’s report.

“In response to the EU, the G77 said that many developing countries did not even know what a ‘green economy was and had never used this type of tool before’,” added the expert.

“Delegates have expressed disappointment and frustration at the lack of progress,” the Rio2012 Preparatory Committee co-chair Kim Sook, the South-Korean Ambassador, told participants at the concluding meeting of the latest round of talks.

Zeenat Niazi, senior programme director at the India-based Development Alternatives Group, told IPS news agency that there were persistent disagreements on the concept of green economy and “its relevance and meaning to the Global South – concerns associated with the creation of sustainable livelihoods”.

She pointed out that other areas of disagreement include issues of equity; sustainable consumption and production in the Global North; social justice, especially related to resource extraction from developing and least developed countries; and technology transfer and trade.

Rio2012 will be the follow-up to the landmark 1992 Earth Summit in Brazil which adopted Agenda 21 and the Rio Declaration on Environment and Development.

More than 120 Heads of Government and State have registered to attend Rio2012, and some 50,000 people, including business executives, mayors, representatives of non-governmental organizations, youth and indigenous people, among others, are expected to participate in both official and informal events during the Conference to be held from 20 to 22 June in Rio de Janeiro.


Civil society’s position

In a joint letter dated 16 April 2012 and sent to EU Environment Ministers, Eurostep, the Arab NGO Network for Development (ANND), Social Watch, TWN and Asociación Latinoamericana de Organizaciones de Promoción (ALOP) warned that “the green economy as presented by the EU, while promoting more ecological practices, still relies on an unsustainable model based on the growth of materialistic consumption and on insufficiently regulated and equitable financial and economic activities.”

“The positions of some UN members, including the EU, are serving to undermine some core principles and agreed rights, despite these having been elaborated and accepted throughout the years by the multilateral, representative and democratic framework of the UN. These principles have also contributed to forging a common understanding of sustainable development and ways to achieve it among a wide variety of actors. In this light, the attempts to depart from them constitute an immense regression. In such critical times, the focus of some actors on preserving short term and narrow interests and on trying to dismantle the core pillars of the UN development agenda to the detriment of wider and future populations is simply not acceptable,” reads the statement.

“Human rights are legal guarantees that contribute to people’s empowerment and improved equity and ensure equal protection of people before the law; they are fundamental requirements for a sustainable world. Given the EU’s laudable engagement on human rights, to improve democracy, inclusiveness and participatory approaches and increase the role of civil society organizations in decision making processes, we urge the EU to listen to these pleas. The EU presents itself as playing a leading role in tackling poverty, climate change and in promoting sustainable development. Its credibility in playing such a role will be judged on the positions it takes towards the outcome of Rio+20, but also on the actions it takes to mitigate the impact of climate change and to promote all aspects of sustainable development in the future,” concluded Eurostep, ANND, Social Watch, TWN and ALOP.

This report is based on data from the following sources:
South-North Development Monitor: httphttp://bit.ly/IMFyMN
IISD Reporting Services: http://bit.ly/18FTIx
Third World Network http://bit.ly/KcmpUN
CSOs concerns over the EU position for Rio+20: http://bit.ly/ISsogf