As Bay Area representatives of Rio+20 NGOs, major negotiating blocs and civil society participants prepare to report in at tomorrow's RioRaps, pre-meeting reading materials present conflicting perspectives on the as-yet unformulated successes and the all-too-apparent shortcomings of the summit.
Positive spin comes from the corner of Martin Khor, Executive Director of The South Centre, who suggests in The Rio+20 Summit and its Follow Up, that actions at the UN over the next year will determine whether Rio+20 was a success. These are actions which favor the needs of developing countries and focus on the composition of an annual forum on sustainable development; the financial mechanism for technology transfer; and the sustainable development goals.
The biggest battle in the last week of negotiations in Rio was to get developed countries, especially the United States, to renew the original Rio principles on environment and development adopted at the historic 1992 Earth Summit. These include the environmental precautionary principle and polluter pays as well as development and equity principles of the right to development and the common but differentiated responsibilities (CBDR). The CBDR is especially important for developing countries, as it implies that while all countries should take sustainable development actions, the developed countries have to take the leading role in environmental protection, as they contributed the most to environmental problems, and they should also support developing countries with finance and technology in their sustainable development efforts. Some developed countries, especially the United States, resisted affirming the Rio principles and especially CBDR. For developing countries, the reaffirmation of Rio plus a mention of CBDR was a necessity; without this reaffirmation, the summit would have been a disaster. On almost the last day, the US gave in. The document in paragraph 15 now reaffirms the 1992 Rio principles, including the principle of "common but differentiated responsibilities" (CBDR).
In a section on climate change, the text (Para 191) also recalls that the UN climate convention (UNFCCC) provides that Parties should protect the climate system “on the basis of equity and common but differentiated responsibilities and respective capabilities.” Though this is only a factual reflection of the Convention, it is nevertheless a victory for developing countries since the equity and CBDR principles were notably absent in the decision at the UNFCCC Conference of Parties in December 2011 that mandated negotiations on a new Durban Platform under the Convention on Climate Change. Some developed countries, especially the US, have argued that the absence of the mention of equity and CBDR means that all Parties have to take on similar levels of commitments in a future climate regime, unlike the Kyoto Protocol. Developing countries on the contrary argued that these principles apply since the new regime will be under the Convention. Their position is thus strengthened since Rio+20 “recalled” these two principles in climate protection actions.
Among those scheduled to attend tomorrow's event are representatives from Rio's Women's Major Group, Sustainable World Coalition, International forum on Globalization, Ecoequity, International Ecocity Framework & Standards, the Global Campaign for Climate Justice, and the Indigenous Environmental Network, the Global Rights of Nature, Global Campaign for Climate Action, and the Women's Earth and Climate Caucus.
"I'm happy to report that my experience of being in Rio for the UN Summit on "Sustainable Development was mostly positive and inspirational," says Vinit Allen, Executive Director of the Sustainable World Coalition. "Yes, it's very true that the official declaration text—representing what governments were willing to come to consensus around—was way too weak for the issues we face. There was very little in the way of target dates and numbers, and nothing in there that was legally binding—and without this, we simply won't have the policy changes that address our current global challenges. But then, most of us who were tracking the pre-Summit events knew that this would be the case, and sure enough, our low expectations were met."
In what was a "great coming together of humanity" in hundreds of cross-cultural events and exhibitions over ten days throughout Rio's vibrant 'shanty-town' favela communities, Allen explored numerous models of community, government and corporate sustainability policies, education, projects, technology and witnessed the leveraging of major sustainability issues including the rights of nature, moving beyond GDP as a means of assessing progress, ending fossil fuel subsidies, and the empowerment of women.
"Unimaginable amounts of networking and meeting of new colleagues from around the world happened, which generated many new partnerships and sharing of knowledge, resources, technologies and best practices," says Allen.
One of the most exciting aspects of Rio, he says, was the evolution of the Millennium Development Goals into recalibrated and broader SDGs.
Earlier today, Khor wrote Rio+20 Was Not All In Vain, depicting the SDGs as a victory for developing countries.
The SDGs will replace the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), which expire in 2015 and will be written over the course of the next year by a panel of 30-members working under the auspices of the UN General Assembly.
"Establishing SDGs was not on the original mandate of Rio+20 topics but entered the process in late 2011 through a proposal of Colombia and a few other countries," Khor writes. "It developed increasing support as a concrete "deliverable" for the summit and as a kind of replacement for the controversial Green Economy issue. Although establishing SDGs turned out to be a complex exercise, at least the concept of sustainable development was an accepted and comfortable one, unlike the green economy.
The developing countries during the negotiations fought for several things:“who sponsored the chaos and distraction so the Brazilian government could enforce effectively their smart diplomacy to save the summit?”
to have a good definition of SDGs, to ensure that there is a balanced approach among the three pillars (economic, social, environmental) of sustainable development in the selected goals, that the SDGs be formulated by an inter-governmental process and not “dropped” on the governments by the UN Secretary General or UN-chosen experts (as in the case of the Millennium Development Goals), and that the SDG process should interact with and not replace the separate process of the UN’s post-2015 development agenda after the expiry of the MDGs. They also preferred that no specific SDGs be named in Rio, in order not to pre-empt the approach of having goals balanced from all three pillars.
The developing countries’ positions prevailed on all these aspects. In the final text, the SDGs are to be based on Agenda 21 and the Johannesburg Plan of Action, respect the Rio principles, build on commitments already made, incorporate the three dimensions of sustainable development. They should be coherent with the and integrated in the UN development agenda beyond 2015 and should not divert effort from the MDGs. The goals should address priority areas, guided by the outcome document.
The former Director of the Rio+20 Secretariat Tariq Banuri, joining us in the civil society during his stay in Rio de Janeiro, said this should have been the summit of equity. Disillusioned by the low imagination and low commitment levels of the summit, he recognized that the only positive outcome could be that Rio+20 having many summits within the summit; meaning that the global civil society and different stakeholders organizing their own action to decide their own futures could bring
some hope. But, these other summits too seemed to have eluded the ultimate goal – joining hands for a common future.
The so called Rio+20 Peoples Summit, hijacked by a Brazilian NGO Organizin g Committee, was a chaotic demonstration that lead to thousands of civil society
representatives from across the world being stranded and lost without any sense of direction or coordination. Compared to the Global Forum organized by the International NGO Forum in 1992 at the first Earth Summit, this was a sad show of how fragmented the civil society has become. While those who were serious about meeting like-minded groups to build plans for the future were stranded, the mock social forum appeared more satisfied by lending the space to conference-junkies, travelling-hippies and eco-pilgrims to sing, dance, dine, shout and also trade their products. In the corners of the Peoples Summit, very dubiously, there were large tents managed by big corporations and mining industries. The mind of the curious was burning with the question “who sponsored the chaos and distraction so the Brazilian government could
enforce effectively their smart diplomacy to save the summit?”
In the aftermath of the UN Rio+20 Conference on SustainableEnd of An Era- George Monbiot
Development, which deliberately left reproductive rights out of the
official outcome text, there is little time to feel discouraged. There
are education and awareness campaigns to undertake, and alliances to
build and strengthen - especially between the environmental and women's
It is, perhaps, the greatest failure of collective leadership since theEcocities Emerging
first world war. The Earth’s living systems are collapsing, and the
leaders of some of the most powerful nations – the US, the UK, Germany,
Russia – could not even be bothered to turn up and discuss it. Those who
did attend the Earth summit last week solemnly agreed to keep stoking
the destructive fires: sixteen times in their text they pledged to
pursue “sustained growth”, the primary cause of the biosphere’s
Ecocity Builders' delegation, which in the end totaled 28 people, has returned from Rio de Janeiro and Rio+20, the United Nations Conference onTomorrow's RioRaps is the second in a series of events produced by WiserBayArea, designed to engage eco-advocates in a collaborative regional support network, one which involves the sharing of resources, connections and lessons learned. The event is held at GROW Sustainability Centerin Mill Valley
Sustainable Development. Although Rio+20 did not deliver a clear pathway
and consensus for how to launch the global green economy "in the
context of poverty eradication and sustainable development", the process
did convene an earnest conversation and a vetting of new concepts and
ideas about how to address the issues, with a corresponding long list of
proposals and voluntary commitments headed towards the goal. Please see
the articles in this newsletter edition for commentaries on what Rio+20
did and did not deliver.
"There is nothing in this video (after the fold) that is news to me -- nothing -- yet it literally brought tears to my eyes in frustration over the utter inability (unwillingness) of our (local, national, international) political / economic / social systems to deal with climate change in anything approaching sane approaches and fear as to where we are heading. "