An agreement on a “compromised” declaration on “the future we want”, a day before Rio+20 conference were to be officially inaugurated, proved to be an anti-climax before the climax could unwind. Last week, delegations of 191 countries gathered in Brazil’s historic city of Rio to choose the architect of planet’s future amidst the worst environmental crisis, social inequity, and financial crisis the world is facing today.
For many, the forty pages Rio+20 declaration is one step forward two steps back. The developed countries could not completely go back from what they agreed during the last 20 years. However, they did manage to dilute their commitments by not coming up with any action plan against those commitments.
In 1992, the global community agreed on 27 principles for sustainable development through the Rio Declaration on Environment and Development. For developing countries, the most important one was the principle of common but differentiated responsibilities (CBDR). Principle 7 of the 1992 Rio Declaration reads: “…. In view of the different contributions to global environmental degradation, States have common but differentiated responsibilities. The developed countries acknowledge the responsibility that they bear in the international pursuit to sustainable development in view of the pressures their societies place on the global environment and of the technologies and financial resources they command.”
CBDR is an explicit confession by developed world for its unsustainable consumption and production which had created imbalance and inequities within and across generations. Through CBDR, the developed world agreed for technology transfer and financial aid for developing countries as a compensation for creating these inequalities.
The second major milestone for sustainable development is the World Food Summit of 1996, where the term food security was coined. This concept gave the dimensions of distributive justice and nutritional value of food to the debate of eradication of hunger.
The third important milestone was UN Millennium Resolution passed in September 2000; commonly known as Millennium Development Goals (MDG) which are to be achieved by 2015. While agreeing on MDGs, the developed world once again reaffirmed technology transfer and financial assistance.
While three more years are left for achieving the MDGs, most of the developing countries (including Pakistan) have already conveyed that they would not be able to achieve the targets set for poverty reduction, improving mother and children health, improving literacy, and environmental conservation.
One can find hundreds of shortfalls among developing countries due to which they would not be able to achieve MDGs: poor governance, corruption, and lack of political will are the salient ones. However, the major external factors for this failure remain the failed commitments of developed countries for developmental assistance (minimum 0.7 percent of GNP) and technology transfer to the developing world.
Paris Declaration of 2005, its follow-up meetings in Accra did talk of aid effectiveness. However, Busan Agreement on Development partnership of 2011 changed the development assistance architecture and the traditional donors (OECD countries) stressed upon China and India to contribute financial resources on voluntary basis and provide development assistance to the developing world.
Many in the developing world, while appreciating the potential role that emerging economies such as China and India could play in catalyzing transition towards sustainable development, noticed that developed world was trying to find a respectable way out of CBDR.
The EU and US governments, faced with their own fiscal crisis are rapidly shrinking their developmental assistance; tightening the regime of protectionism in the name of protecting their local industries (goods and services) and shying away form technology transfer in the name of intellectual property rights regime. So much so that last week the US Trade Commissioner formally announced that due to fiscal crisis it was difficult to stick to US’s commitment on “Duty Free Quota Free Access” for least developed countries, meaning backing away from Doha Agenda of WTO.
It is in the above mentioned context Rio+20 (the conference on sustainable development) was being perceived as a major opportunity to remind that the global north was mainly responsible for most of the climate change related problems that the world is facing today.
The developing countries (G77 plus China) wanted an expedited implementation on principle of CBDR and in the words of UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon “The world is watching to see if words will translate into action, as we know they must.” Another aim set for the conference was to improve the global institutional arrangement for sustainable development. Energy, food security, and social inclusion were still other points where a collective resolve and action was required from international community in order to follow the principles of sustainability.
As expected, there was difference of opinion on fundamental issues between developed and the developing world (and among developing blocks as well) in the preparatory committee meetings in the run up to conference.
The host government along with some Latin American Countries had floated the idea of Sustainable Development Goals (SDG). However there was neither a concrete construct of SDGs not a clear modality to achieve them. Many developing countries were of the opinion that without incorporating the lessons learnt from MDGs, SDGs would have been another failure.
China and G-77 wanted to link the idea of SDG with CBDR, asking the developed world to fulfill their differentiated responsibilities. The talk of Green Economy also got diluted due to lack of consensus on the concept of green economy as a common undertaking. Energy issue also remained a contested one as there was no commitment from the developed world on withdrawal of their massive fossil fuel subsidies. The differences and confusions around climate financing and adaptation fund also remained unresolved.
In the above-mentioned context and in the changing global circumstances, especially the Euro zone crisis and the US fiscal deficit the biggest achievement for developing world is that the developed world, although managed to dilute its commitments, could not completely back out from them.
Having said that, there is also a message for emerging economies and developing world that they cannot simply shift the burden of their unsustainable development on developed world and would have to bring their house in order too.
One needs to realise that Rio+20 is another chance to turn our common vision into action for the future that we want. Our next generations do deserve sustainable prosperity without socio-economic poverty in a well protected environment. All of us have to do to the best of our abilities to ensure this future through ensuring individual security.
The cost of inaction is huge and its consequences would have to be born equally by the developed as well as the developing world in the shape of national, regional, and global instabilities.
The writer heads the Sustainable Development Policy Institute. He was part of official delegation to Rio+20 and is contactable at firstname.lastname@example.org
This article was originally published at: The News
The opinions expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect the viewpoint or stance of SDPI.