The UN Conference on Sustainable Development held at Rio De Janeiro, Brazil from June 20 to 22 also known as Rio+20 was termed as ‘a once-in-a-generation’ opportunity to put the world on sustainable development path by UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon.
It was one of the most debated conferences as for the first time the concept of green economy, along with sustainable development, was brought to a UN conference. It was the initiative of Europe to put green economy as major theme.
The preparation for zero draft of the conference started in June 2010 and ended on June 20, 2012. UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon addressed the head of states and official delegation at Rio+20 on Thursday June 21 and announced that beyond a shadow of doubt, we had entered a new era.
“We have made significant progress. Now is the time to take the final big step”, he said. “Now is the time for action. Let us not ask our children and grandchildren to convene a Rio+40 or Rio+60. Now is the time to rise above narrow national interests — to look beyond the vested interests of this group or that. It is time to act with broader and long-term vision. Here at Rio+20, we can seize the future we want. Let us not pass it by. Let us make Rio our legacy … a foundation that future generations can build on”, he said.
But nobody seems happy with the outcome paper of the conference. Green Economy, which is one of the main themes of the conference, is only fleetingly mentioned in one paragraph of the document. Sources indulged in preparation of final draft told TNS that the EU is not happy with the text and is asking various organisations and governments to push for reopening certain issues.
During final preparation round at Brazil some African courtiers also threatened to boycott the whole process. However, Brazil, host of the conference, forced its agenda as it does not want to see conference a failure.
A read of final document shows that the section of the green economy is probably the weakest in the whole document. Experts believe that one of the biggest mistakes was to select two themes because those are the themes on which no progress has been made.
There is really no agreement of any substance on green economy. The text simply says that this is an idea which countries can apply in ways that they see fit through voluntary measures and through undefined or not likely to be defined areas of support.
Even on the institutional framework there is more or less reaffirmation, there is only one major change which is that the commission on sustainable development (CSD) which was finding it difficult to peruse its work is now to be replaced by sustainable development forum with pretty much the same mandate but, again, there is no indication that the new forum would be able to do what CSD was unable to do.
So, even though the problem has been recognised just change in nomenclature is not going to change the situation. In the case of UNEP, although there is considerable expression of goodwill the only substantive change is the universal membership with its governing council, it’s not clear how it’s going to change the working of UNEP.
The issue of access of developing countries to technology has also not been defined clearly. In fact, it seems many developed countries do not want to commit anything and even the agreement released in Rio at 1992 or between Rio and Johannesburg, there has been a retreat from them.
The same thing about financial support, since 1962 developing countries have been trying to get some clear commitment from developed countries about financial support. At the beginning, they said it would be one percent of GDP, then it was 0.7 percent and there is also commitment on new and additional resources of new challenges none of that actually has happened.
There is the third issue many countries were concerned about that nature, instead of being protected or supported, would actually be made part of market system and anything could be done with it.
The argument of the people who are supporting is that this would give actually a higher value to nature. “Any right-wing economist would know that it is not the case and this would actually end up destroying nature, mainly because putting a price on it is simply a way of justifying doing away with some of those things. It would also end up empowering the poor people although there are tall claims that it could not be done. Even on this, some of the worst language has been deleted, so it’s not as bad as it started out to be”, says Dr Tariq Banuri, former Director of Division for Sustainable Development at United Nations (UN) and active participant at Rio+20 conference from the platform of Sustainable Development Policy Institute (SDPI) of Pakistan.
The areas where there has been progress, one is the genuinely new idea of sustainable development goals and process has been set up to define them through inter-governmental consultation. Another area of progress is the sustainable development financing although no decision was taken but a more dedicated inter-governmental process has been set up to undertake consultation. It is not sure if it would lead to any significant results, but at least there is a recognition that there is a problem.
The 10 year programme of sustainable consumption and production has been adopted. But there is no funding at this movement so it’s not clear how it will move forward. There are some pockets where some decisions have been taken but the challenges are big and this was an opportunity to confront those challenges.
A majority of civil society organisations, including Green Peace, have called this a fraudulent document and have vowed to start a civil disobedience movement against the document.
Leida Rijnhout, Executive Director, Northern Alliance for Sustainability tells TNS, “Science is very clear. If we do not change in the coming five to ten years the way our societies function, we will be threatening the survival of future generations and all other species on the planet. This event was an opportunity for governments to be the saviours of the planet. It is all up to them. And yet we stand on the brink of Rio+20 being another failed attempt, with governments only trying to protect their narrow interests instead of inspiring the World and giving all of us back the faith in humanity that we need. If this happens, it would be a big waste of power, and a big waste of leadership”, she says, adding, “It does not in any way reflect our aspiration, and therefore, we demand that the words “in full participation with civil society” are removed from the first paragraph”, she says.
“On the issue of finding resources to implement sustainable development, we see countries using economic crisis as an excuse, while at the same time spending billions of dollars subsidising the fossil fuel industry, the most profitable industry in the world”, she says.
Rijnhout believes there are many other failures in the document related to women’s reproduction health, missed opportunities to start new global treaties on civil society participation and on sustainability reporting, the extraordinary lack of any reference to armed conflicts, nuclear energy (especially after the Fukushima disaster), and many others.
Dr Banuri says that final outcome is disappointing for a lot of people. NGOs have rejected it. “Most people believe that it does not come up to anybody’s expectations. On the other hand, one can also say that the attempt to roll back the global agreements on equity is not successful. My sense of this document is that even though it is a disappointing document, it is not a disastrous document in the sense that it does not do a lot of bad things that we were afraid it could do.”, he says.
Dr Banuri says Pakistan should take note of this document and should realise that our own policies have to be based on the knowledge that is reflected in the document.
“It does not give a very clear direction of what the other countries are going to do because the better we have that sense the more we can tailor ourselves. There is no commitment whatsoever in the document to provide support to developing countries and that is also a weakness because poor countries do require international support. The document on this front is a complete failure”, he concludes.
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.