Rio+20 Negotiators Report ‘Progress,’ NGOs Call It ‘Weak’

RIO de JANEIRO, Brazil, June 18, 2012 (ENS) – Rapid progress is being made on negotiation of the outcome document at the United Nation’s sustainable development conference, Rio+20, head of the Rio +20 Secretariat, Nikhil Seth, said today. Seth said Brazil’s ability to dialogue with different groups of countries has led to a “consensus” and a “significant progress.”

But influential nongovernmental organizations say the talks have have produced a “very weak negotiating document” that eliminates “urgency around the need for sustainable development.”

More than 55,000 people from around the world and all walks of life are attending the summit. Some 130 world leaders are expected to participate in three-days of high-level talks opening June 20 that will result in a outcome document on sustainable development.

Maurice Strong of Canada, secretary-general of the 1992 Rio Earth Summit, is interviewed after a ceremony marking the 20th anniversary, June 15, 2012. (Photo courtesy Earth Negotiations Bulletin)

Rio+20 marks the 20th anniversary of the original UN Earth Summit in Rio, where countries agreed to a roadmap for environmental protection, economic growth, and social equity known as Agenda 21. Delegates are taking stock of progress made on this agenda and mapping out sustainable development for the coming decades.

The final session of Rio+20’s Preparatory Committee concluded Friday with the handover of responsibility for the outcome document to Brazil, in its role as president of the Conference.

“The conference has entered a new phase,” Seth told reporters in Rio. Pre-conference informal consultations led by the host country began Saturday afternoon.

While there has been progress, big issues still remain to be resolved, Seth told reporters. These include the reaffirmation of the principles put forward during the first Rio Summit 20 years ago, and the means of implementation of these principles – technology transfer, financing and capacity-building for developing countries.

But the global conservation group WWF and the International Trade Union Confederation today jointly urged Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff to step in and use her influence to save the “faltering” Rio+20 negotiations.

Rio+20 officials examine the draft outcome document, from left: UNCSD Secretary-General Sha Zukang of China; Antonio de Aguiar Patriota, Minister of Foreign Affairs, Brazil; Nikhil Seth of India, director, UNCSD Division for Sustainable Development; Luiz Alberto Figueiredo Machado, Brazil, June 16, 2012 (Photo courtesy ENB)

“The planet is running out of time – yet leaders are answering with weak words that don’t even come close to the kind of commitments we need to ensure people everywhere have access to clean water, food, and energy,” said Jim Leape, director general of WWF International. “The current negotiating text may be called the future we need, but it certainly doesn’t have the commitments we need. There is still time for leaders to step up – and we need Dilma to lead the way.”

Leape said negotiators must address “the inter-linkages between food, water and energy,”

“Rapid economic development and per-capita consumption around the world is burning up more natural resources than are available,” said Leape. “With demands for food, water and energy continuing to rise – particularly in rapidly developing nations including Brazil and China – the inertia on show now at Rio is putting the future of the planet at risk – along with the livelihoods of hundreds of millions of people.”

ITUC General Secretary Sharan Burrow said, “We must come out of Rio with a clear commitment to social protection for all by 2030 and the necessary resources to implement it in the poorest countries. Without these concrete commitments, as the foundations for a new model of development, we will leave Rio with worse than “business as usual,” it will be a huge opportunity lost.”

Given Brazil’s choice to lead the new phase of talks with informal group discussions on the global green economy, Sustainable Development Goals, strengthening the institutional framework for sustainable development, means of implementation, and oceans, these themes are likely to be the key deliverables from the conference.

Protection on the high seas in areas beyond national jurisdictions is a critical issue on which opinion is divided at Rio+20.

Delegates in the informal oceans negotiating group led by Minister Maria Teresa Pessoa are split over including language in the outcome document that asks the UN General Assembly to negotiate an implementing agreement to the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea that would address the conservation and sustainable use of marine biodiversity on the high seas.

Banner in front of the Rio+20 conference hall (Photo by Sophie Torelli courtesy UNISDR)

For Susan Lieberman, director of international policy with the Pew Environment Group, ocean protection is a top priority. “Organizations are working to have strong text adopted on sustainable fisheries and small islands developing states, on really tackling illegal fishing, and a strong text on fisheries subsidies,” she told reporters last week. “There’s a good chance on there will be something on a high seas legal framework to protect areas of the high seas that are beyond national jurisdictions,” she said. “Only the United States and Russia are opposed.”

Nongovernmental organizations backing an implementing agreement for sustainable use of marine biodiversity in areas beyond national jurisdiction include not only WWF and the ITUC but also the 117 national NGOS that together are BirdLife International.

On Saturday, more than 80 countries, civil society groups, private companies and international organizations declared their support for the new Global Partnership for Oceans, signaling their commitment to work together around coordinated goals to restore the world’s oceans to health and productivity.

Country supporters include: Australia, Germany, Iceland, Monaco, New Zealand, Norway, South Korea, and the United States. Coastal and island nations, including Fiji, Jamaica, Kiribati, Palau, Samoa, the Seychelles are also participants.

National and international civil society participants include: Conservation International, Environmental Defense Fund, the International Union for the Conservation of Nature, Plant-A-Fish, Rare, The Nature Conservancy and WWF.

Civil society is playing an unprecedented role at Rio+20, seeking to have a range of concerns reflected in the outcome document. Some 19,000 people representing major groups such as business, farmers, indigenous peoples, local authorities, NGOs, scientists, trade unions, women and youth, are attending the summit.

While fostering a global green economy has been a key goal of the UN Environment Programme for Rio+20, thousands of women this morning held a march in protest of the green economy, saying it does not go far enough and relies on the exploitation of women.

For the protesters, the green economy follows the logic of capitalism that values only what can be bought and sold. With the support of various social movements in the country, protesters walked the Avenida Rio Branco, a major route from downtown Rio to Flamengo Park, where the Peoples’ Summit is being held in parallel to Rio+20.

The marching women, some topless, disrupted the already complicated traffic on major roads in the city, delaying the arrival of many people to work. Armed forces and military police closely followed their every move, but no clash has occurred.

Michelle Bachelet, UN undersecretary-general and executive director of UN Women, who served as Chile’s first female president from 2006 to 2010, told a news conference today that heads of state and government attending Rio +20 must encourage specific actions to reduce poverty among women and their impacts on the environment.

Bachelet said that even 20 years after the 1992 Earth Summit’s Rio Declaration, which emphasized the importance of participation of women to achieve sustainable development, women continue to face unequal rights, opportunities and participation.

“This is not sustainable. The social exclusion of women not only hurts them but hurts us all,” Bachelet emphasized.

Bachelet said Rio +20 is the moment to demand a future for women with access to public services, including education, water, health, sanitation, energy and social protection. “Women are here so that their voices are heard,” she said. “The future that women want, we all can share.”

Gro Harlem Brundtland, the physician and former prime minister of Norway whose World Commission on Environment and Development popularized the term “sustainable development” in its report, “Our Common Future,” said the role of women is fundamental to the three pillars of sustainable development – social, economic and environmental.

Now serving as Special Climate Change Envoy of the UN Secretary-General, Brundtland told reporters that in her oil-producing country the value generated by the work of women is higher than the total revenue of the oil sector.

“Countries that have greater gender equity and equal opportunities are those that also have the best economic performances,” Brundtland said. “We all realize the enormous untapped potential for mothers, grandmothers, wives and girls who are hoping to contribute to a better future.”

Youth delegates demonstrate for a UN high commissioner for future generations. (Photo courtesy ENB)
Young delegate speaks to the media. (Photo courtesy ENB)

Throughout the meeting halls today, youth delegates appeared with duct tape over their mouths to dramatize their request that the United Nations establish a high commissioner for future generations.

Whatever pledges and means of implementation emerge in the final outcome document agreed by heads of state and government at the end of the week, they must be held accountable for making them reality say some 200 legislators from 74 countries and the European Union.

The lawmakers met Sunday on the Rio+20 sidelines to approve a Legislators’ Protocol. This set of Rio Scrutiny Principles aims to strengthen legislators’ capacity to hold governments accountable for promises made at development conferences, including Rio+20.

“Parliamentarians can help governments connect the dots by passing legislation that links aspects such as natural capital accounting, disaster risk reduction, climate change adaptation and mitigation,” said UN Special Representative on Disaster Risk Reduction Margareta Wahlstrom, addressing the parliamentarians at Tiradentes Palace, site of the city’s Legislative Assembly.

Judges, prosecutors, auditors and legal experts from around the world Sunday attended the World Congress on Justice, Governance and Law for Environmental Sustainability at the Supreme Court of Rio de Janeiro State. Many observed that the rate of environmental degradation is faster than the rate of corrective measures promoted through policy and law. Some said judges should take a proactive role to transform the law to integrate the rights of future generations.

Rio de Janeiro Mayor Eduardo Paes announced today that by 2020 the city will reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 2.3 million tons, an amount equivalent to 20 percent of emissions in the city in 2005. The goal is part of Rio’s Low Carbon Plan in partnership with the World Bank.

“Our goal is to reduce greenhouse gases by 20 percent by 2020. We still have a 12 percent reduction to be achieved and it is important that these local initiatives begin to happen,” he said.

Mayor Paes advised municipalities around the world to be more adventurous and not to expect decisions of national governments alone to promote sustainable development, saying, “We cannot always use the excuse that the heads of state have not reached a consensus to do nothing.”

More than 500 on-site side events organized by governments, major groups, organizations from within the UN system and other international organizations are taking place as part of Rio+20. All organizers of on-site side events are encouraged to register commitments that result from their events.

Click here to follow Rio+20 side events. Click here to follow the United Nations’ Rio+20 official site.

Copyright Environment News Service (ENS) 2012. All rights reserved.