TWN Update on Sustainable Development Conference 2012 (Apr12/11)
30 April 2012
Third World Network

Slow progress on renewing political commitment, gaps assessment, institutional issues

New York, 29 April (Alex Rafalowicz and Chee Yoke Ling) – The ‘informal informal’ negotiations on the Rio+20 draft outcome document continued with differences over the treatment of poverty eradication, inclusion of the 1992 Rio principles, assessments of gaps in implementation of sustainable development commitments, as well as institutional issues.

These emerged from Working Group 2 chaired by John Ashe of Antigua and Barbuda that was tasked with Section I (‘Preamble/Stage Setting’), Section II (‘Renewing Political Commitment’) and Section IV (‘Institutional Framework for Sustainable Development’) of the compilation text of the draft outcome document that has evolved from the ‘zero draft’ released in January and worked on in mid-January and March.

[Working Group 1 dealt with Section III (‘Green economy in the context of sustainable development and poverty eradication) and Section V (‘Framework for action and follow-up’ including Sustainable Development Goals and means of implementation viz. finance, access to and transfer of technology, capacity building.]

In the first of the 2 weeks of informal negotiations in New York (23 April to 4 May) Member States worked on the compilation text that includes Member State submissions as of 28 March and the Co-Chairs’ Suggested Text (CST) released after the last round of negotiations that ended on 27 March.

The working group conducted two readings of the compilation text over the course of last week, progressing paragraph by paragraph of the CST and removing submissions and attributions as agreed. This significantly reduced the amount of text but did not resolve any points of substantial contention. The G77 and China (G77) reserved the right to maintain its submission as the basis of negotiations. The European Union (EU) committed to work on the CST but reintroduced its submissions into the CST text in several paragraphs.

Key points of disagreement included over how to incorporate the Rio Principles, what approach to take to ‘assessing progress’ including how to recognize gaps in implementation and the various proposals for reform of the Institutional Framework for Sustainable Development (IFSD). Ashe provided for an exchange of views on IFSD where significant divergence exists and as such there is no CST on a substantial part of the section.

In addition to these points of difference, there was also divergence over the following: the inclusion of references to various sources of principles for implementation and international law; terms relating to technology transfer; reference to reform of international financial institutions; modes of reporting and review; and specific issues that some Member States felt were more appropriate for later sections of the text (e.g. the United States’ introduction of references to sexual and reproductive health). There were also differences in approaches to consideration of the major groups and how to express the unique situations of particular groups of countries.

(Major groups recognized in Agenda 21, the programme of action adopted in the 1992 UN Conference on Environment and Development are women, children and youth, indigenous peoples, non-governmental organisations, local authorities, workers and trade unions, business and industry, the scientific and technological community, and farmers.)

Six paragraphs were agreed ad referendum (ad ref), i.e. provisionally agreed with no bracketed text and subject to the whole outcome document being agreed to.

The title of the outcome document ‘The Future We Want’ has also been agreed ad ref.

Preamble/Stage Setting

The title of Section I is currently ‘Preamble/Stage Setting’. There is alternative text “Common Vision on Sustainable Development” supported by G77, Switzerland and New Zealand, but this is not acceptable to Japan. The CST proposes “Our Common Vision”.

Para. 1 has been agreed ad ref: ‘We, the heads of State and Government and high level representatives, having met at Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, from 20-22 June 2012, with full participation of civil society, renew our commitment to sustainable development, and to ensure the promotion of economically, socially and environmentally sustainable future for our planet and for present and future generations.’

Para. 2 ter has also been agreed ad ref: ‘We recognize that people are at the center of sustainable development and in this regard, we strive for a world which is just, equitable and inclusive, and we commit to work together to promote sustained economic growth and development, social equity and environmental sustainability, and thereby to benefit all.’

Member States displayed different ideas on poverty eradication and on internationally agreed goals, and this divergence is seen in the current bracketed text of Section I.

The G77 (represented by Algeria and Uruguay) introduced text to ‘reaffirm’ that poverty eradication constitutes an overriding priority and is indispensible for the attainment of sustainable development.

The EU preferred language that used broader references to the Johannesburg Plan of Implementation paragraph 2, thus suggesting that poverty eradication was not the overriding goal but was taken ‘together’ with changing unsustainable patterns of consumption and production, and protecting and managing the natural resource base of economic and social production.

The United States did not support the inclusion of changing unsustainable patterns of consumption and production but did support protecting the natural resources base. It also supported changing the reference to ‘overarching’ rather than ‘overriding’ priority.

G77 did not support the EU’s proposal to include text on changing unsustainable patterns of consumption and production and managing the natural resources base because it is ‘not appropriate’ to reflect the overall goal of ‘poverty eradication’ alongside particular objectives and means, otherwise all of these would need to be listed.

(Consumption and production is specifically addressed in Section V on Framework for action and follow-up.)

Differences also exist between the G77, New Zealand, the US, Republic of Korea and the Holy See who support accelerating the achievement of ‘internationally agreed development goals’ and Switzerland and Norway who preferred ‘internationally agreed goals’ in para. 2 bis.

The first group stated that ‘internationally agreed development goals’ is the form used elsewhere and was understood. Switzerland and Norway preferred removing ‘development’ as they wanted to capture all elements of sustainable development and felt it ‘narrowed the scope’

The G77 clarified that they were not trying to narrow the scope but that ‘development goals’ are all encompassing, that social and environmental goals are development goals as well.

Chair John Ashe noted that everyone is familiar with ‘internationally agreed development goals.’

In para. 2 quat on reaffirming commitment to act in accordance with the purposes and principles of the Charter of the United Nations and with full respect for the principles, rights and obligations under international law, the US asked for deletion of ‘rights’. The G77 asked for deletion of ‘including the Universal Declaration of Human Rights’ at the end of the same paragraph, saying that there should not be a singling out of one instrument.

The US asked for deletion of the right to development in this section and throughout the draft outcome document, arguing that rights are for individuals and development is a process.

(In 1986 the UN General Assembly adopted a resolution on the Declaration of the Right to Development. Principle 3 of the Rio Declaration states that ‘The right to development must be fulfilled so as to equitably meet developmental and environmental needs of present and future generations’.)

Para. 2 sext deals with the need to further mainstream sustainable development in decision making at all levels and G77 had included the phrase ‘in accordance with the principle of common but differentiated responsibilities’. The US, EU, Japan, Switzerland, NZ, Canada asked for its deletion.

Renewing Political Commitment

Under Section II on Renewing Political Commitment there are sub-sections on reaffirming the Rio Principles; assessing progress to date and implementation gaps/addressing new and emerging challenges; engaging major groups; and framework for action.

Two paragraphs in this section has been agreed ad referendum:

Para.14: ‘We recognize that many people, especially the poor, depend directly on ecosystems for their livelihoods, their economic, social and physical well-being, and their cultural heritage. For this reason, it is essential to generate decent jobs and incomes that decrease disparities in standards of living to better meet people’s needs and promote sustainable livelihoods and practices and the sustainable use of natural resources and ecosystems.’

Para. 15 bis: ‘We reaffirm that the Istanbul Programme of Action for the Least Developed Countries for the Decade 2011-2020 outlines LDCs’ priorities for sustainable development and defines a framework for renewed and strengthened global partnership to implement them. We commit to assist LDCs with the implementation of the IPOA as well as their efforts to achieve sustainable development.’

Rio Principles

Significant differences remain on the Rio Principles. The form of their recognition in Section II.A is contested. Differences also exist over the placement of the Principles in the text, with most developed countries preferring not to reference them directly in relevant sections.

The sub-section title itself remains unresolved: the CST title is “Reaffirming Rio principles and past action plans” and New Zealand and the EU wants inclusion of ‘other relevant documents’ in addition to the Rio principles.

Key principles that are consistently proposed or bracketed in the text include Principle 3 (‘right to development’); Principle 7 (‘common but differentiated responsibilities’); and Principle 10 (‘public participation’).

There is currently no general reference to the Rio Principles in the preamble/stage-setting section. The first general reference is in para 7 in the section on Renewing Political Commitment. There remains division between developing and developed countries in addressing the Rio Declaration and the Stockholm Declaration.

The Co-Chairs’ para. CST 7 states: ‘We recall the Stockholm Declaration on the Human Environment, and the Rio Declaration on Environment and Development, and the principles contained therein, including the principle of common but differentiated responsibilities, which shall continue to guide the international community and provide the basis for implementation of agreed commitments and the actions set out in this declaration.’

Switzerland, Canada, US, Japan, New Zealand, EU asked to delete the reference to common but differentiated responsibilities (CBDR).

The formulation in para. 7 supported by the EU, Canada, Norway, ROK makes no specific reference to CBDR but ‘reaffirm … commitment to the fulfillment of all’ principles of the two Declarations. The US rejects that phrase.

The US prefers ‘recalling’ to ‘reaffirming’ and asked for the deletion of ‘shall’ in both formulations.

Switzerland liked the references to the declarations but does not want to ‘come back to them’ later in the text, and could also ‘live with’ recalling rather than reaffirming.

Australia and Turkey support ‘reaffirm’ rather than recall but did not oppose the CST text with ‘recall’.

The G77 prefer that the two declarations be in distinct paragraphs as in its original submission:

‘7. alt We reaffirm the Principles contained in the Rio Declaration on Environment and Development, including the principle of common but differentiated responsibilities. The Rio Principles shall continue to guide the international community and serve as the basis for cooperation, coherence and implementation of agreed commitments.

‘7. alt bis We recall the Stockholm Declaration on the Human Environment.’

Developed countries have so far not engaged directly with the G77 text.

With regard to CBDR, the G77 maintained that since this is one of the main principles of sustainable development it is appropriate to recognize it in any effort to achieve sustainable development.

The EU said that a reference to CBDR specifically was not needed as it was covered by para 7 and asked for elaboration of why it was included in particular parts. It thought it would be better to refer to CBDR in the context of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC).

(Since para. 7 will continue to be negotiated it is not certain that CBDR will be explicitly referenced in the final text.)

The US, Japan, Switzerland, New Zealand and Canada said it was not ‘appropriate’ to single out any one individual Rio principle.

With regard to Rio Principle 10 on public participation, access to information and access to judicial and administrative proceedings in para. 17 (sub-section II.C on ‘Engaging with major groups’), the G77 proposed language explicitly recognizing Rio Principle 10. It noted that it is particularly relevant to this section and the Group is open to referencing all Rio principles in appropriate paragraphs and encouraged other Member States to submit such references.

Canada and New Zealand asked for deletion of reference to principle 10, indicating that they ‘supported them all’ and did not want to single one out.

The US called for it to be deleted, noting that it supports ‘the concept of principle 10’ but did not feel the need to spend the extra five words on that phrase (‘in line with principle 10’).

In response to the US, the G77 noted that they were flexible on referencing the CBDR principle as ‘principle 7’ or via its content as the US appeared more comfortable accepting text that reflected the content of Rio principles.

Assessing progress and gaps in implementation

There were several countries that moved to delete any negative references to current progress, or to ‘gaps’ in the means of implementation, or to the possible need for greater resourcing for sustainable development.

The G77 proposed text in para. 10 bis that would recognize the need ‘to stop backtracking on previously undertaken international commitments’.

The G77 and the Russian Federation proposed the deletion of ‘leadership’ in para. 12 and asked for examples of such leadership in sustainable development to justify its inclusion. The US, Switzerland and Australia wanted its retention.

The US argued that the opening sections should be kept ‘positive’ and so wanted to focus on ‘progress’ alone and did not accept language around ‘back-tracking’. It said references to leadership were important in order to inspire more and that there were many local mayors who have made their cities more sustainable. Australia added that the proposed ‘compendium of commitments’ might bring out examples.

(Paras. 128 and 128alt contain proposals for a compendium of voluntary commitments from any interested party.)

The EU said they found such formulations ‘negative in tone’ and that they could not imagine Heads of States agreeing to meet in order to acknowledge a lack of implementation given the ‘amount of effort’ that has already been expended to achieve sustainable development (referring particularly to para 15 ter that opens with the sentence: ‘We recognize that there remain gaps in and lack of political commitment on the implementation of previously agreed commitments to Africa’s development needs that were made at major UN Summits and Conferences…’)

Switzerland preferred to keep the reference to ‘leadership’ as it is needed.

Japan found such language to be too negative.

In several paragraphs on the needs of particular groups of countries (para 15 – 15 quat), the text referred to challenges, support and gaps in the means of implementation. The G77 recognised that particularly the EU and the US are providing financial support but also emphasized that the section was intended to ‘assess gaps in implementation’ and that Member States needed to be respectful to this exercise, particularly as, for example, Africa was off-track on achieving the MDGs.

The EU questioned what type of efforts and support were required by these paragraphs and noted that ‘we cannot commit to the increase of financial flows for development.’ It could commit to other (non-financial) types of efforts but wanted them to be specified, noting that technical assistance still incurs financial costs. Japan shared this view.

The US proposed the deletion of any language that suggested commitments or obligations to provide support.

Thus in para. 15 the US, the EU and Canada asked to delete the phrase “significantly increase our efforts” with regard to support for small island developing states in implementing the Barbados Plan of Action and the Mauritius Strategy of Implementation.

The G77’s proposal in para. 13 sext contains a call to ‘reaffirm the urgent need to address the lack of proper regulation and monitoring of the financial sector, the overall lack of transparency and financial integrity, excessive risk taking, overleveraging and unsustainable patterns of consumption and production in developed countries’. The same paragraph also “reaffirm the need to continue working towards a new international economic order based on the principles of equity, sovereign equality, interdependence, common interest, cooperation and solidarity among all States.’

The US, New Zealand, Canada, EU, Switzerland wants a deletion of this paragraph.

Institutional framework for sustainable development (IFSD)

There was little progress in made on Section IV on IFSD. There remains considerable divergence among Member States on the paragraphs related to the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC), the Commission on Sustainable Development, the proposal for a Sustainable Development Council, UNEP and the proposal for a specialized agency on environment. As such there was no CST on paras 48 to 51 provided to Member States and an exchange of views took place last Friday (27 April) to seek more clarity and understanding among Member States.

In the course of the discussion, Co-Chair Ashe made some cautionary remarks. He said that some would prefer that Rio+20 be a conference on the environment. “I suppose there are pros and cons on both sides. But if it did we would be taking a step backward as Stockholm was about environment but Rio was about sustainable development so if there was an undue focus on strengthening one pillar at the expense of the other two then we are doing nothing but paying lip service to integration when really we’re just looking at environment,” he said.

Ashe further said that, “There are proposals looking at doing something at ECOSOC, the General Assembly or IFIs (international financial institutions) but I think the proverbial gorilla in the room is that this is all about the environment and it ought not to be.”

In summing up the week’s work, Ashe said that the general understanding is that we are engaged in a dual exercise. First, strengthening the environment pillar of sustainable development and we have ideas on how, can and should. There seems to be a strong call to do something about UNEP – the call is upgrade, strengthen or change it to a different organization; the point is something needs to be done on the environment pillar based on the discussions.

Secondly, Member States are also looking at institutional arrangements for sustainable development as a whole and this needs looking at current structures. Ashe stressed that at the end of the day what we are seeking to do is integrate all three pillars of sustainable development.

He added that unspoken are that we should have a coherent structure, one that does not neglect the fact that coordination is needed at all levels and so we don’t repeat mistakes of the past. We need to monitor and review also comes to mind.

[The following paragraphs have also been agreed ad referendum in last week’s informal negotiations:

Para. 21: We stress the importance of the participation of indigenous peoples in the achievement of sustainable development. We also recognize the importance of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples in the context of global, regional, national, and sub-national implementation of sustainable development strategies.

Para. Pre 59: We acknowledge the importance of the regional dimension of sustainable development. Regional frameworks can complement and facilitate effective translation of global policies into concrete action at national level.]