Update on Sustainable Development Conference 2012 (Apr12/13)
New York, 29 April (Chee Yoke Ling) – The second and last round of informal negotiations on the draft outcome document for the June UN Conference on Sustainable Development (Rio+20) inched forward with continuing differences between developing and developed countries over key issues that define the future of international development cooperation.
By the end of the first of two weeks of the “informal informal consultations” held at the UN headquarters New York (23 April to 4 May) the 270-page document had been shortened by 121 pages, but sharp divergence remained with regard to the treatment of the Rio Principles, green economy in the context of sustainable development and poverty eradication, sustainable development goals, the institutional framework for sustainable development and the means of implementation.
At the end of the first reading of the document last March, Member States had added proposals and made amendments to the zero draft document prepared by the UN Department of Economic and Social Department acting as the Conference Secretariat. The Rio+20 Preparatory Committee Co-Chairs John Ashe (Antigua and Barbuda) and Kim Sook (Republic of Korea) subsequently formulated “Co-Chairs’ Suggested Text” in an attempt to streamline paragraphs that show promise of convergence.
The G77 and China (G77) had requested in March that when the informal negotiations resume on 23 April, it will be on the basis of the compilation document as it stood on 27 March with the additions of 28 March and that this status be preserved as the document produced by Member States.
the reading of Section 2 of the document was not completed on 27 March
the Co-Chairs had allowed for further inputs to be made online by 28
The text has 3 components: text in red that is the original zero draft outcome document of January 2012, text in black that are the compilation text of proposals of Member States and amendments to the red text (as of 28 March), and text in blue that are the Co-Chairs Suggested Text drawn from the black text (as of 17 April).
The current negotiation session is conducted in two parallel groups, with Kim chairing Working Group 1 on Sections III and V. and Ashe chairing Working Group 2 on Sections I, II and IV. The co-chairs will swap in the second week starting 30 April.
With regard to the basis of negotiations, at the opening plenary on 23 April, Ashe conveyed the Co-Chairs’ strong call for Member States to work on the basis of the Chairs’ Suggested Text (CST), stressing the need for urgency with only 13 negotiating days left. Ashe said that, “We do not have the time to sit back and put text on the table. We have exhausted that possibility and now should be ready to engage in serious negotiations. We don’t have much time left and so be ready to come and compromise.”
G77 reiterated its position that negotiations be based on the compilation based on the zero draft outcome document text in the intergovernmental process. While it was willing to consider the CST to speed up the process, the Group preferred to engage on the basis of its submissions (that reflected the position of more than 130 Member States). This is particularly so with regard to the sections on green economy and sustainable development goals. Through the first week, developed countries worked from the CST but some of them reinserted considerable text from their own previous proposals.
At the stock-take plenary session late last Friday afternoon, it was agreed that negotiations will continue in the format of two Working Groups on the basis of the compilation text as of 6 pm, 27 April. Member States agreed that the Co-Chairs should play a more active role in the second week in moving the pace of the negotiations, including suggesting compromise text on the floor for Member States to consider. There was no consensus on the possibility of a contact group to deal with some paragraphs.
Below is an overview of the state of play of some key issue in the negotiation document as of 6 pm, 27 April. This is the text that will be negotiated in earnest over the week of 30 April.
The title of the draft outcome document – ‘The Future We Want’ – has been agreed ad referendum i.e. provisionally agreed with no bracketed text and subject to the whole outcome document being agreed to.
Working Group 1 managed to agree on 10 thematic sub-titles and the title of Section V.C (‘Means of Implementation’). In Working Group 2, six paragraphs were agreed ad referendum (see separate article on “Slow progress on renewing political commitment, gaps assessment”).
Rio Principles, especially common but differentiated responsibilities
Over the last week in both Working Groups, most developed countries continued to dilute the references to the Rio Declaration on Environment and Development that contains the internationally agreed 27 principles that frame sustainable development commitments made at the 1992 UN Summit and since then. Several developed countries prefer “recalling” rather than “reaffirming” the principles. In a green economy paragraph the United States, New Zealand and Canada introduced “should be guided by, as appropriate by” the principles. Japan preferred “should be based on” instead of “in accordance with”
There is opposition to proposals by the G77 to refer specifically to Rio Principle 7 of “common but differentiated responsibilities” (CBDR) in several parts of the outcome document, with developed countries maintaining that there should be no singling out of any principle. In response to this, the G77 reiterated that while it supported all the Rio principles, there was an appropriate place and context for the reference to the CBDR principle in specific parts of the draft outcome document.
The distinction between developed and developing countries that characterize international cooperation in the field of development is also being redrawn. This is most evident in the position of the European Union where references to “developing countries” in many parts of the negotiation document is replaced by “least developed countries” or “vulnerable groups and the poorest countries”.
Developed countries also seek to remove particular references to developing countries in other parts on the ground that the content applies to developed countries, too. While this may be true, the rejection of references to CBDR that is also taking place would result in back-tracking by developed countries of their commitments on means of implementation for developing countries to shift to sustainable development, as well as their commitment to take the lead in changing consumption and production patterns.
Expectations on the role of private corporations, market mechanisms and public-private partnerships are reflected in the proposals of developed countries throughout the document especially in the sections on green economy and framework for action (that includes thematic/cross-sectoral issues, sustainable development goals and means of implementation). Several key paragraphs propose incentives for corporations leading a number of observers to wonder if the ‘polluter pays’ principle recognized in Rio Principle 16 was being reversed to a ‘pay polluter’ principle.
Insertion of the term “science-based” in the draft outcome document also raised concerns that in several contexts this could weaken the precautionary approach (Where there are threats of serious or irreversible damage, lack of full scientific certainty shall not be used as a reason for postponing const-effective measures to prevent environmental degradation: Rio Principle 15).
The right to development, according to Rio Principle 3 “must be fulfilled so as to equitably meet developmental and environmental needs of present and future generations”. This is challenged by the US that argues that rights are for individuals and development is a process.
Specific references to Principle 10 on public participation, access to information and access to judicial and administrative processes in relation to the environment were rejected by the US, Canada and New Zealand on the ground that there should not be singling out of any principle.
The relevance of the Rio Declaration was recently reaffirmed by the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Ms. Navanethem Pillay, in a letter dated 30 March 2012 to all ambassadors to the UN in New York, in which she made a strong plea for the full integration of key human rights considerations in the Rio+20 outcome document.
She stressed that, “the (Rio) Declaration is thoroughly infused with human rights considerations essential to sustainable development. Its 27 principles put human beings and their right to a healthy and productive life at the centre of concerns for sustainable development. It specifically invoked the right to development, called for action to reduce disparities in standards of living, affirmed the role of women, indigenous peoples and local communities in sustainable development, and called for the protection of people living under repression and occupation. It emphasized the meaningful participation of people, called for access to information, and to remedies and redress. It addressed liability for perpetrators, compensation for victims, and legal development to ensure extra-territorial accountability. And it called for the use of impact assessments to avoid harm in the first place. In sum, the Rio Declaration integrated human rights in its approach to sustainable development.”
Green economy in the context of poverty eradication and sustainable development
The divergence between developed and developing countries with regard to the green economy section remains unchanged. This can be seen from the title of Section III. The G77 has proposed the “Framing the context of the green economy, challenges and opportunities as well as other approaches, visions and models of sustainable development and poverty eradication”. The CST option is “Green Economy in the context of sustainable development and poverty eradication”. Japan, Norway, EU, US, Switzerland and the Republic of Korea support “Overview”.
In the discussion on this section on 23 April, the G77 said that the CST text had not reflected its views and positions and reiterated that the Group’s overriding priority is eradicating poverty and sustainable development. Green economy is one of many possible tools (and should be reflected in the title of the section) and it is up to each State to decide on the risks and costs of each option and that market based growth strategies are insufficient.
It has proposed text to “affirm that green economy policies in the context of sustainable development and poverty eradication shall be in accordance with the Rio Principles, in particular the principle of common but differentiated responsibilities.” It also stressed that internationally agreed goals shall include MDGs.
G77 said the section should set out what the green economy should and should not be, and include: reducing inequality; social policies; a leading role for the State; sustainable consumption and production based on equity and historical responsibility of developed countries; adequate means of implementation; create new opportunities for employment and decent work; re-establish harmony with nature.
It asked for deletion of many of the CST paragraphs and proposed consideration of its previous proposed text.
A ‘non-paper’ of the European Commission dated 4 April clearly states the EU’s position: “Rio+20 should accelerate the world-wide transition towards a green and inclusive economy. It is important to work towards tangible outcomes at Rio, and to aim at governments agreeing to a common roadmap for action. The EU has consistently argued that a green economy roadmap with specific goals, targets and actions at international level, including timetables Rio+20 should be one of the main outcomes of the Conference. The obvious risk is that unfocused statements and agreements will not deliver the changes needed for sustainable development.”
There are 5 key areas that the non-paper identified as “key elements of the green economy roadmap” viz. water; oceans and marine environment; sustainable land management and ecosystems (including forests); sustainable energy; and resource efficiency in particular waste. The goals and targets set out do not differentiate between the responsibilities of developed and developing countries.
The EC speaking on behalf of the EU and its member states announced these 5 key areas in the discussion on 24 April on Section V.A on the framework for action (priority/thematic/cross-cutting issues and areas) stressing the need for goals and targets to be included in the outcome document – see below.
It was clear from last week’s tabling of text amendments/additions by the EU that its green economy roadmap is being woven into Section III on green economy itself, Section V.A and Section V.B on accelerating and measuring progress (that includes SDGs).
The Republic of Korea, supported by Norway and the EU, acknowledged different approaches, visions and models to eradicate poverty and achieve sustainable development but preferred a positive tone to the text and that green economy is an “important tool” for achieving sustainable development. The EU proposed text that green economy is an “essential” tool for this purpose.
Without much attention the issue of hierarchy between international trade rules and multilateral environmental agreements also came up last week. In the discussion on para. CST 31 the phrase “consistent with international trade rules” was in the CST. Norway asked for deletion of the phrase as this may imply a hierarchy between the 2 sets of rules.
Sustainable development goals (SDGs)
The January 2012 zero draft of the outcome document (section V.B on Accelerating and measuring progress) covered SDGs in paras. 105 to 110. Para. 111 addressed the limitations of GDP as a measure of well-being and sustainable growth. Despite the working title of Section V.B all but para. 111 deals with SDGs.
Discussion on SDGs took place in Working Group 1 on Thursday night (26 April) with enthusiasm expressed by the EU, Norway and Liechtenstein with observations that SDGs could be a potential key outcome for Rio+20.
The Group of 77 and China urged caution and maintained its position that the first step must be an agreement on the principles to guide SDGs and the process for formulating the goals. The process must be intergovernmental, and inclusive, transparent and open-ended and be under the General Assembly, in contrast to the EU that supports a process led by the UN Secretary-General. Co-Chair Kim welcomed the “extraordinary high level of interest shown on SDGs”.
The US, Canada, New Zealand have reserved their position on the entire section to further consider the proposals.
Pakistan speaking on behalf of G77 said the Group is open to the concept (of SDGs) and the idea of formulating SDGs and that this must be guided by certain principles (the Group has earlier submitted a list of 16 principles and characteristics). The process must be intergovernmental, inclusive, transparent and open-ended and be under the General Assembly.
(Many developing countries are concerned that SDGs may undermine the the Millennium Development Goals with their 2015 deadline; accordingly one of the principles of the G77 is that SDGs must build upon and complement the MDGs and renew and strengthen commitments towards their achievement.)
It said that in many ways MDGs have been a tool and galvanised development but in many parts of the world they have not been sufficiently fulfilled.
The Group proposed amendments to the Co-Chairs’ Suggested Text (CST) para. 105. Noting that the MDGs have impacted development and will be reviewed in 2015 the G77 preferred to state that “We acknowledge that as a tool the MDGs have played a vital role as part of a broad development vision and framework for the development activities of the United Nations.”
This would replace the CST text that MDGs “have generated real and important development gains and have played a vital role …”
In a separate paragraph 105 alt 1 bis the G77 retained text that stated, “We are deeply concerned that most LDCs, SIDS and African countries remain off-track due to the absence of resources in achieving most of the MDGs by 2015 and beyond.”
G77 (supported by Mexico) asked for retention of its para. 105 alt 1 sept that contains the 16 principles and characteristics to guide SDGs.
In proposing that the Rio+20 conference itself establishes a process for SDGs in CST para. 106, the G77 said it believes that the participation of such an important process must galvanise the whole of the UN and entities beyond what we know as the UN. Much as it deeply values the role of the UN Secretary-General in this process, the establishment of the process and the process itself must be intergovernmental. Much as we value the contribution and role of the Secretary-General and other UN agencies, the central focus in establishing this process must be intergovernmental.
Colombia supported the G77 statement, and emphasized the importance of the MDGs. It said, “As you know we have been holding consultations over the SDGs over the past 16 months. But there is one issue where there is absolutely no difference – the importance of the MDGs – and the need for them to be implemented by 2015 and beyond. It is important to highlight this.”
Colombia added that, “If one of the greatest concerns is what will happen to the MDGs, then this is one of the platforms that we can build upon; the strong lesson from the MDGs is that they can unite us and that we can once again work together (through SDGs).”
The EU said it was struck that despite differences in the discussion that was started more than a year ago SDGs are (now) one of the most important parts; we need to make this discussion one we can conduct in a spirit of common purpose. It said the EU is committed to a strong action oriented outcome with goals, targets and actions and that it was “very encouraged by what we have heard already today”.
to para. CST 105 the EU (supported by the Republic of Korea) added the
following opening sentence: “We emphasize that Sustainable Development
Goals (SDGs) as well as an inclusive Green Economy in the context of
Sustainable Development and Poverty Eradication and an enhanced Institutional
Framework for Sustainable Development are important elements for progress.
In another paragraph the EU made amendments and proposed that, “SDGs should also give due consideration to cross-cutting issues including good governance, social inclusion, equity, gender equality and women’s empowerment as well as to the means of implementation, especially for the most vulnerable groups and the poorest countries.”
G77 has asked for deletion of this paragraph and others that prescribe details on the SDGs arguing that principles and a process for SDGs must first be established.
(Several developing country delegates have informally expressed concerns that the goals and targets that the EU and other developed countries propose are not balanced in terms of the 3 pillars of sustainable development and that it is premature to list priority areas at this point.)
In contrast to the G77 proposal the EU tabled this text on the process issue: “We request the UN Secretary General to launch and coordinate a process to elaborate SDGs, which will include reporting to the UN General Assembly, drawing on expert advice and evidence. This process should be inclusive, transparent, and open to the participation of all relevant stakeholders, as well as fully coordinated and coherent with the process considering the post-2015 framework.”
Switzerland and the Republic of Korea supported the EU proposal that gives the lead to the UN Secretary General. Norway also supported with an addition, that Member States adopt the SDGs.
The EU supported by Switzerland, New Zealand and Australia favours an indicative list of key priority areas for the SDGs to be included in the outcome document (CST 107). The G77 and the US want the paragraph deleted.
There is also a paragraph (CST 109) supported by the EU, Norway, Republic of Korea, Switzerland, the US, New Zealand and Mexico that provides for appropriate indicators to measure and specific targets to evaluate/assess progress towards the SDGs. Some countries want to request the Secretary General to provide proposals in this regard, and to periodically report on progress. Views differ on who the reporting should be made too. Again, G77 wants deletion of this paragraph.
Switzerland, in supporting the SDGs said that this is one of the most important potential deliverables off the Conference, adding that one of the principles should be CBDR. It strongly endorsed what Colombia had said: it does not see SDGs as an instrument to divert or weaken the MDGs. The MDGs will end in 2015 so we wish to strengthen them.
Japan joined a few others to thank Colombia for promoting the idea of SDGs, saying that concrete actions should be promoted for achieving SDGs and also to provide for the post-2015 (development) framework. It observed a growing understanding that SDGs will complement the MDGs.
It said, however, that para. CST 109 on indicators for measuring goals and evaluation by specific targets may be “premature”.
Norway said that SDGs could be a key outcome of Rio as a reflection of renewed political will. Our ambition must be higher than launching a process; it must be a mandate for further elaboration of SDGs.
Para. CST 111 addresses the limitations of GDP as a measure of well-being and sustainable growth, and proposes the development of accounting methods for natural capital and social well-being as a complement to measuring GDP for national level use. There are divergent views on this.
The G77 asked for deletion of the paragraph, stating that as important as it looks, this issue requires considerable work.
Mexico proposed alternative text as follows: “We decide to give a mandate to the UN Statistical Commission to identify appropriate consensual statistical indicators with the aim of measuring progress in the achievement of SDGs on the basis of the current economic and environmental accounting.”
The US also proposed its own alternative: “Recognising that appropriate indicators for measuring progress on all dimensions of sustainable development may be lacking, we underline the importance of developing methods for better measuring sustainability and social well-being that would provide a framework for assessing progress, encouraging transparency and accountability, and informing policy decisions.”
Framework of action and follow up
The EU announced last week that its member states have identified 5 key areas on which goals and targets have been developed: water; oceans and marine environment; sustainable land management and ecosystems (including forests); sustainable energy; and resource efficiency in particular waste.
The European Commission speaking for the EU and its Member States said, “We cannot satisfy ourselves by making general statements, we want decisions backed by concrete goals and targets for the years to come.”
As a means of “illustration” the EU proceeded to propose the following additions:
After para. CST pre 64 quint: “We therefore set the following goal: Restore land and soil quality to good conditions and manage land and soil resources sustainably ensuring that food production can meet growing demand, and ensure that, in line with the CBD's (Convention on Biological Diversity) Strategic Plan vision, biodiversity is valued, conserved, restored and wisely used and that ecosystem services are maintained.”
After para. CST 64 bis: “We therefore set the following target: By 2020, achieve an increase of access of smallholder farmers, especially women in rural areas to agricultural credits, training, capacity building, knowledge transfer and innovative practices.”
After para. CST 64 quat: “We therefore set the following targets: By 2020, increase public and private investment in sustainable agriculture and agri-food chains and ensure that sustainable agriculture and agro-forestry systems are fully integrated in national agriculture policies, in poverty-reduction strategies, in research and innovation planning, and in investment decisions.”
These illustrative goal and targets are contained in the ‘non-paper’ of the European Commission dated 4 April that explicitly establishes the EU position that a common green economy roadmap with specific goals, targets and actions at international level including timetables should be one of the main outcomes of the Rio Conference.
The EU said that it is not looking for binding goals and targets but that these goals would be ‘aspirational’. However, this opens the door to timelines without the assurance of the application of the Rio Principles especially CBDR for the targets concerned. These and other substantive provisions also need to be read with the proposal in Section IV (Institutional framework for sustainable development) on voluntary periodic review.
The G77 in its response said the EU is asking for focus on specific things and specific sectors (goals, targets etc.) and we in G77 are of course as creative – the only one difference in our approach to goals, targets that we want is that it would be prudent if we want to go down this road, to not restrict to certain issues and themes. We should instead look for financing to implement. It asked for costing on the transition to a green economy. In that sense I am looking forward to some kind of tabulation from the Secretariat on the costing of the green economy. How much of the target can we meet with the financial resources available?
In light of the G77 reaction the EU said it was a “misunderstanding” and withdrew its illustrative goals and targets, proposing instead that the following text remain in the compilation: “We therefore set the following goal …” and “We therefore set the following target(s) …” in the 3 paragraphs mentioned above.
(The door has thus been open for goals and targets without at this point a consensus on the principles that would govern any of the Rio+20 outcomes, the CBDR being the most crucial.)
Switzerland supported the EU proposal of having concrete goals, targets and actions. It cited the 2002 Johannesburg Plan of Implementation where we had concrete goals and targets there to follow up. So we consider it very important to have those concrete goals, targets and actions.
A noteworthy development is in the thematic part on ‘Forests’ in Section V.A, where the G77 has asked for deletion of all references to ‘ecosystem services’ and ‘valuation’ due apparently to concerns among some of its members over the potential ‘commodification’ and ‘financialisation’ of forests.+