Update on Sustainable Development Conference 2012 (Jun12/07)
Third World Network
and also attached (as word file) please find a South Centre briefing
paper on Rio+20 Summit: The Key Issues. It summarises the key issues
that are being negotiated at the UN Conference on Sustainable Development
that is taking place in Rio (Brazil), twenty years after the historic
Earth Summit of 1992.
heads of governments and states are attending the Summit on 20-22
June. However the negotiations for the outcome documents are already
taking place, having started on 13 June morning.
hope you find this paper useful
Khor, Executive Director, South Centre
SUMMIT: THE KEY ISSUES
Director, South Centre
biggest international event this year is the UN Conference on Sustainable
Development or Rio+20 on 20-22 June. It was meant to celebrate the
Earth Summit of 1992, to reaffirm the political commitments made then,
and to come up with up-to-date action plans to counter the crises
which have become much more serious than 20 years ago.
the negotiations to produce an outcome document got bogged down with
new concepts, especially the ‘green economy’, and now the developed
countries appear reluctant to a simple reaffirmation of the original
Rio equity principle, or to re-commit to provide finance and technology
big breakthrough to tackle the world’s environmental and economic
crises is now beyond the reach of the Rio+20 Summit. But it can still
be a success if it reaffirms old commitments and launches new processes
to strengthen institutions and to initiate new goals and action plans.
This article summarises the key issues that are being fought over
and that will have to be resolved at Rio+20.
Earth Summit in Rio in 1992 (known officially as the UN Conference
on Environment and Development) was a landmark event which launched
“Sustainable Development” as an internationally accepted concept .
problems would be seen in relation to and in the context of the development
needs of developing countries. Sustainable development would have
three pillars or dimensions – economic, social and environmental.
Rio Principles, adopted after marathon negotiating sessions, achieved
the integration of environment, development and equity elements. There
were environmental principles such as precautionary and polluter pays,
development principles like the right to development, and equity principles
like the common but differentiated responsibilities.
Commission on Sustainable Development was set up to follow through
on Rio 92. It did well initially but it had a design flaw – it meets
only 2 to 3 weeks in a year and has too small a Secretariat. That
has proven to be far too weak institutionally to address sustainable
development’s three pillars. As crisis after crisis hit the world,
the CSD was too weak to rise to the challenge.
years later, diplomats and political leaders meet again at Rio+20.,
known officially as the UN Conference on Sustainable Development.
Diplomats will finish the negotiations on 13-15 June (and if not they
may be continue their negotiations or take part in informal consultations)
to conclude an outcome document, that will be an action plan for the
four days, 16-19 June, there will be Sustainable Development Dialogues
on ten themes, the summaries of which will be presented to the heads
of government and state that are to attend the Summit proper, on 20-22
on the sidelines of these official events will be the People’s Summit
and other activities of social movements and NGOs, that will attract
many thousands of people. But some feel these are not the sidelines
or side events after all. They may be the real thing, the getting
together of civil society that can change the existing order, rather
than the stuffy events going on inside the Rio Conference Centre.
is a general sense of disappointment that the official Summit will
not deliver an Earth-shaking or game-changing outcome, or even an
earth-saving one. The crises after 1992 – environmental and economic
-- have grown bigger and more serious, this time posing real threats
to the economy and to Earth as well.
the solutions have not been found in the 20 years after Rio 1992.
And, seeing the way the official negotiations have gone, there may
not be any major breakthrough either in Rio+20.
neither should Rio+20 be a failure. If it cannot announce any breakthroughs,
it can at least initiate new processes that can lead to stronger institutions
and new methods of tackling the world’s crises.
this to happen, trust has to be rebuilt by reaffirming the principles
and action framework of Rio 92. The commitments made on providing
finance and technology transfer to developing countries have to be
renewed and made relevant to the present needs. Action plans for various
subjects should be endorsed. A commitment to bring about new or at
least stronger institutions has to be made. And agreement has to be
reached on the new issues that has taken a lot of the energy and time
of the Conference preparation – the green economy and sustainable
development goals (SDGs).
following is a short summary of the key issues at Rio+20, and the
differing views on them.
REAFFIRMING THE POLITICAL COMMITMENTS?
developing countries, a “must” in Rio is reaffirming the Rio principles,
especially the common but differentiated responsibilities (CBDR),
which brings equity in the centre of the obligations to save the
world. All have the duty to take environmental action, but developed
countries (due to their role in contributing to much of the pollution,
emissions and resource depletion, and to their higher economic standing)
have the leading role in reducing their own environmental impact,
and in providing finance and technology transfer to developing countries
to move towards sustainable development paths. Failure to fully
reaffirm these principles is taken to be a retreat by the North
from the global understanding of the environment-development nexus.
countries are showing reluctance to update their endorsement of
CBDR. Most of them only want a reference to reaffirming the Rio
Principles but not have a special mention of CBDR. One or two countries
don’t even want any mention of CBDR. They want developing countries
(except perhaps the poorest) to take on similar obligations as the
of CBDR references would make developing countries reluctant to
take on new concepts that may imply new obligations, such as green
economy and SDGs. They are also worried that with the removal of
the equity principle, the basis for international cooperation and
for development assistance is threatened, with major consequences
for future North-South relations.
THE GREEN ECONOMY: WHAT IT IS, WHAT IT IS NOT?
this topic was placed on the agenda of Rio+20 as one of two priority
issues, few if any officials of developing countries had knowledge
of its meaning in international negotiating terms. Much of the energy
of the process has gone into defining what it is not and what it
is. Although the “green economy has been a concept in academic circles,
it is still a new term in international diplomacy.
countries are concerned that the ‘green economy’ will replace ‘sustainable
development’ as the key paradigm in the environment-development
nexus, with the loss of the Rio 92 consensus on the three pillars
and the international commitments on finance and technology. They
are also worried that the term may be misused as grounds for trade
protection, loan/aid conditionality and new obligations on developing
countries. They have thus been reluctant to give high status to
the green economy term, insisting it is one of several concepts
and tools that can be used to achieve sustainable development, and
that it should not be used as policy prescription or a new international
policy framework. They have thus tried to reduce the role of the
green economy in the outcome document, which should state the principles
or elements, and that each country should make use of the concept
as a tool in its own way.
developed countries believe the green economy is a new important
concept that can lead to changes in the way economies are organized.
For example, greening the economy through government spending on
environmental programmes such as clean energy and the creation of
“green jobs” was seen as an important element for fiscal stimulus
packages to counter the economic crisis. From this national use
of ‘green economy’, some countries, especially in Europe, wanted
Rio to endorse a UN green economy roadmap with environmental goals,
targets and deadlines. However this faced resistance from developing
countries and a few other developed countries.
negotiations are still intense on the meaning of what a green economy
is, and how the term could be used and should not be used. The roadmap
idea has diminished, with the green economy goals transferred to
the sections on sectoral actions, and to the SDGs. However the green
economy will remains a hotly contested issue in Rio.
SUSTAINABLE DEVELOPMENT GOALS (SDGs)
is also a “new issue” in that it was not in the terms of reference
in the General Assembly resolution that gave the mandate for Rio+20.
It was proposed last year mainly by Colombia, and many saw it as
a kind of alternative to the Green Economy roadmap. It has now gathered
steam and is expected to be one of the key “deliverables” in Rio.
developing countries have accepted SDGs as a concept and an operational
tool. They have engaged in putting forward principles and elements
that should frame the SDGs. A key principle should be common but
differentiated responsibilities, so that any obligations arising
from the SDG process would be treated with in an equitable manner.
The G77 and China also want the three pillars (social, economic,
environment) to be represented in a balanced way in terms of selected
goals, and they are concerned that the EU has put forward only environment
will launch a post-Rio process to decide on the goals and their
details, since it is too late to come up with a definitive list.
However, most developed countries, especially the EU, want a selected
number of SDGs to be listed as priority goals, and to have some
details if possible, so that Rio+20 can have some tangible results.
They proposed the areas of energy, water, oceans, resource efficiency,
land and ecosystems (including forests) and insist on having them
in a list of “indicative” priority issues. The EU also proposed
having many goals with target years in the texts on sectoral actions.
However, the G77 and China do not want to mention any issues, since
any list of SDGs have to have balance among the three pillars and
there has not been mature discussion yet on how to select SDGs or
how many there should be. It is critical of developed countries
for only mentioning environment goals. It has refrained from naming
any issues of its own.
key contested area is the nature of the SDG post-Rio process at
the UN. Developed countries want the UN Secretary General to take
charge of a process for experts to come up with the SDGs, whereas
the G77 and China want the governments to drive the process and
decide on the SDGs, so that whatever goals are selected are decided
on by the governments, while inputs can be given by the UNSG and
the SDGs and the post-Rio process will relate to the MDGs and the
post-2015 development agenda process is another issue. The “development
community” has already started discussion on the follow up to the
MDGs, and do not want a decision on SDGs to pre-empt the development
agenda. Many developing countries are worried that a high status
given to SDGs at summit level may marginalize the MDG-linked development
agenda. Thus, how the SDGs and MDGs and their processes interface
will have to be sensitively handled.
INSTITUTIONAL FRAMEWORK FOR SUSTAINABLE DEVELOPMENT (IFSD)
is perhaps the most important issue because it is the lack of strong
institutions dedicated to sustainable development that has enabled
other agendas (such as WTO and bilateral trade and investment agreements,
and deregulation and liberalization of finance) to have precedence
over the environment and social development.
is agreement that the Commission on Sustainable Development has
been too weak and needs to be transformed into a more powerful body
such as a Sustainable Development Council (proposed by EU, Norway,
Switzerland) which meets more regularly and has more authority.
The G77 and China has proposed a high-level political forum on sustainable
development with annual Ministerial meetings, and with terms of
reference to be decided on after Rio. There is also broad agreement
that ECOSOC should be strengthened to take on the challenge of sustainable
development. The negotiators have had matured discussions on the
functions of an institutional framework, and in Rio the form will
be intensely debated.
is also broad agreement that UNEP has to be strengthened, with universal
membership in a governing council, and more resources, and a bigger
role in having some coordination among the large number of environment
agreements. However there is an on-going dispute as to whether UNEP
should become a UN specialized agency (which is strongly advocated
by European countries and by Africa) or retain its status as a programme
but be strengthened (which most other countries prefer).
THE MEANS OF IMPLEMENTATION (FINANCE AND TECHNOLOGY TRANSFER): RE-COMMITING
TO SUPPORTING THE SOUTH OR A RETREAT FROM RIO 92?
means of implementation (MOI) was a centerpiece of Rio 1992. Developing
countries successfully argued that they could switch to environmentally
sound development paths only if there was financial and technology-transfer
support from developed countries. This was a much fought over
area in 1992 and is shaping to be an equally hotly contested issue
developing countries insist that Rio+20 should at least renew the
original commitments of developed countries to provide new and
additional financial resources, and that once again they
pledge to make efforts to meet the aid target of 0.7% of their GNP.
However even these minimal aspects are being resisted by some developed
countries, especially US and Canada.
G77 and China has proposed that developed countries provide new
sustainable development funding to developing countries, at least
US$30 bil a year in 2013-17 and US$100 bil a year from 2018 onwards,
and to set up a sustainable development fund. Actually this is not
a new or big demand, since in 1992 the UNCED secretariat estimated
that the Agenda 21 programmes would cost at least $600 bil a year
for developing countries to implement, and that they should obtain
new international funding of $100 bil a year. The developed countries
have however objected to the G77/China proposals of figures or a
technology transfer, the situation is equally bleak. All
major developed countries have objected to reaffirming the 1992
commitments to provide technology transfer on concessional and preferential
terms to developing countries. For Rio+20, they have even objected
to the term “technology transfer” in the title of the technology
section. And if they propose to use “voluntary transfer of technology
on mutually agreed terms” which implies sale of equipment on commercial
terms, which is opposite to the technology transfer concept. Even
mild language to have a balanced approach to IPRs has been rejected,
as has the concept of enhanced access by developing countries to
environmentally sound technology.
developing countries agree to new concepts like green economy and
sustainable development goals, which carry the prospect and implication
of new obligations, if there is no longer even the promise of international
support, and if there is a retreat from and denouncement of the
original global pact of 1992? This is one of the big issues that
Rio+20 may have to confront.
IN RIO: WHAT WOULD IT TAKE?
successful outcome from Rio would include:
reaffirmation of the original Rio principles and commitments adopted
20 years ago in the original Rio Summit. At the least this would
mean that the political leaders and especially the developed countries
are not retreating or backtracking from what they agreed all these
years ago. The most important Rio principle that needs reaffirming
is the common but differentiated responsibilities, which means that
the developed countries agree they have to do much more in terms
of reducing pollution and emissions and in their use of natural
resources, and that they have to provide finance and technology
to developing countries, so that every country has the means to
move towards sustainable development pathways.
recognition that the crises in environment and economy are even
more serious today than 20 years ago, and adoption of new commitments
by the political leaders that are adequate enough to tackle these
crises in a systemic and systematic way.
agreement to significantly strengthen the institutions for addressing
sustainable development in a serious and adequate manner. The present
UN Commission on Sustainable Development showed early promise but
turned out to be too weak as it only meets 2 to 3 weeks in a year,
and it has a small secretariat. It has to be radically reformed
or else transformed into a new Council or Forum on Sustainable Development
which can meet the challenges thrown up by the global crises in
the three dimensions – environmental, economic and social. Meetings
must be scheduled regularly, and not just for a few weeks, and the
secretariat must become a strong organisation with more staff and
dynamism. The Rio summit should adopt a decision to have this strong
institution to and launch a process to determine the details. The
UNEP meanwhile should be given a mandate to strengthen its organization
and operations, with more resources, so that it can work more effectively
to build a strong environment pillar.
must be clear commitments to support developing countries to take
on more responsibilities in addressing environment, economic and
social problems. Thus the summit cannot backtrack on the “means
of implementation.” There should be a re-commitment to new and additional
financial resources for sustainable development, and to technology
transfer on concessional and preferential terms, as was committed
20 years ago in Rio and on many other occasions since then.
Summit should launch a process to decide on and flesh out sustainable
development goals. However the goals should also be backed up by
concrete action plans, with details on the financing and technology
transfer aspects to implement these plans. The SDGs should interface
properly with the post-2015 MDGs process. Meanwhile there should
be a strong implementation plan for the actions recommended in the
section on sectoral issues in the outcome document.