Update on the Rio+20 Negotiations
The distance between the official UN Conference on Sustainable Development (or CSD, where heads of state, corporate stakeholders and NGOs convened this week) and the People’s Summit (an official venue for grassroots solutions) mandated between a one and two and a half-hour commute, which prohibited any meaningful dialogue between the two spaces. There were—literally and figuratively—several mountains between the two summits.
The final text for heads of state to consider makes no commitments, as evidenced by word counts. “We will” was used five times whereas “we support” was used 99 times.
It was continuously stated by the U.S., Canada, and other powerful countries that this is “not a pledging conference,” thus setting the tone for negotiations throughout the week and lowering expectations for outcomes.
In fact, it was heavily reported by the Brazilian media that the emphasis on negotiating the text was diminished by proximity to the G20 meeting where member states preferred to make financial commitments among a smaller group of states with more powerful economies. However, this shift in focus replicates historically imbalanced power dynamics, further deepening the divide between the G20 and G77 and undermining the democratic process represented by full UN participation.
Numerous promising ideas were proposed in the draft text only to be bracketed and eventually deleted in the negotiating process due to lack of consensus and pressure from vested interests, including:
- regulation that would curb speculation in food;
- a financial transactions tax which could contribute to poverty eradication and climate change adaptation and mitigation;
- clear deadlines for ending fossil fuel subsidies.
The core of the problem is that the text was an elaborate process in agreeing on language that merely states the current problems embedded in sustainable development and poverty eradication but says nothing about implementation of solutions or commitments to action.
While the end result includes a clear reaffirmation of the 1992 Rio Principles and Agenda 21 (which contain the important and controversial concepts of common but differentiated responsibility, precautionary principle and polluter pays), months were spent arguing over principles that were already established 20 years ago.
The CSD was thoroughly stamped with corporate marketing by Coca-Cola, Petrobas, and others, while key panelist positions were given to Nestlé, Aquafed, Unilever, Dow Chemical, and other major corporations in UN-hosted events.
By our rough count in the text, the concept of “public sector” was mentioned 11 times in comparison to the “private sector” being mentioned 20 times. Clearly this is an indication of priorities.
The big threat beyond the text is the trend of natural capital accounting to monetize natural resources and add it to national accounts. This effort is being pushed primarily by the banks and supported by the World Bank, the EU, the UK, and Brazil. A new initiative was launched in Rio by multinational banks, the international financial institutions (IFIs) WWF, Conservation International and others.
A working group of 30 representatives from the five UN regions will be established at the 67th UNGA to define Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The SDGs will be another battleground for fending off the financialization of natural resources.
The human right to water and sanitation was reaffirmed in the final text and we can now say that there is full global consensus on the right. However, as with many other rights, there was no mention whatsoever of implementation.
Many civil society participants inside the official CSD could be likened to having Stockholm Syndrome as they seemed to accept the process with relatively minor criticism. However, in the final NGO major group statement, it was demanded that the words “in full participation with civil society” be removed from the first paragraph of the text.
The U.S. and EU both:
- Pushed for voluntary agreements;
- Inserted PPPs and the role of private sector wherever possible.
President Obama attended the G20, but not Rio+20. The U.S. consistently promoted the role of the private sector and market-based trading schemes under the pretense of sustainable development. But market schemes are already increasing the global inequality gap through privatization and commodification of our common resources.
The EU pushed unsuccessfully for the “green economy” to be the only tool for sustainable development. In the end, the text did not define specific mechanisms for its implementation.
As the text currently stands, many of our petition demands, designed to prevent the roll back of rights from the 1992 Rio Declaration, have been met. However, market-based trading schemes, which are the biggest threat to sustainable development and poverty eradication, were not countered in the text and undoubtedly will advance.
We strongly urge the United States and the EU to take the following positions this week in Rio: reaffirm the Rio Declaration of 1992 and Agenda 21; support the human right to water, sanitation, and food; and oppose efforts to financialize or commodify nature through market-based trading schemes. Sign our petition here.