- Created on Tuesday, 03 July 2012 00:17
- Last Updated on Tuesday, 03 July 2012 03:26
- Written by Olimar Maisonet-Guzman
The final negotiations of Rio+20 ended at midnight on June 19. At exactly 12 a.m., the Brazilian Secretariat announced that an updated version of the “Future We Want” was ready to be adopted by Member States. During the previous days, Member States were rushed by the host country to reach an agreement in key areas such as: UNEP mandate, women’s reproductive rights, sustainable development goals (SDGs), and means of implementation. When no agreement was reached, the hosts decided to delete all contentious topics from the outcome document.
An ill-defined process
The final outcome document was less ambitious than expected. This came as no surprise for those of us who sat on negotiation rooms during that week. We witnessed an ill-defined facilitation method that did not give space for the organic development of conversations between negotiators. “You talk about it now, or we will resolve it for you. You give us no choice.” – was the most common phrase used by the facilitator of the SDGs session. The words reminded me of my high school years instead that a high level negotiation between grown-up negotiators.
As I sat in the room, I saw how the possibilities of defining a participatory process for SDGs vanished. While some Member States advocated for defining specific thematic areas for the goals, others just simply wanted to define the working group that would be responsible for their creation. However, that negotiation of interests was often rushed and gave no other option than to accept the text proposed by the Secretariat.
Similar scenes were talking places in other negotiation rooms. As I read the updates provided by my fellow youth trackers, I instantly reached a verdict: “Rio+20 is over”. More than a year of work had led to this moment and it was not living up to our expectations. Although, I mostly tend to have pragmatic expectations about these multilateral events, it was interesting to see the reaction from different sectors of civil society.
Reactions to the summit
Due to increasing frustrations with the negotiation process, many decided to walk out of the conference, reject the outcome text, and join the people’s summit. However, at a time when the outcome text was already adopted, walking out and rejecting the text did not have any impact at all. The act of walking out seemed to put on a show for the media rather than influence the outcome of the conference. It would have caused an impact if it was done a week earlier, when the actual negotiations were talking place.
At the same time, in the plenary hall, many Heads of State called for an increase of the ambitions of the “Future We Want” while others kept praising their ability to promote sustainable development within their own countries. I personally decided to stay behind and sit at the plenary hall listening to the remarks made by the Heads of State and Ministers. This was not because I was happy with the process, but rather I was reflecting upon all the different and contrasting scenes that were taking place at Rio+20 that day. I kept thinking that it was too late. Where were these words a couple of days ago, when the actual outcome document was being negotiated? Who were the real winners and losers of Rio+20?
The first winner of Rio+20 was Rio de Janeiro. According to reports by media outlets, the city tourism revenue reached USD 132 million during the days of the Summit. In addition, local talents and artists were able to present their work to an international public.
Second, the supporters of SDGs should be happy about the fact that an initial process was defined by Member States to develop these new goals by 2015. However, civil society representatives are still worried about their role in the process.
Third, the Jonathan Pershing fan base increased during Rio+20. Some youth groups from United States commended his efforts for having constant briefings with the US youth to answer their questions about the process.
Fourth, civil society and governments found a space to hold conversations about sustainable development initiatives outside of the negotiation halls of Rio+20. Personally, I consider this to be the most significant outcome of the conference.
The United States expressed their desire for a short, five-page document that was aspirational and universal. Nonetheless, the final document is 50 pages long, and its aspirations are being called into question.
The European Union wanted an action-oriented outcome document that clearly strengthened the role of UNEP in sustainable development. Although the document called for strengthening the voice of UNEP, many caveats “where feasible and appropriate” were included in the final text.
Civil society members were visibly unhappy with the outcome document and the overall Rio+20 process. Those that recently became involved in the process even decided to walk out from the conference center and join the People’s Summit that was being held at the other side of the city. Simultaneously, those that were involved in the process for almost a year were disappointed about how badly broken the process turned out to be.
Finally, the host country’s ability to manage the logistics of a conference this size was called into question. Delayed transports, inefficient venues, and overall complicated logistics seemed to increased people’s discomfort with the conference.
How shall we move forward?
Despite the imperfections of the process, it is still too early to define the overall impact of Rio+20. This was the first time that countries came together to discuss issues related to climate change, economic development, sustainable development goals, and ombudsperson for future generations, in a single conference. This by itself, it is a significant achievement.
The consultation process with civil society was deeply flawed. However, this is not surprising, since the opportunities for the engagement with civil society representatives were limited at the international level. To improve the effectiveness of civil society engagement, it would be necessary to improve the way governments interact with them at the national level. To do so, we would have to develop national consultations before UN summits and move beyond conferences calls. This is crucial since at the end of the day, Member States are the ones that dictate what is included on the final document. Additionally, it should be mandatory to have civil society representatives in each country’s delegation from the preparatory stages. This will most likely improve the information flow between civil society and national delegates.
Finally, it was pretty obvious that the whole “consensus” approach of the UN system does not allow the discussion of contentious issues as climate change or fossil fuel subsidies. Consensus-based negations tend to be extremely slow, since every person in at the table needs to support the same ideals and policies. Additionally, these types of negotiations often lead to “lowest common denominator” type of agreements. Even if we increase civil society participation and the process of reaching an agreement remains unchanged, we will end up again with a weak document. It will be necessary to rethink how agreements are reached within environment and sustainable development negotiations.
Rio+20 will not be the last opportunity of my generation to create lasting impact for sustainable development. I still believe that the solutions for global problems should involve all relevant stakeholders including governments and civil society. However, if we do not learn from the mistakes made in Rio+20, we will be doomed to repeat the same mistakes as this generation, thus guaranteeing Rio+30 or even Rio+40 to be a failure.
- Created on Sunday, 01 July 2012 01:50
- Last Updated on Sunday, 01 July 2012 01:52
- Written by Adam Hasz
- Created on Friday, 22 June 2012 21:36
- Last Updated on Friday, 22 June 2012 21:36
- Written by Sarah Dayringer
In preparation for the 3rd Intersessional to the 2012 UN CSD or Rio +20, which took place on the 26 & 27 of March, three events took place on March 24th and 25th, 2012. The first was the Major Groups Dialogue on the Green Economy in the context of Poverty Eradication and Sustainable Development, the second is the World Resources Institute’s Institutional Framework for Sustainable Development (IFSD) dialogue, and the third is the US/Canada Citizens’ Summit for Sustainable Development hosted by SustainUS, NRDC, Citizens Network, We Canada, Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Science and Human Impacts Institute. Identification of key messages that emerged out of these three events is a strong indicator and recognition of the strength of these messages. Civil society has used these commonalities to attempt to influence the Zero Draft of the outcome document in the Rio +20 process. Rio +20 requires a different approach than used for 1992 Earth Summit. There are many things that exist today that did not in ’92 and/or that have emerged due to unsustainable development and practices such as new technologies, new environmental threats, new economic pressures and different dynamics of cultural realization. A different approach to Rio +20 can mark the transition from inception to implementation.
A new approach to Participation
The world we live in now is different in many ways than the world in 1992. For example, mobile phones are the primary tool used to communicate; there is widespread WiFi, giving people from around the world access to more knowledge than ever thought possible. Citizens Summit examined a spectrum of tools, technologies and resources to access and share information and knowledge and to organize and enable actions and initiatives. These ranged from useful websites, publications and organizations to market-based, regulatory-based, and social policy approaches, and current or proposed indicators and measures of local, national or global sustainability. Many policy instruments have been developed and used in different sectors and settings with equally varied outcomes. These offer important lessons, which in turn require access to the details and analysis of these lessons. Social innovations, experiments and projects are taking place throughout the region as well as in other countries. In turn, new technologies are being developed and used in creative ways to make that information available and to encourage exchange and collaboration, including social media such as Facebook, Twitter and ways of using the internet to allow for “live-stream” virtual participation, which were all used to enable wider participation in the three concurrent civil society meetings.
Participation in policy-making, from all stakeholders involved, adds perspective, viability and feasibility to Rio +20 process. A main point within the Rio +20 process is cross-sectoral, integrated participation. After the Earth Summit in 1992, those who came together, but afterwards, people grew into their own sectors and fields, losing dialogue and perspective from other vital stakeholders and sectors. All three concurrent events were created out of a need for a wider breadth of stakeholder participation. Incorporating priorities from a wider range of stakeholders into civil society concerning sustainable development and Rio +20 can foster new network connections and unification among different sectors. In turn, this would enhance the efforts to inform a strong outcome text from member state negotiations in the Rio+20 process and provide insight into how we can bring the outcomes of Rio +20 home, with commitments to implementation plans at all levels of government, sectors and countries; keeping in mind common-but-differentiated-responsibility and focusing on non-regression.
A New Approach to Developing Sustainable Economies
The Major Group Expert Meeting was created to identify cross-sectoral themes for advocacy, by opening up the meeting and bring all the major groups together as one strong voice of civil society. Among their identified policy points were emphasis on equity, inclusiveness, of participation, stakeholder participation and accountability by all.
A rights-based approach was agreed upon among all major groups. The Major Group Expert Meeting emphasized the need for equity, a ‘social protection floor’ and inclusion of specific sectors and vulnerable groups is essential. Affirm specific geographies for realization of a rights based approach such as cities and rural areas, including transportation, water, health and reproductive rights, among others. Specific multi-stakeholder modalities for implementing a rights based framework should be included in the Means of Implementation connected to Principle 10, including informed consent, education about the rights-based approach to sustainable development. This meeting concluded with discussion of a coherent approach of major groups on the core issues of finance and rights. Civil Society across these three concurrent dialogues called for linkages to rights-related issues such as equality, corporate accountability, trade and finance, etc., needed to be concretely laid out in the text.
The US/Canada Citizens’ Summit for Sustainable Development was collaboration between the organizing partners who all had a similar vision to raise participation and increase inclusivity, aiming to get a broader range of sectors and stakeholders involved in policy making processes through civil society. There a new approach was emphasized because it will not only be governments or our member states making commitments at Rio +20, but civil society and business (private sector) are making commitments at Rio +20. Key messages which emerged were a need for clarification of issues and recommendations; market mechanisms to be implemented, allowing new technologies, entrepreneurs and small businesses to feasibly enter and compete in markets; financing models for investment incentives; broader integrated participation from those stakeholders who are not part of a Major Group, intergenerational equality and representation from all stakeholder groups. Therein, was a strong message of cross-sectoral and cross-discipline collaboration and approach, urging sectors to begin “getting out of their silos.”
Civil society and a new and emerging demography within, youth are advocating for a more inclusive and robust approach to policy making on all levels of government. ‘Business’ has proven to be a critical stakeholder in these processes more than in1992 because private business and industry are carrying out much of today’s economic development. Member states are required to begin taking new measures in policy-making processes that were never required before because of this integration. Therefore, extra time was necessary to get the Zero Draft to a stage needed in order to conduct the final negotiations at Rio +20.
At Rio+20 governments are encouraged to work in a more collaborative and transparent manner with other nations in order to make concrete and binding commitments related to the role of business in sustainable development. With respect to the private sector approach, it is necessary for the government to recognize the influential power and indispensible role of business in the green economy, and expand synergistic actions such as guidelines and voluntary contracts. On the national and local level, governments should foster actions that incorporate externalities in to its decision making process; use new scientific information to adjust norms; foster social enterprises; and innovate on national institutional structures to address new challenges.
The World Resources Institute (WRI) hosted a workshop focused on discussions on promoting transparency, inclusiveness and accountability as outcomes of Rio 2012. The discussion focused around means to enhance Principle 10 of the 1992 Rio declaration on access to information, public participation and access to justice, as well as new means to ensure accountability through public monitoring of commitments. The IFSD Workshop participants agreed that key principles need to be based on the Rio Declaration/Agenda 21 and should include transparency, intergenerational and gender equity, sector integration, and public participation. Also, determining that establishment of the Ombudsperson for Future Generations function may also provide additional entry points for diverse stakeholder participation.
A New Approach to Governance
Current governance systems are not strong enough to ensure effective implementation, monitoring and review. We hoped that Rio+20 could deliver on governance institutions and mechanisms that are strong enough to carry effective universal periodic review of implementation, provide accountability framework, and build coherence and coordination across the UN system.
To meet this need, the position of Ombudsperson for Future Generations was proposed. The IFSD workshop began to outline the development of a new mechanism to ensure that there is a future looking agenda for the development of the proposed new institution of an Ombudsperson for Future Generations. This office would provide a link from international issues to local issues. Part of the mandate for the Ombudsperson should be to act as an interface and watchdog for promoting sustainable development. This policy proposal itself is evidence that a different approach is needed and also that it is even more crucial for sustainable practices to be adopted. However, this is again, something new on the table. A role that must be laid out, and position within the United Nations defined.
This proposal to establish an ombudsperson for future generations has the full continued support of civil society. The ombudsperson office needs to be multidisciplinary understanding law, policy and science. The office must have a level of independence, including an independent source of funding, institutional power and be appointed by the multi lateral system. This should be a very high level office at the level of the Secretary General. This office would provide a link from international issues to local issues. Part of the mandate for the Ombudsperson should be to act as an interface and watchdog for promoting sustainable development. There are a number of offices that we could review to help determine the mandate of the ombudsperson including the Controller of the US, other UN Rapporteurs, Canadian Commissioner for Environment and Sustainable Development, Hungarian Ombudsman for Future Generations and the World Bank Inspection Panel. A number of governments have spoken about the financial implications of this new office. This institution is critical for implementation of outstanding gaps, which have prevented us for meeting the challenges of sustainable development. Investment in this body could have a longstanding impact on achieving the aims of sustainable development. The financial cost of other similar panels does not make this prohibitive e.g. World Bank Inspection Panel.
So, What are some of the reasons the method of approach hasn’t been successful in the past? International Institute for Sustainable Development’s (IISD) Langston “Kimo” Goree IV, explained (1) The agreements made in 1992 at the Earth Summit were not fulfilled, causing animosity to grow between the global North and South. The deal (that developing countries would forego the unsustainable use of their natural resources in exchange for new financial resources, transfer of technology and capacity building) was unfulfilled and developing countries in Rio+20 have not forgotten. (2) The sustainable development paradigm that some thought would ascend in 1992 was supplanted by the globalization paradigm, that emerged with the WTO two years after Rio, taking the mantra “trade, not aid.” Funds that could have been used to halt environmental degradation instead were used to address political instability, in many instances caused by environmental degradation. (3) Governments have lost interest in sustainable development because the process has deteriorated into an endless series of annual negotiations, rather than in an environment where real discussions could take place on best practices and means of implementation. The US, to its credit, has called for a new approach, as seen in the recent conference on “Rio 2.0,” bringing together practitioners, policymakers and entrepreneurs to focus on ideas and solutions rather than rhetorical “woulds and shoulds.”
Citizens’ Summit participant Katrina Malaknoff, further announced a civil society conference with similar aims on economics and sustainability, highlighting diverse interdisciplinary approaches to green economy, see: thisisneweconomy.org for more information.
While almost everyone agrees that change is needed, there is a wide range of ideas and approaches on the kind of change needed and ways of getting there. As Dan Esty pointed out, “when everything is a priority, nothing is a priority,” especially when the social dimension is added to environment and development.
Approaching these three components of the Rio +20 process differently than the past UN conferences, cannot go without noting how they work together to lead to concrete outcomes and commitments from Rio +20. In a reformed institutional framework for sustainable development should provide more space for civil society rather than just being mere observers, given the role civil society plays in implementation, holding governments accountable, and their contrition to the full integration of sustainable development dimensions.
In conclusion, despite the outcomes of Rio +20 there is much civil society as done to transform the negotiating dialogue into tangible action. Despite the weak outcome, we will continue to mobilize to create the future that we all want.