View from Rio+20 by CEC's Wouter Veening
16 July 2012 | News story
Wouter Veening, leader of the CEC Specialty Group on Environmental Security summarizes this "very rich event" and concludes with hope for the processes of dialogue, advocacy and cooperation.
Wouter Veening offers his observations on the CBRD principle, green economy, ethics, oceans & seas, UNEP and indigenous peoples -- like the Brazilian Indian in full regalia who aimed a bow and arrow at BNDES security personnel. Wouter is President of the Institute for Environmental Security, Member of the IUCN Commission on Education and Communication, Senior Adviser to the Guiana Shield Facility (UNDP)
1. A few general observations
Comments on the outcome have ranged from “After Rio, we know, Governments have given up on the planet” (George Monbiot in The Guardian of 25 June) to “Let me be clear, Rio+20 was a success” (UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon). With a more moderate position the European Commissioner for the Environment Potocnik in his statement said, “We support the adoption of the outcome document (but) there are a number of areas where we would have hoped for a more ambitious outcome, for instance with regard to the definition of concrete timelines for the realization of goals in the priority areas covered by the document.”
I belong to the group of participants and observers who find that, while the outcome document “The Future We Want” may have been the best text given the circumstances, as a global diplomatic answer to the planetary problematique, it is woefully inadequate. There are almost no operational targets, time-lines and associated budgetary commitments in relation to global challenges in the major thematic areas of climate change, forests, biodiversity, energy, and desertification – although some progress has been made on oceans and fisheries (see below).
Reasons are of a political, structural and ideological nature.
On the political level, Rio+20 came at the wrong moment. The historical lack of leadership by the U.S. – President Bush Sr. showed up at Rio’92 only to tell the world that “the American way of life was not under negotiation” and the U.S.’ subsequent non-ratification of the Convention on Biological Diversity and the Kyoto Protocol – is of course exacerbated by the fact that (i) President Obama, facing re-election in November, cannot be seen as a champion of global sustainability, (ii) that a traditional fore-runner on the subject, Canada, is leaving the Kyoto Protocol as it is committed to increase the extremely polluting oil production from its tar sands, and (iii) that the EU is struggling to survive a financial, budgetary and banking crisis which is now even affecting the future of the EU itself.
One of the more structural reasons is that after Rio’92, the first global conference on sustainable development, other more specific arenas for global consultations and negotiations have been set up, such as the Conferences of the Parties to the (legally binding) UN conventions on climate change, biodiversity and desertification. Rio+20 could and should have been the overarching arena boosting with strong global political will the implementation and coordination of these (and other) conventions, but failed to do so.
The strengthening of UNEP (see below) can be seen as a real improvement in the structure of global governance, however.
On the topics of international finance, development cooperation and economic policy coordination, the G-20 has emerged as the main international forum but many of the Heads of State or Chief Ministers who showed up the previous week at the G-20 in Mexico, were absent in Rio.
In my perception, the main reason for the failure of Rio+20 was that the negotiations were framed as an ideological struggle between the rich and poor countries, with the Rio’92 principle of Common But Differentiated Responsibilities (CBDR) as a guiding concept for the G-77+China block of “developing countries” within the UN. While there may have been merit in having such groupings in the past, it is totally inadequate to have China, the major emitter of greenhouse gases in the world since 2007 and Brazil (No.4), both economic powerhouses, to play the poor developing country who cannot afford to really do something about these emissions including environmental protection in general, without first getting money and technology from the rich.
It is highly ironic that these two countries, at the G-20 meeting in Mexico the week before the High-Level part of Rio+20, pledged additional capital to the IMF to increase their influence and standing within that institution. Particularly since Brazil will be the future host country for the 2014 FIFA World Cup and the 2016 Olympic Games, and China is a contending second economy of the world that is, amongst others, the leading world market in solar panels.
With this in mind, the “rich’’ (OECD) countries all rejected the CBDR principle and the proposal by the G-77+China to make $30 billion dollars available annually to finance sustainability in the developing countries. The (very professional!) Brazilian diplomacy chairing the negotiations over the outcome document, managed to keep the CBRD principle in, but had to leave the $30 billion dollar proposal out.
It is my position that indeed the CBRD Principle is outdated and even counterproductive as it separates countries instead of bringing them together in a global sustainability investment agenda. In view of the seriousness of the degradation of the world ecology, all countries and relevant actors should have equal responsibilities to do whatever they can to counter this degradation. However, there should be differentiated liabilities in shouldering the costs of the implementation of these responsibilities, with the countries having contributed most in the past to the deterioration of the planet assisting substantially the financing of the execution of the responsibilities of the ‘’developing countries”. It would be the ‘polluter pays principle’ with a historical dimension and it could be done using a modernised version of the ODA policies and channels.
2. The Green Economy
On the positive side, throughout the conference and at many of the side-events, it was demonstrated that the values of nature and ecosystem services remain indispensable factors for the abatement of poverty and socio-economic development. This theme of the “Green Economy” had been proposed as a special focus for Rio+20. Under the title “Nature-Based Solutions for a Sustainable Future” IUCN had prepared several position papers, which were successfully presented at the various conference meetings and side-events (see further reporting by the IUCN delegation).
A highlight on the subject was the meeting on 20 June of signatories (governments, banks, insurers, investors) of the Natural Capital Declaration. The Declaration also follows the World Bank’s initiative WAVES (Wealth Accounting and Valuation of Ecosystem Services), for which several countries pledged financial support at the conference.
The proposal of the UNEP/Finance Initiative to call for a binding convention on sustainability reporting by corporations did not make it to the final document, which incidentally included a recommendation on the subject in # 47.
In some parts of the NGO movement the concept of ecosystem ‘services’ is seen as an attempt to privatise nature and to sell nature out to profit-making companies. This was made known in the streets of Rio with banners decrying the Green Economy as “”the New Enemy”. Related to this general view was the opposition to REDD+ voiced during the conference. (I attended a side-event at which CIFOR presented its book on REDD+. The book detailed so many aspects of REDD+ that I expressed my wondering whether REDD+ could ever work in practice…).
Throughout the conference, and especially of course at the “Peoples Summit” held at the Flamengo Park in central Rio de Janeiro, the ethical dimension of sustainable development received much attention. I attended an Earth Charter side-event at the conference about “An ethical framework for global governance” in which strong pleas were made to constrain the mighty markets for consumer goods by global governance institutions, such as reviving the UN Trusteeship Council for the global commons and the establishment of an Ombudsman for Future Generations. The decision to establish a High Level Forum to replace the UN Commission on Sustainable Development – see outcome document paragraphs 84-86 – could be seen as a positive first step. At the event I stressed the need for a good monitoring system to ensure compliance with new and existing institutional and legal arrangements for sustainability and human rights, now and in the future and announced an initiative for such a system to be set up in The Hague, the Legal Capital of the World and International City of Peace, Justice and Security.
#39 in the outcome document, which states that (i) the planet Earth and its ecosystems are our home, (ii) that “Mother Earth is a common expression in a number of countries”, (iii) that “some countries recognize the rights of nature” and that (iv) “it is necessary to promote harmony with nature”, can be considered an important expression on the subject of ethics at Rio+20.
4. Indigenous peoples
As in 1992, the indigenous peoples, especially of course those from the Amazon, were strongly represented, seen and heard in Rio during the conference. Compared to 1992 their position in a legal sense has been considerably strengthened, in which the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) adopted by the UN General Assembly in 2007 has been a landmark decision. Under reference to this Declaration the importance of indigenous peoples is recognized in #49 of the Rio+20 Outcome. This improvement in their formal position does not of course mean that their situation in a material sense has improved. As communities who live most directly with their natural environments, the on-going climate change, overfishing, hunting, fragmentation of their territories by infrastructure such as roads and dams, have seriously compromised living conditions: think of the Inuit in the polar circle, the Dayaks driven out by palm-oil plantations in Borneo, the Kayapó in the area of the Brazilian Belo Monte dam and the Pygmees in the logging and poaching regions in Central Africa.
At various side-events Rebecca Moore from Google Earth and her colleagues showed how modern technology can help, in a most effective way, indigenous (and other) communities to identify (external) threats to their territories and livelihoods and share them in real-time through the internet (i.e. Google Earth) and the new media with interested audiences around the world. For the implementation of UNDRIP and the other international agreements on indigenous rights, human rights in general and the fight against pollution, illegal hunting, poaching and fishing, this new form of communication is of great importance.
5. Oceans and Seas
As on oceans and especially on the high seas, areas of which are outside national jurisdictions, almost nothing is regulated and it is a ‘’free-for-all” arena so much so that any step in the right direction is progress. In the Outcome document 20 paragraphs are devoted to the subject, but were of course not as biting as organisations like the IUCN and Greenpeace would have wanted under the motto for Rio+20: “The Green Economy needs a Blue Backbone.”
Themes addressed in the Outcome and more intensely in the various side-events, included:
- full implementation of the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS);
- extension of negotiations to the high seas;
- effective action to stop IUU (Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated) fishing;
- curbing ocean pollution from land-based sources;
- addressing ocean acidification as a result of climate change (CO2 deposition); and (most importantly)
- creating a global network of well-protected marine reserves to let regenerate fish stocks and to conserve marine biodiversity (see also: www.marinereservescoalition.org ).
At the various relevant side-events I brought forward the need for monitoring the compliance and, (in cases of violations) the enforcement of the necessary measures and agreements to prevent the stealing from existing fishing communities, from future generations and from Neptune, the God of the Sea, as his wrath will be terrible!
6. United Nations Environment Programme
Universal membership of its Governing Council, predictable financial resources and a stronger role to coordinate its mandate throughout the UN System were important decisions at Rio+20 to strengthen UNEP. However, it still remains a ”programme” with almost no operational field-based responsibilities and definitely not a full-fledged UN Specialised Agency.
While having its headquarters in Nairobi – a concession negotiated at “Rio minus 40”, namely Stockholm ’72, the first UN conference on the environment, by the developing to accept a role for the UN on the subject provided headquarters were established in a developing country – has by itself great merit, it is not easy for UNEP to play that coordinating role, not being in the centre of the UN System.
7. Where-to after Rio+20?
With so few operational commitments for the coming period, it would be best to take away from Rio+20 the new insights, inspiration and network contacts acquired there – because from that perspective it was a very rich event! – to the arenas which really count: the COP18 of the Climate Change Convention, which will be held from 27 November – 7 December 2012 in Doha, Qatar and where the future of the Kyoto Protocol will be decided and progress (or not…) with REDD+ will be achieved, the meetings of the State Parties to UN Convention on the Law of the Sea, the Ramsar convention on Wetlands, and the meetings of the other MEAs (Multilateral Environmental Agreements).
During Rio+20, the C-40, the 40 mega-cities committed to sustainability including Rio de Janeiro, met under the chairmanship of Michael Bloomberg, Mayor of New York. Their commitment to combat climate change and to create more livable and self-sufficient urban habitats, the commitment of the enlightened(!) private sector and, especially, the initiatives of the local communities, honoured by the Equator Prize Awards at a lively ceremony in central Rio de Janeiro on 20 June seem to feature the more important actors on the global stage for sustainability and environmental justice compared to the governments assembled at Rio+20.
However, in the end governments and intergovernmental agreements are indispensable to achieve these values, so dialogue, advocacy and cooperation have to continue in the areas and arenas which count.