Rio+20 Countdown: News Round-up May 26-June 1

This is Part 11 of a series of blog posts leading up to the Rio+20 Sustainable Development Conference in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil on June 20-22.  The full series is available here.

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Here is the Rio+20 News Roundup for May 26-June 1.  The climate was partly cloudy: some sun, some large clouds, we’ll see what happens.

Increasing the Pressure.  Some prominent individuals took to the editorial pages around the world to pressure negotiators to work even harder toward compromise.  Ban-Ki Moon wrote an editorial in the New York Times last week.  And as informal preparatory negotiations started up again, he reiterated this point claiming “Time is running out”.  This week, Gro Harlem Brundtland (former Prime Minister of Norway and organizer of the Our Common Future group that first articulated sustainable development in international legal terms) and Fernando Henrique Cardoso (sociologist and former president of Brazil) used their role as Elders to push for action in a number of venues (see also here and here).  They wrote:

“We know that change takes time and don’t get too worried when progress seems slow.  But even our optimism is being seriously tested by the lack of urgency in the run-up to the UN Rio+20 summit on sustainable development June 20-22. The meeting provides a historic opportunity to chart a sustainable future for the world. But at the moment, there is a real chance that the opportunity will be thrown away.”

Botswana and Conservation International hosted an African summit that produced the Gabarone Declaration (endorsed by 10 countries at the summit) that argues sustainability reporting must become part of all planning efforts. In addition to this high-level pressure, some interesting national-level pressure also intensified this week.  World Wildlife Fund New Zealand criticized the post-1992 environmental progress made by the government.

It became increasingly clear that Obama will not be attending the meeting.

Informal Preparatory Negotiations Begin Again.  The bigger news this week was that negotiators reconvened for preliminary, informal negotiations on a zero draft that they plan to use as a starting point for negotiations at the Rio Conference.  The first day seemed quite tense and had moments of aggravation.  We know that one of the co-chairs became visibly aggravated in the first day of negotiations and recommended negotiators “cool down”.  Some believe this was a situation of “tempers flared“,  I think other interpretations are just as likely based on the Earth Negotiations Bulletin Reports.  Regardless, what has happened is that negotiators have broken up into multiple working groups of separate parts essentially braking up the discussion to smaller parts for negotiations. One outcome has been that Canada dropped its objection to consider access to water as a human right. China yesterday signaled willingness to compromise, but not give in significantly.  There are still large parts of the text that do not have even partial consensus and the draft that goes to Rio+20 is likely to be quite limited.

Skepticism is growing in Non-Governmental Organizations.  The World Business Council on Sustainable Development sponsored a Guardian page about these negotiations which begins: “The negotiation document which is currently under preparation by governments for Rio+20 is becoming a very large paper with little concrete actions. There is no agreement on the governance framework yet and sustainable development goals have not been formulated.”  Similarly, Greenpeace published a highly cynical view of the negotiations titled “The Future We Want versus the Powerpoint they negotiate…“.  Maybe important, maybe not, but skepticism does seem to be growing in some NGOs.

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