Rio+20 Countdown: News Round-up June 10-June 16

This is Part 18 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.


News this week had a sad point, some loss of hope, but continued work and pressure by a variety of actors.

Elinor Ostrom Passes Away

It may seem strange to mention the passing away of an academic as relevant conference news–but Elinor Ostrom’s impact cannot be dismissed.  The Guardian Obituary for Elinor Ostrom, the winner of the 2009 Nobel Prize for Economics, explained “Throughout her work, Lin made it clear that complex and combined social and ecological problems defied simple (or simplistic) institutional solutions. At the biweekly Bloomington [Indiana] Workshop seminars, over which she presided for many years, she would often deny the existence of panaceas. To her, the combined social and ecological world was a highly complex place in which different circumstances favoured different approaches to problem-solving.”  More than anything, Ostrom, for me, was the critical optimist: she knew about the tragedy of the commons and the million ways people mess up the environment and block efforts to stop it, but didn’t let that stop the efforts.  Her work has had a major impact on the lead-up to the Rio+20 discussions, which has moved the governance focus away from panaceas to channeling the highly complex world of environmental action.  She has been mentioned twice in the discussions I’ve had with people at the Rio Conference and she will have an impact on the outcome for sure.  That impact might be another insight about how collective action can go wrong or about how hope can spring from surprising sources.

Negotiations Continue

Preparatory negotiations continued this week and we know two things: 1. Lots of text specifics remain contested and 2. Lots of broad themes seem to be seeing progress.  UN Officials said Friday that only 28% of the text has been agreed to.  However, positions became crystal clear and work in splinter groups has produced package deals that will increase agreement over large sections of the outcome document.  The leadership for the draft document has now moved from the disparate set of people tasked with different groups to Brazil which will take on the document and try to get agreement.  At the end of the preparatory negotiations, the WWF negotiator said: “We’re going to need a political miracle. And we’re going to need some heroes to emerge in this process – and for the villains to get out of the way.”  That is where we stand, a mess with little agreement but splinter groups have started putting together clear, coherent packages and now a clear leader in the process.  Once again, they will agree on a document at the end, that is not in question, but how strong that document is will now be the key question: The same WWF negotiator as above said earlier that “It’s clear we will get something, but it’s equally clear we will not get what the planet needs”

No Obama

Obama will not be attending the Rio+20 Conference.  Meena Raman of Third World Network was quoted as saying: “Given the stance of the United States thus far in the Rio+20 negotiations, and the position they have taken in the climate change negotiations in Durban, it may perhaps be a blessing that President Obama is not coming to Rio.”  Most environmental activists seem to be concerned with the U.S. position rather than who heads the U.S. delegation.  Once again, it is my position that the greatest harm from President Obama not attending the Conference is to the U.S. position.

The Counter-Negotiations Begin

NGOs began meeting this week outside of the Conference space and gathering around Rio for a series of activities.  Jamie Henn puts most of his hope in these meetings, writing:

Which is why the real action in Rio likely won’t be in the sterile negotiating halls, but in the warehouses, cafes, and other activist spaces scattered around the city. Just like in Montreal (and the UN summits following it), organizers from around the world are coming to Rio to meet, strategize, and discuss how to strengthen the global climate movement. In these spaces, you can find some sparks of hope. The revolutions and occupations of the last year have given environmental activists a new sense of possibility. Those of us coming down from the United States will be swapping stories about stopping the Keystone XL pipeline with activists resisting Chevron in Nigeria and indigenous organizers fighting deforestation in the Amazon. There is an Occupy Rio+20 already underway and an entire “People’s Summit” running parallel to the official talks.

I’ll have some photos taken for next week of these alternative-spaces for sure.

That’s it so far.  Everyone is traveling to Rio and getting settled while there.  Negotiations are at a bottleneck that will either pour out a strengthened agreement or a weakened one.  We’ll see.


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