This is Part 21 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.
There were some breakthroughs in negotiations today, but did those come at a cost?
To summarize the basics, here’s what happened today at Rio+20 Negotiations. The Third Preparatory Committee wrapped up with a document with the majority [bracketed], or diplomatically contested by different countries. The document which had been chaired by a number of different negotiating groups went under the leadership of the Brazilian delegation. They took over negotiations and looked for least common denominator agreement to get through much of the [bracketed] text (the June 16th Draft).
And the result was not a strong document. Daniel Mittler of Greenpeace wrote quickly that: “If broadly adopted, the latest text from the Brazilian government would condemn the world to a future of pollution, plunder and destruction. There is no action here, no commitment, no future we want. As a snap shot: out of 287 paragraphs, only seven begin with ‘we commit’. ‘Voluntary’ features 16 times; while ‘as appropriate’ – UN language for doing nothing – dominates with 31 entries. Statistics are not everything, but these numbers show that governments, overall, are in the business of delaying and doing nothing in Rio.” WWF head delegate tweeted:
And state negotiators also saw this document as too weak. Janez Potocnik, EU negotiator, reassured everyone by saying that the document will become “more concrete and ambitious.”
However, the document shows that there is some large scale agreement on some issues: Oceans and Sustainable Development Goals. Oceans is a surprising result of serious focus by scientists and activists who have been elevating the issue for a few years now. Rémi Parmentier, one activist, wrote about the June 16th Draft that: “When we first came to the the Rio+20 negotiations when they began in New York in January 2011, we asked governments to ‘bring the Ocean back into the Earth Summit.’ I’m glad it looks like where getting there.” Sustainable Development Goals was a second fairly developed area and should see concrete expression in the final Rio Declaration. The specifics will not develop at the Rio+20, but the road map to developing Sustainable Development Goals will come out of Rio. Other parts are in disarray: Institutional reform looks highly problematic (even on Ocean issues and Sustainable Development Goals), I’m not sure what to make of gender issues which were gutted significantly, and planetary boundaries (a norm that could have established the next 20 years of environmental politics–like the precautionary principle earlier) was gutted and looks unlikely to make it into the final draft.
Still: Breakthrough today for sure. Ocean issues could be quite significant if the U.S., Russia, Canada, and Japan agree to negotiate an open oceans agreement under the Law of the Sea. It could be the big breakthrough of the conference. However, if it doesn’t come with institutional reform, some new principles of development, and at least one thing that isn’t part of the green economy (fossil fuel subsidies, mercury pollution, etc.), then it may quickly become the Climate Change of this Rio negotiations. Climate change was a significant breakthrough in 1992 (the first Rio conference), but without resolving other issues like funding, strong institutions to guide the treaty, or other provisions it has run aground of negotiation barriers and halted in its tracks. We bring everyone together in Rio for a holistic package agreement that can guide us for two decades at least, the June 16th Draft showed that we may have to take small breakthroughs, and that isn’t a great outcome.
Either way, obviously long day of negotiations to come and more later. As Rio+20 gets busy, blog posts will get shorter and quicker, but I will try to make time for longer analysis regularly.