Friday, July 20, 2012

Who is Rio+20 letting down ?


Who is Rio+20 letting down ?

From the ashes of the Second World War humanity gathered to build international institutions aiming to build peace and prosperity for all. But with the repeated failures of the UN to act in the recent times (in Syria, for example) there is a growing level of popular disappointment in the international system. Will Rio+20 add to this growing list of disappointments? While we sure hope otherwise; the stark reality of the written word on the draft text seems to signal towards the affirmative.
Many member states are opposing prescriptive language that commits governments to actually do what they claim to support in principle and act as duty bearers, including the provision of finance, technology and other means of implementation to support sustainable development effort in developing countries (the biggest demand made by member states of the G77 bloc).  What does failure at Rio+20 mean? Besides the polar bears and the glaciers, who else will a potential failure in Rio let down?
1)      The Future Generations
We grew up hearing that we are the future; but actions of world leaders of today signal otherwise. As the Brazilian Government took over summit proceeding with the conclusion of Prep Com sessions, the language related to a proposal for an ombudsperson or a United Nations High Commissioner for Future Generations has been deleted. The High Commissioner would be the official charged with acting as the UN’s principal advocate for the interests and needs of future generations. The irony of blocking this proposal in the draft outcome which will be referred to as “the future we want” makes one laugh. As of now, the proposal has been placed back on the table by the EU. While, the certain countries are highly supportive of the suggestion, many more including the bloc of G77 countries are blocking it.
1)      Political Moderates
While working in blocs might be a more pragmatic approach to negotiation: increasing the bargaining power of individual states which would otherwise be able to make a lesser impact; it, at least to a certain extent; condenses policies of more moderate states at the expense of states with stronger policies. More often than not, states that are otherwise more moderate are forced to take rather extreme stances due to agreements made within different blocs. Sitting In at the Prep Com discussions, I couldn’t help but feel that perhaps if Sri Lanka stood independently at such global fora, perhaps we would have expressed more moderate sentiments than the rounded stance of the G77 especially with regard to progressive and timely proposals such as the Ombudsman for the Youth.
2)       Moderate Catholics
It was flabbergasting how, the Holy See which is not a member state of the United Nations, possessing only observer status attempted to block all reference to sexual and reproductive rights in the current negotiation text. With no Citizenry of its own, the Holy See does not derive legitimacy from a mandate of the people. Even the Vatican City, where it is based, has a grand total of 832 citizens. After much maneuvering, the G77 proposed a previously agreed text from the UN Economic and Social Council acknowledging reproductive and sexual health, and the Holy See was isolated.
3)       The UNEP
In the run up to Rio+20 various member states and civil society groups were advocating the beefing up of the United Nations Environmental Programme. Currently, UNEP lacks political clout and the financial backing it needs because only a quarter of the member states are on its governing council and it has relies on voluntary donations. Under the draft text, it would have universal membership and be guaranteed a stable, regular budget. However, the reforms appear to stop short of upgrading the programme to the same level as more powerful UN bodies, such as the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and World Health Organization (WHO).
4)       Renewable Sources of Energy
Fossil fuel Subsidies was the first of the list of recommendations of the Rio+20 Dialogues. Anti-fossil subsidies campaigns have overwhelmed Rio and cities around the world. Their campaigns in Rio ranged from #endfossilfuelsubsidies Twitter storms to flash mobs at the Rio Centro. But still, the the current draft text, there is no action on fossil fuels subsidies, no time frame for eliminating them, and only a very vague mention of the ‘inefficiency’ of such subsidies.  There are no targets whatsoever to achieve the use of more renewable energy sources.
5)      The Green Economy
The Greenpeace assessment of the current text says ‘the Green Economy text is meaningless. The Agenda 21 agreement of 20 years ago was more meaningful text than what is being proposed. What we have is nothing short of an invitation to Green-wash, with countries such as Korea promoting nuclear power as the green economy.’ Concepts such as Green Jobs have been totally excluded in the current draft text, largely due to pressure by the G77.
6)      The Press
It’s often those very countries that advocate liberal freedoms such as the freedom of Expression, and the Right to Information that call for private meetings within these UN talks. Perhaps the UN as the organization advocating these fundamental values should strive harder to facilitate public access to all UN discussions, after all, they are only discussing “the future we want”.
7)      Small Islands States
Imagine if one day you wake up, and your country is just a memory. Everything and everyone you love has disappeared under the sea. Sea level rise is one of the most tangible and readily acknowledged consequences of climate change. By 2100, conservative estimates place global average sea level rise at approximately 1m (3 feet), with a more significant rise of 2-3 meters (6-10 feet) possible. During an interview with state media prior to Rio+20, Sri Lanka’s Minister of Environment, Anura Priyadarshana Yapa said: “Sea level rise directly threatens island states such as Sri Lanka…We have not identified what areas would go under water if the sea level rises by another two meters. We have to find out its impact on our coastal areas and be prepared to face this challenge.”
Two weeks later: Rio+20 has let us down: negotiators have failed to deliver the demands of the people. The only reference to vulnerable small island states in the current agreed text reads: “We note that sea level rise and coastal erosion are serious threats for many coastal regions and islands particularly in developing countries and, in this regard, we call on the international community to enhance its efforts to address these challenges.”Tax payers around the world invested billions of dollars on the Rio+20 process, not for world leaders to ‘note’ those self-evident truths that we are all very well aware of.
On the positives, the sections on the Oceans and Employment are comparatively stronger.  However, even these sections need much more emphasis and elaboration.
Will anything change in the handful of days ahead?
All eyes are on Rio.

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