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Battles won and lost

The Rio+20 conference is being billed as the largest UN conference ever to be held
(Jaspreet Kindra/IRIN)

The adoption of the controversial concept of a “green economy“ was to have been the big story out of Rio+20, the UN Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

It features in the final outcome document put together by the Brazilians to break the deadlock on various issues that saw negotiations drag on through the night and into the early hours of 19 June. The text is set to be adopted by heads of state once the conference opens formally on 20 June.

But the definition of a “green economy” has been left for each country to decide and comes with several compromises. “Better a wishy-washy concept of a green economy than a bad definition,” said Martin Khor, the director of South Centre, an intergovernmental body of developing countries based in Geneva, Switzerland.

The developing world was mostly wary of the motives behind the endorsement of the concept by many developed countries.
Eminent African scientist Youba Sokona, the co-chair of Working Group III (mitigation issues) of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), said the document and the conference lacked any “new ideas and did not really set a vision on how to check unsustainable consumption at an individual level”.

Here is a sense of the good and the not-so-good in the final outcome document, criticized by civil society and many scientists as lacking ambition. “It depends on how you see it - half-full or half-empty,” said Khor. “We ended up defending what we had gained in Rio in 1992, but at least we managed to do that.”

The good

  • The green economy: The document sets out the vision in the context of sustainable development and poverty eradication, and states that it must not create new trade barriers; impose new conditionalities on aid and finance; widen technology gaps, or exacerbate the technological dependence of developing countries on developed countries; restrict the policy space for countries to pursue their own paths to sustainable development. In short, trying to address the mistrust between the developing and developed world that has built up over the years. Most developed countries supported the phasing out of fossil fuel subsidies, the use and production of renewable energies, and the creation of “green” jobs.
  • Technology transfer: To set out on an alternative energy path, developing countries called for the transfer of technologies from the developed world to them. This was a long and hard-fought battle, with rich countries resisting the inclusion of the word “transfer”, and any reference to money for doing so. Both these aspects feature in the final text.
  • Common but differentiated responsibilities: The reference to this term, which essentially acknowledges the divide between the developed and the developing world, remains in the text.
  • Right to food: Despite resistance from some developing countries, this right made it into the final text. It implies an obligation by countries to enforce the right to food by way of law. The text also calls for the phasing-out of agricultural subsidies.
  • Commission on Sustainable Development: The toothless commission will be elevated to a high-level body charged with monitoring and enforcing sustainable development goals (SDGs) and will report to the UN General Assembly.
  • SDGs: The contentious issue of when and how to initiate the SDGs without disrupting the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) process was resolved. The document suggests the SDGs should complement and strengthen MDGs in the development agenda for the post-2015 period, with a view to establishing a set of goals in 2015 that are part of the post-2015 UN Development Agenda.

    It suggests the new SDGs should cover sustainable consumption and production patterns, as well as priority areas such as oceans; food security and sustainable agriculture; sustainable energy for all; water access and efficiency; sustainable cities; green jobs, decent work and social inclusion; and disaster risk reduction and resilience.

  • Right to water and sanitation.
  • Official Development Assistance: The draft urges developed countries to make additional concrete efforts towards the target of allocating 0.7 percent of their gross national product (GNP) to development aid, which was part of the original Rio action plan in 1992. This inclusion was resisted by some developed countries.
  • Sustainable Consumption and Production: The text calls for a 10-Year Framework of Programmes on sustainable consumption and production (SCP) as part of a global pact on these aspects.

The not-so-good

  • Reproductive rights: The conservative lobby won and this reference was removed, setting back progress made by women rights activists in the past two decades. Antonio de Aguiar Patriota, Brazil’s foreign minister, said he was “extremely disappointed” by this decision. As a compromise, a reference to the Cairo Declaration in 1994, which defined the reproductive rights of women, was included.
  • Oceans: Instead of a definite call, the countries have agreed “to initiate, as soon as possible, the negotiation of an implementing agreement” to “address the conservation and sustainable use of marine biodiversity in areas beyond national jurisdiction”. Lasse Gustavsson, head of the World Wide Fund for Nature, remarked at Rio+20 that this might as well mean nothing at all.
  • Finance: There was no real commitment to funding as the European Union’s economic crisis cast a deep shadow over the proceedings, said chief Brazilian negotiator Andre Correa Do Lago. The developing countries had called for a commitment of finance to help countries scale up sustainable development goal projects, and for the transfer of technology.
  • Green economy: With all the “ifs” and “buts”, will green technology ever take off? .


This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information: https://shop.un.org/rights-permissions

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