This week, the second round of “informal-informal” negotiations of the zero draft outcome document for the UN Conference on Sustainable Development (Rio+20 or UNCSD) will be in full swing at UN Headquarters in New York. The negotiations, which will continue until 4 May, mark the last round of informal deliberations in the lead up to the official Conference taking place on 20-22 June in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
Since January, the draft text under negotiation has evolved considerably, from an initial 19-page document to a text of over 200 pages, identifying 26 critical areas for action, including: water, energy, food, jobs, cities, oceans, disaster preparedness, poverty eradication, tourism, transport, climate change, sustainable consumption and production, lands, chemicals and forests, among others. The first round of “informal-informal” negotiations (19-23 March) as well as the Third Intersessional Meeting (26-27 March) highlighted that Member States have still many contentious issues to overcome in order to really come up with a Rio+20 outcome that represents “The Future We Want.” Contentious issues with regard to the two overarching themes of the Conference – the green economy in the context of sustainable development and poverty eradication (GESDPE); and the institutional framework on sustainable development (IFSD) – remain, especially on proposals such as the establishment of a Sustainable Development Council (SDC) or an Ombudsperson for Future Generations.
But more worrisome, as identified by many civil society groups, is that the current “zero draft” continuous to reflect governments’ lack of commitment in this time of global crisis. It insufficiently addresses human rights, democracy and the multilateral system or even principles agreed upon in Rio 1992, such as the precautionary principle and the concept of common but differentiated responsibilities. Instead, many civil society organizations caution that the “zero draft” seems to reflect corporate and private sector interests and profit-making as it creates space for the possibility of promoting biofuels, nuclear energy, carbon trading, the financialization of natural resources, geoengineeringy, and ignores, for example, the distinction between industrial monoculture and small peasant agriculture.
Although many civil society groups are calling for the establishment of Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) by 2015, some have expressed concern that such SDGs might narrow down the development agenda and a rights-based approach to development – a phenomenon that also occurred with the establishment of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). A rights-based approach to development, however, is critical for the majority of civil society organizations. On 26 March, several civil society organizations jointly launched a petition against the “deletion” of references to human rights obligations and equity principles in the Rio+20 outcome document. The petition and accompanying open letter to the Secretary-General for the UNCSD can be found here. A similar call has been made by the High-Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay, who urged all UN Member States to ensure that human rights are thoroughly integrated in the discussions and in any final outcome.
At the recently held “Interactive Dialogue on Harmony with Nature,” organized by the Permanent Mission of the Plurinational State of Bolivia and hosted by the UN General Assembly (18 April), which Sha Zukang, Secretary-General of the UNCSD called “a critical contribution to the Rio+20 Conference,” participants discussed how science and science-based policies can help build a sustainable future. The dialogue in particular highlighted views and opinions from the scientific and technological community on (i) building a society in harmony with nature and (ii) the ongoing negotiations on the “zero draft.” Regarding the Rio+20 draft outcome document, the scientific and technological community calls for a strong commitment from Member States to strengthen the science-policy interface and to establish a global mechanism that will facilitate scientific cooperation in terms of knowledge sharing, training, and capacity building. However, it also warns that technology and science cannot solve or replace what was destroyed in the past – an issue that needs to be considered in the zero draft outcome document.
At this event, participants further highlighted the need to put an end to speculation and the hunger for profits, and called for common but differentiated responsibilities, as well as for higher environmental consciousness. For harmony with nature to occur, people will first need to find harmony among people themselves. According to one participant, all the knowledge of the world is useless if there is no harmony among human beings. Therefore, transdisciplinary efforts and involvement of all stakeholders are critical. For more information on this Interactive Dialogue, click here.
On a final note, it seems that the international community is increasingly realizing that stakes are high in Rio. Over 130 Heads of State, Vice Presidents, Heads of Government, and deputy Prime Ministers have now confirmed their participation in the Conference, which is expected to unite about 50,000 people, including parliamentarians, mayors, NGO leaders, academics, senior UN officials, business CEOs, representatives from miscellaneous groups and journalists.