Tuesday, March 13, 2012

100 days to Rio +20

I have begun following the preparations for the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development (Rio +20) which will take place in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil in just about 100 days. I wish I could be there, particularly because I know Brazil pretty well from having written a book about it!

So what’s going on in the lead-up to Rio +20 and what are the expected outcomes?  To begin with, it seems important to note that the first Rio conference in 1992 set a very high bar.  That conference -- formally called the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED) and informally called “The Earth Summit” – produced an incredible number of key documents in international environmental law including the Framework Convention on Climate Change; the Convention on Biological Diversity; Agenda 21; and the Rio Declaration on Environment and Development.

Later this month, governments will hold their first round of ‘informal-informal’ negotiations on the zero draft of the Rio+20 outcome document at the UN Headquarters in New York.  The 19-page 128-paragraph zero draft, titled “The Future We Want,” was released on January 11.   Aside from the preamble paragraps of Part I, it has four major sections.  Part II is about reaffirming the principles of Rio and assessing progress on previous governmental commitments relating to sustainable development. Perhaps the most interesting, and certain to be debated, paragraph here is the section's final one, calling for a "global policy framework requiring all listed and large private companies to consider sustainability issues and to integrate sustainability information within the reporting cycle."

Part III regards one of the Conference’s two themes, “a green economy in the context of sustainable development and poverty eradication.”  The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) has previously defined green economy to be not just about environment and economy, but also about equity:  “A green economy is one that results in improved human well-being and social equity, while significantly reducing environmental risks and ecological scarcities.”  Yet, I still find myself wondering whether questions of equity will get marginalized with this new "green economy" framing.

Part IV regards the Conference’s other theme, namely “the institutional framework for sustainable development.”  Here a couple interesting alternatives are being debated to strengthen relevant UN institutions.  Governments may either affirm the role of the Commission on Sustainable Development (CSD) or transform the CSD into a Sustainable Development Council that would serve as the authoritative, high-level body for consideration of matters relating to sustainable development (see a relevant issue brief here).  Also, governments may agree either to strengthen the UNEP or to replace it with a new UN specialized agency for the environment, i.e. a World Environment Organization (relevant issue brief here).  Other specialized agencies linked to the UN include the FAO (Food and Agriculture Organization), the ILO (International Labour Organization), the IMF (International Monetary Fund), UNESCO (UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization), and the WHO (World Health Organization).

Finally, Part V is entitled "Framework for action and follow-up."  It mostly consists of a list of 15 key issues and areas such as food security, water, energy, cities, natural disasters, climate change, and education.  It proposes a set of global Sustainable Development Goals to be devised by 2015, with progress "measured by appropriate indicators and evaluated by specific targets to be achieved possibly by 2030."

Of course, a lot of action is going on in the realm of non-state actors as well. I’ll save my remarks on that action for another post, and I’ll close with a few quotes from governmental and UN actors at the first Rio conference.  I am hoping that Rio +20 communicates a similar sense of urgency!

        - We cannot betray future generations. They will judge us harshly if we fail at this critical moment. (Gro Harlem Brundtland, Prime Minister of Norway, UNCED, 1992)
        - ...we can waste the planets resources for a few decades more...we must realize that one day the storm will break on the heads of future generations. For them it will be too late. (UN Secretary General Boutros-Ghali, UNCED, 1992)

        - Every bit of evidence I've seen persuades me we are on a course leading to tragedy. I don't agree with those who say the status quo is the answer. (UNCED Secretary General Maurice F. Strong, UNCED, 1992)

- Lesley McAllister


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I agree that creating an Ombudsman for Future Generations is another interesting institutional innovation under discussion. Thanks very much for this addition.

Posted by: Lesley McAllister | Mar 15, 2012 5:23:49 PM

Thank you for this good summary of the debated issues of the Zero-draft in the run-up to Rio+20.

Concerning Part IV on the Conference’s second theme of “the institutional framework for sustainable development”, may I attract your attention to another interesting alternative: the creation of Ombudspersons for Future Generations at the international, regional, national and local levels.

Please note that this proposal is included in para 57 of the Zero-draft, and has received numerous support from a wide range of actors, included but not limited to UNEP, UNCSD Executive Coordinator Brice Lalonde, Major Groups (including notably Youth, Women, and Trade Unions), as well as the group of the Global Elders (incl. inter alia Kofi Annan, Gro Harlem Brundtland, Desmond Tutu, Jimmy Carter, etc.).

The institution of Ombudspersons for Future Generations is a flexible, tried, and tested one, with positive results stemming from Hungary (Parliamentary Commissioner) and New Zealand. It focuses on the temporal dimension of sustainable development, ensuring that the needs of the present are met without affecting the ability of future generations to meet their needs.

To find more about this institution, the vision behind it, its role, mandate, and what it could look like, please visit: http://www.futurejustice.org

Posted by: Adrien Lantieri | Mar 15, 2012 7:20:25 AM

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