World leaders are set to convene at the Rio+20 Earth Summit tomorrow to begin high-level negotiations on a global sustainability framework. But if the reaction from civil society groups to the draft text is any indication, the negotiations will be all style and very little substance.
After working through the night on Monday, international negotiators agreed on a framework for “sustainable development goals” that could help guide a wide-range of policies on issues like poverty eradication, clean energy deployment, sustainable cities, and fisheries management. But with very few specifics on how to actually implement these sustainability goals, the text has angered almost every single civil society group observing the negotiations.
“The overall response from the NGO community to the negotiations is one of alarm and concern,” said Jeffrey Huffines, a representative for Non-Governmental Organizations to the United Nations. “Our concern is that the means of implementation are not clearly articulated.”
In other words, there’s very little in the text that would get us from here to there.
Civil society groups are expressing concern about almost every issue in the draft agreement. Leaders representing labor, agriculture, women’s rights, science & technology, local governments, and indigenous peoples all raised serious concerns today about the watered down text.
“There are a some things that are strengthened like the role of social protection and the mention of green jobs. But the document is not really ambitious in terms of implementation,” said Annabel Rosemberg, the Environment Coordinator with the International Trade Union Confederation.”
“We are deeply disappointed,” said Gita Sen, a founding member of Development Alternatives with Women for a New Era. Sen lamented that much of the language on women’s rights had been stripped from the text, calling it a “war on the human rights of women.”
“There’s a lack of detail,” said Andre Leu, President of the International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movements. “But for us, the document is a starting point for what happens afterward.”
The text might be a start for some. But with almost every portion of the document watered down to be politically acceptable, most civil society groups fear that it does very little to establish any concrete end goals.
Even the UN’s hallmark program for addressing energy poverty, Sustainable Energy For All, has taken a hit. The initiative, which would require roughly $50 billion in public and private-sector commitments per year, was designed to eradicate energy poverty by 2030. However, the new text gives countries plenty of room to wiggle out of any commitments:
We note the launching of the initiative by the Secretary General on “Sustainable Energy for All”, which focus on access to energy, energy efficiency and renewable energies. We are all determined to act to make sustainable energy for all a reality, and through this, help eradicate poverty and lead to sustainable development and global prosperity. We recognize that countries’ activities in broader energy-related issues are of great importance and are prioritized according to their specific challenges, capacities and circumstances, including energy mix.
Compare that to the old working text from June 2nd, which created a road map for a multilateral process to actually realize the program’s goals:
Energy 5. We [note / support –RoK / welcome -EU] [with appreciation –EU delete] the Secretary General’s “Sustainable Energy for All” initiative and its aspirational goals of ensuring universal access to modern energy services by 2030; doubling the global rate of improvement in energy efficiency by 2030; and doubling the share of renewable energy in the global energy mix by 2030. We recognize [the importance of the mobilization and timely delivery of domestic and international financial resources / that resources will be necessary – US] to achieve these results [, particularly through enabling environments that unlock private sector investments -US]. We encourage voluntary follow-up efforts to coordinate and to catalyse public-private partnerships and to track progress towards its three goals and, in this regard, we encourage States and relevant stakeholders, including the private sector, to conduct, as appropriate, collaborative international research and capacity development [based on a roadmap to be developed through a multilateral process, involving all stakeholders – Kazakhstan]. [G77 delete entire paragraph; Norway retain]
Ironically, today was deemed “Energy Day” at Rio+20 in support of the UN’s program to expand energy access to the 1.5 billion people without modern electricity services. And 2012 was declared the “year of sustainable energy for all.”
There are at least two “winners” in the text, however. The first is the UN Environment Program, which is explicitly strengthened as the international authority on environmental matters. The second are agreements related to fisheries management, coastal erosion, and marine ecosystems protection — all of which were addressed in more concrete language.
Given the lack of substance in the final document, there aren’t many happy people at Rio at the moment. When world leaders come to the summit tomorrow, they descend upon a crowd of stakeholders upset that the negotiations have resulted in everything they feared — more hollow promises and very little commitment to action.