11 June, 2012

Rio+20 begins with too much to decide in too little time

Sergio Abranches

Rio+20’s agenda is very broad, and delegates will have very little time to deal with all the issues. Negotiators have lost several weeks quarreling over almost every paragraph of a draft of resolutions to end up with 80 messy pages, 75% of which bracketed, i.e. undecided.

Several points of the agenda are about commitments already made under different UN conventions, accords, and protocols. Negotiators have reopened done deals, to avoid reaffirming obligations they have previously agreed to take in other global summits. Now, they’ll be back to the negotiating table for three days starting next Wednesday 13. But the talks will last much longer. Negotiations will very likely continue in parallel to the ‘Sustainable Development Dialogues’, and may even continue during the first days of the high level segment, the summit of heads of state scheduled to start on Wednesday 20th. A negotiator has told me that the text may only be closed by the morning of the day world leaders are supposed to sign them. Another negotiator told me they’ll to their best not to leave any open issues for the leaders to settle themselves.

A major problem is that the summit risks to have very few leading heads of state from the developed countries. From Europe, only France newly elected president François Hollande is expected to come. German chancellor Angela Merkel, and UK prime-minister David Cameron have already announced they’re not coming. U.S. president Barack Obama has not sent any official word whether or not he will come to Rio. Nobody is expecting him to show. The absence of leaders of the developed world creates the risk that the conference is dominated by the G77 rhetoric that shifts the blame and responsibilities to the developed world.

The developed world is indeed to blame for most of the harm done to the planet, especially in terms of their historical footprint since the Industrial Revolution. But this rhetoric is used by the large emerging economies, responsible for a sizable part of the present footprint, and most of the future one, to exempt themselves from any binding obligations to the Planet. They usually use the principle of ‘common but differentiated responsibilities’ to delay action on their part and demand more action from developed countries. No country is really up to their full responsibilities, but the time of shifting the blame is way over. The magnitude of the climatic and environmental crisis demands action by all to a degree none has been willing to accept. They can and should be differentiated but no relevant economy should be allowed to do less than the maximum necessary to meet the challenge of this century.

The circumstances for Rio+20 couldn’t be worse. Europe is facing the gravest crisis since the creation of the Eurozone. A crisis that can disrupt the very foundations of the Union.

The elections in the United States will be fought by a president that believes the transition to the green economy is necessary, but has done very little to put the country on this path; and a Republican candidate that denies there is any climatic or environmental crisis. It is unlikely the U.S. will support anything ambitious on that subject. If reelected Obama may be a little more proactive on his second term. With Romney, the World can count the U.S. out as a partner on environmental and climate change policies. China is also immersed on a complicated power transition, while its economy is decelerating faster and harder than its leaders have planned for. It is far more inward looking today that it has ever been, over the last two decades or so.

On governance the larger emerging economies (China, India and Brazil) and the U.S. oppose a world environmental agency under the United Nations Charter. Europe and the African nations would like UNEP to be upgraded to the status of a specialized agency. The likely outcome will be a compromise solution with some upgrading for UNEP, some more money on its budget, and a refurbished Council for Sustainable Development. Too little muscle to push for truly working solutions to the climatic and environmental crisis.

There will be little time to find a solution that saves Rio+20 from outright failure. It will very much depend on the Brazilian leadership as a host country as well as on the willingness of its BRICS partners to go along, and find a way to close a fair deal in Rio. The best foreseeable outcome would be an intermediate solution to the governance issue, and a mandate for the countries to develop a set of sustainable development goals, with a clear timetable, and a new measure of development to replace GNP.

Tags: , , , , , , , ,