Rio+20: A failure in every way
The summit has only paid lip service to the green cause and has not really etched anything concrete for the future, writes Ramapati Kumar
The Rio+20 summit did not deliver any of the transformational changes that was expected of it. Instead, we have witnessed an epic failure on the part of the world leaders to take a firm stance on zero de-forestation, an energy revolution based on renewable energy, oceans, ecological food for all, etc. What did transpire was no-action, no-target and faulty claims from leaders that they charted out a future for sustainable development. The charter gives free rein to cook the planet, empty the oceans and wreck rainforests. The 1992 Earth Summit at Rio had more action than Rio+20!
Looking back, Rio 1992 had a lot of good elements. It brought together the issues of environment and development. Sadly, at Rio+20, governments failed to live up to that legacy on all counts — equity, ecology and economy. The summit document is full of “we take note or affirm”. But these words are meaningless unless governments act to put an end to unsustainable practices. An economy based on nuclear energy, oil and coal, genetic engineering, toxic chemicals or over-exploitation of our forests and seas will never be sustainable or green.
Each and every issue in Rio+20 has been compromised. The new text presented by Brazil is not even closer to the Zero Text, which was the result of one-and-a-half years of negotiations. State leaders have agreed to create more process, but have failed to define the theme. Wael Hmaidan, speaking on behalf of the NGOs, on the opening day of the summit reminded the leaders: “If you adopt the text in its current form, you will fail to secure the future for the coming generations, including your own children.”
“These negotiations are about reading between the lines and if you don’t, you lose it,” said an Indian negotiator on condition of anonymity. But one doesn’t need to be an expert to understand the document. The writing on the wall is: our future has been compromised in Rio+20. A brief reading of the summit document shows the stasis in every area.
Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) - Over the last year-and-a-half, governments managed to agree that it may be a good idea to introduce SDGs that are universal, but not legally binding. That is all they have agreed upon. No themes were decided at Rio + 20.
Means of Implementation (MOI) - As inadequate as the SDGs, this section does not provide anything concrete, but instead vaguely talks of a process to assess broken promises by developed countries to provide finance to support the poorest.
International Framework for Sustainable Development (IFSD) - The text fails to support the creation of the institutions needed to finally deliver sustainable development. Governments have failed to turn the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) into a full-fledged agency despite strong support from the EU and Africa. But instead of creating a new body on sustainable development at Rio, only a process is launched that is likely to result in another talking head.
Oceans - Manmohan Singh, while speaking to high-level delegates on the second day of the summit, highlighted the issue of marine bio-diversity and called upon the governments to work together in the upcoming Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) scheduled to be held in Hyderabad, India on 12 October 2012. However, the Indian government failed to take a leadership position and lost the opportunity to highlight the issue and get a firm commitment in Rio+20. This paragraph panders to the destructive position of the US, Canada, and Venezuela. The new compromise paragraph on high seas does not recognise the urgency of the oceans crisis, postponing the decision for action to be taken to 2014.
Green Economy - It outlines only very broad principles. Countries are free to define by themselves what is green and what is not, and are free to simply do nothing. The Agenda 21 of the agreement 20 years ago had more ingredients of a green economy than this one.
Beyond GDP - Governments are failing to provide a real measure of prosperity. They merely recognise the need for broader measures to complement GDP and request the UN Statistical Commission to launch yet another programme of work in this area.
Corporate Accountability - Corporations get a free ride. Their role is being defined as the potential saviours of the planet and they are encouraged, “where appropriate”, to “consider” integrating sustainability information into their reporting cycle. The language on corporate sustainability reporting is weaker than what was agreed upon in Johannesburg 2002.
Food and Agriculture - This text is an insult to small farmers who need urgent support to make the transition to ecological agriculture. The negotiations on food and agriculture were all about a race to the bottom, and the Brazilian government has used the lowest common denominator proposals to produce this text.
Energy - There are no new targets for renewable energy and in the Year of Sustainable Energy for All this summit delivers nothing for the 1.4 billion people without access to energy.
While much could have been achieved over three days at the Rio+20 to put the world on the path of sustainable development, the outcome has been disappointing. We still need a global agreement to support and foster a great transition where equity, economy and ecology are not in competition but can live in harmony.
Ramapati Kumar is Head, Renewable Energy Campaign (Greenpeace India)