by Daniel Mittler
If you believe the United Nations press release, a lot was achieved at last week’s “informal” negotiations for Rio+20: “Before the negotiations, only 6 per cent of the text had been agreed upon. Now, that number has jumped to more than 20 per cent, with many additional paragraphs close to agreement.” So what? you may rightly ask. Not only because that leaves a disturbing amount of work to be done before world leaders arrive in Rio on June 20th, but mainly because we judge Earth Summit by how much they achieve for people and planet. The number of paragraphs which have been diluted enough to be agreeable to all is neither here nor there.
There was one bit of good news from last week: The launch of a High Seas Biodiversity Agreement is still possible at Rio. We never found out why the Co-Chair had ignored the vast majority of countries calling for such an agreement in the draft published May 22nd. But we thank Brazil, South Africa, Mexico, Maldives, Nauru, Micronesia, India, Chile, Trinidad & Tobago, Peru, Ecuador, Argentina, Philippine, Fiji, Barbados, Uruguay, the European Union and Monaco for standing up for our oceans and the future last week. What governments must do at Rio is simple: They need to agree on paragraph Oceans 6 Alt 1 (including all the things currently still in “brackets”). Let the US, Canada, Russia, Japan, Iceland, Korea and Norway not stop the rest of the world from making this urgent step towards ending the Wild West exploitation of over 64% of the world´s oceans.
There is also still a possibility of the UN Environment Programme being turned into an Agency with real money and implementation powers, and the paragraph on harmful subsidies is now so contested that it could go any way, watered down to extinction or a strong call for getting rid of fossil fuels subsidies, as so many demand. But that’s it for what can count as good news (real or imaginary).
The rest of the text (which is here) really makes my blood boil. There are differences, of course, but really all sides are at fault at these negotiations. They fail to deliver the kind of changes —such as an energy revolution— the world so urgently needs.
The United States, for example, wants to delete the right to food (paragraph 7) and seems to think hunger is ok – just “extreme hunger” is something to get rid off (paragraph 2). The US (backed by Canada and Japan) also think that the technology transfer promised at Rio in 1992 should now be only “voluntary” (paragraph MOI 3), and the US opposes any mention of “unsustainable consumption and production patterns”. Ok, that´s not a pretty phrase, but what it means is very real: We would need five planets, if all of humanity wanted to waste as many resources as the average American. George Bush Senior got famous in 1992 for stating that “the American way of life is non negotiable“. Obama is allowing his negotiators to take the same arrogant view.
The G77, the coalition of developing countries that has been trying hard to negotiate as one group, wants to delete the word “accountability” everywhere, it seems, including when it comes to the behavior of global corporations. Partly as a result, mandatory reporting on social and environmental impacts, still alive in the Co-Chair´s text, was killed last week (paragraph 41, which is now meaningless). The G77 want to get rid off the reference to the UN Secretary General´s (highly insufficient) Sustainable Energy for all initiative (paragraph Energy 5) and (together with the US) want to eliminate mention of “planetary boundaries“, which remind us that there are real limits to growth (paragraph 42, for example). There are other issues, of course, where we agree with the G77. But fighting for a Future We Want, they are not.
The EU, meanwhile, is pushing faulty ideas such as liberalizing trade in so-called “environmental goods and services”, and is asking the UN to develop and manage partnerships, rather than do what the UN exists for: setting global standards and delivering their implementation (paragraph 49bis).
I know that all was not rosy in 1992 either. The original Rio Earth Summit endorsed nuclear power, for example, and was full of businesses pretending to be green (we published the Greenpeace Book on Greenwash then!). But as I get ready to get on a plane to Rio next week, I do think that compared to what is on the table now, Rio 1992 was a hippy love fest. Will governments at least prove me wrong in part – and agree to launch a High Seas Biodiversity Agreement in Rio? Watch this space, we will keep you updated.
Daniel Mittler is the Political Director of Greenpeace International