By Isis Alvarez, Global Forest Coalition, Colombia
The second round of ‘Informal-Informal’ negotiations on the Zero Draft of the outcome document for the forthcoming Earth Summit took place 19-23 March 2012, in New York, and was followed by the Third Intersessional Meeting of the UN Conference on Sustainable Development (UNCSD or Rio+20), on 26-27 March.
Negotiations initially started out with a Zero Draft of close to 20 pages; as of today it is closer to 200 pages. The‘Green Economy’ is one of the main issues being discussed, and the whole third section of the document is devoted to this one theme.
The major groups have been working hard to introduce the issues of most relevance for civil society in all sections, and different thematic areas within the draft.
However, negotiations seemed to have taken their own(and predictable) path so far.
The proposal to include the term ‘food sovereignty’ didn’t make much headway. ‘Food security’ is the preferred term for these negotiations, which could also imply the ‘empowerment’ of agroindustry and its potential expansion. This would certainly exacerbate already existing pressures on forests and other natural resources,
this time under the banner of ‘sustainable development’.
It did not take long for the real intentions of governments and their ‘associates’ to emerge, giving a strong indication of just how the final document could be worded. On 24 March, for example, most participants were shocked to witness the fact that the human rights-based language throughout the document was put at risk
following a proposal from some of the major powers to put square brackets indicating a lack of consent) around text on the principles agreed in Johannesburg ten years ago, and to bracket and delete language relevant to helping to generate ‘real’ sustainable development (which must of course incorporate human rights).
Paul Quintos of IBON Foundation gives noteworthy examples of such proposed changes.
- “Right to food and proper nutrition”
- “Specific attention must be paid to challenges faced by poor smallholders, women and youth including their participation in decision-making…”
- “Promoting access to land particularly for women, indigenous peoples and other vulnerable groups”
- “Regulating financial and commodity markets to address price volatility”
- “Right to safe and clean drinking water and sanitation”
- all references to the right to development.
The Women’s Major Group also highlighted the US’s intention to delete a proposal to raise the proportion of leadership positions undertaken by women to 40%, and to delete references about sexual and reproductive health and rights from the text.
Moreover, as the ecosystems approach was deleted, leaving nothing more than support for ecosystem service payments in the text, it seems that market-based approaches may well continue to dominate the ‘sustainability’ agenda. These tend to impact negatively on the most vulnerable people around the world, particularly because they are based on the use of capital assets, such as property rights, favoring wealthy investors and elites. Indigenous peoples and local communities seldom have access to such assets, as was pointed out during the Women’s Major Group side event ‘Women’s Critical Perspectives on the Green Economy’. This means that they are considerably less likely to benefit from any such mechanisms; and worse, because such mechanisms lead to increased land-grabbing, they are also highly likely to suffer escalating negative impacts. At this point it is hard to believe that further negotiations have any chance of leading to an agreement that is genuinely focused on reducing poverty for many, as opposed to increasing profits for a few.
To sum up, some of the outcomes of the second round of negotiations are:
• Weakened rights-based language throughout the document.
• Rejection of a specialized UNEP Agency.
• Rejection of a UN High Commissioner for Future Generations.
• A large number of market-oriented proposals in the forest text and a deliberate attempt to divide forests from biodiversity, making it clear that many negotiators still fail to recognize the fact that forests are ecosystems.
• A proposal to focus on ‘sustained growth’ (seemingly disregarding ‘sustainable development’, and not considering the impacts of climate change on vulnerable areas and peoples).
• A push for a ‘Sustainable Energy for All’ (SEFA) Initiative (see elsewhere in this publication for more detail about this initiative5) and other corporate-driven and unregulated approaches.
The next round of negotiations will be held in New York, 23 April-4 May 2012. This is likely to see a continuation of the battle between developing countries, struggling for their ‘right to develop’, and developed countries, who want to maintain ‘business-as-usual’. Organizations will continue to challenge proposals that threaten to increase inequality worldwide whilst benefitting big transnational corporations and promoting neocolonialism. In this light, it is important to ponder whether we will be better off with a weak agreement in Rio or no agreement at