Saturday, June 30, 2012

Rio+20: We Are Not Colonies Anymore

By Jay Naidoo, Sangonet, June 21, 2012

In this article, the author looks at Rio+20, the lack of political will from the western countries and lack of people’s voices on issues relating to sustainable development

The planet is in a mess, and climate change is perhaps the biggest threat to both prosperity and political stability worldwide. It is always the poor who suffer most; and yet the battle continues to be led by those who do not have the best interests of the most vulnerable at heart. But why? Perhaps it is time, instead, to mobilise the people.

I cannot say it better than one Brazilian activist I met at Rio+20. “The developed world must realise we live in the 21st century,” he said. “We are not their colonies anymore. Power has shifted in the south and east – it is time they stopped thinking they are Masters of the Universe; that they can lecture us and decide on the future of the world.”

I could not agree more.

Rio+20 was meant to evaluate the progress we made on political commitments made at the Earth Summit of 1992, and to take decisive steps to avert a global climate crisis that threatens the very existence of our planet and its citizens. But to my enormous disappointment, I do not believe it will meet the expectations of our people – because the people’s voices are not there.

The global leadership involved in these negotiations carry the responsibility for destroying the hopes of our children and the future generations. That is a heavy load I hope they are prepared to bear.

As I travel to the villages and slums in my work around the challenge of hunger, I see the desperation of mothers unable to plant the crops that will feed their children, because extreme weather brings flooding and prolonged droughts. It is all very well for those in power to continue in their pursuit of wealth at the expense of the environment; meanwhile, the climate crisis tightens the noose of poverty around the poorest and most vulnerable people in the world.

Household food insecurity is an epidemic; malnutrition grows; poverty and disease explodes; millions of our children are born underweight and become stunted or die of preventable causes. The scramble for Africa becomes furious as the economic powers of the world grab our arable lands to feed their own populations. Climate change will be the source of biggest social, political and economic wars of the future. The crisis in the Horn of Africa, and now in a growing area around Niger, strangles the life out of our communities. Conflicts start over access to water and grazing lands Africa, with the least capacity to deal with this challenge, will face the brunt of the impending disaster. The developed world will benefit, and Africa will pay.

But, although it is most pronounced here, sadly it is not only in Africa. This staggering inequality, and the battle for food on an increasingly broken planet, is also what I see in villages across India, Bangladesh and Asia. In this growing human catastrophe, our emperors fiddle while Rome is burning. The heads of state, in their ‘blue light brigade’, speeding through the streets of Rio, sitting in the air-conditioned Rio Centre, do not have the political will nor the passion to understand the extent of this humanitarian crisis. The odd representative that they bring into the conversation remains a token: either representing the development industry of poverty experts, or the rare face of a rural woman or indigenous leader who will provide the photo opportunity. But once it is snapped, it is forgotten.

For my part, I sat with the leaders of the Rural Women’s Movement in Southern Africa, representing tens of thousands of small-holder farmers. Our discussion was about the real issues of improving agriculture yields, ensuring that their children have access to nutritious food, water, education and health. It was about improving women’s rights, empowerment, leadership and incomes.

What it was not, was about carbon trading or the ‘green economy’.

“These people who are negotiating on our behalf have been doing this for 20 years, and our situation is getting worse. Where do they get a mandate? How do we fire them so that we can speak for ourselves?” asked Emily, a battle-hardened activist. It is voices like hers that should be leading us.

But in civil society we are fragmented and divided by policy, tactics and ego. We are as guilty as the powerful economic and political elites we accuse. We have our own emperors. And in this environment, I fail to see a strategy that harnesses the ferment I see in the world.

People are outraged and are taking to the streets. They want a new world. They embrace a bold vision of social justice, human dignity and freedom. They are frustrated by the new apartheid that grows in the world that divides us into the global rich and the majority of global poor.

It is time we listened to these voices; they are powerful and, more specifically, they are right. There is a battle to be fought, and we cannot just whitewash over it. The sceptics of climate change that face us are highly organised. They are fighting a war that will protect their vested interests, which put profits ahead of our people and our planet.

They buy governments, scientists and civil society leaders to challenge the science and evidence that tells us we are in crisis. In the inadequacy and injustice of our governments’ response, there is an urgent need for unprecedented unity and mobilisation across global civil society to avert these crises.

In the light of this global apartheid, Rio is a fascinating place – and a peculiarly apt choice to host the summit that highlights these ongoing inequalities. It has all the pretentions of being the metropolis and centre of politics of Brazil, as well as the carnivals of culture. It has history and beauty on its side. But the rich, installed in their fortresses, emerge to parade their bronzed bodies along the wide boulevards of Ipanema and Copacabana and mingle with the ordinary people, while their servants, the poor, live in the precarious favelas high on the hillsides with magnificent views – but in the line of fire for any disasters caused by climate change.

So, the contradictions of Rio parallel the contradictions of the Rio Summit. The rich and poor nations made it their battlefield, leaving discussions paralysed by the impasse and strong divide between developed and developing countries.

Many key issues remain outstanding.

But perhaps most worryingly, the negotiations to produce an outcome document saw a backtracking on a central equity principle in the 1992 Rio summit – namely to commit to finance and technology transfer to address the crisis the developed world has caused.

Many developing country governments and activists fear that the debates on the ‘green economy’ will replace sustainable development, which is prioritising our fight against poverty. But as a senior advisor in a developing country said to me, “We see attempts to drive a commodification and financialisation of nature, life and ecosystems. We have always lived with nature in a sustainable way. We fear that the proposed market financial mechanisms to address climate change will lead to the same financial crisis that enriched speculators in the developed world.”

I look at the texts and agree. The whole battle has watered down to the ‘voluntary transfer of technology on mutually agreed terms’, which implies the sale of equipment on commercial terms, contrary to previous commitments. Also, the original commitments of developed countries to provide new and additional financial resources to meet the previous agreed aid target of 0.7 percent of their gross national product (GNP) the developed world has been rigorously resisted by countries like the United States and Canada.

The debate on the Sustainable Development Goals is likewise bogged down. The developing countries have accepted this concept and have put forward principles, including the idea of common but differentiated responsibilities. Simply put, this means that the developed world must pay the historical debt for the mess they have created.

Another key contested area is how the post Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) reviews process and how these new goals are linked. Developed countries want the United Nations secretary-general (UNSG), Ban Ki-moon, to take charge of a process for experts to come up with the goals, whereas the developing country governments want to drive the process with inputs that can be given by the UNSG and experts.

Ultimately, the summit should launch a process to negotiate these goals, but this time in an open and transparent way, and backed up by concrete action plans, with details on the financing and technology transfer aspects to implement these plans.

But herein rests the opportunity for civil society, social movements and labour to campaign for a seat at the main table. If they fail to achieve this, then they must consider seriously the option of withdrawing from a process that has no meaningful role for them. The history of the current negotiations process revolves around power and many of the civil society representatives have been sucked into a process in which they do not have the power.

As the Civicus Report on Civil Society says, “The space granted to CSOs [civil society organisations] is always a gift rather than a right, often contested, sometimes ceremonial… For us as civil society, the pressing need arising from this is to assert our voice and our right to be included. To do this we need to organise ourselves, in more comprehensive, inclusive and multifaceted ways than we have managed before. We need to learn from the new social movements which rose to prominence in recent years like in the ‘Arab Spring’, to not just advocate, but to model alternatives in the way we organise, convene, act and speak.”

There is global recognition that, with crises lingering on many fronts, a drastic reshaping of social and economic structures and relations with the environment needs to happen now, and fast. Civil society organisations and people’s movements must call on their governments and multilateral bodies at the global and regional levels, to uphold and pursue the principles and framework of sustainable development that give primacy to human rights, equity, democracy and social and environmental justice in the discussions towards Rio+20 and beyond.

That is the bold vision that our people demand. That is what we have to organise towards. And what we need now – non-negotiably – is a fearless and courageous group of leaders who can demonstrate passion and humility when they speak on behalf of our people.


Friday, June 29, 2012

Asia Sees Red Over ‘Green Economy’

Analysis by Marwaan Macan-Markar, IPS News, June 26, 2012

The just-ended United Nations sustainable development summit in Rio de Janeiro has exposed the discomfort that many developing Asian countries have over buzz words like ‘green economy’ and ‘green growth’ in development diplomacy.

With the Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP), the U.N. regional development arm, endorsing these concepts, the body’s 58 member-countries find themselves at odds with Asian giants like China.

This divergence became apparent as the Rio+20 summit entered its final days.

A lengthy commentary by China’s ambassador to Thailand, published in a Bangkok daily, touched on the significance of the summit in charting a new blueprint for sustainable development while avoiding terms like ‘green economy’ and ‘green growth’.

“China has not only found a path to sustainable development suitable to its national conditions, but also made positive contributions to sustainable development worldwide,” argued ambassador Guan Mu in his views that appeared in the Jun. 21 edition of ‘The Nation’.

“China is willing,” the ambassador wrote, “to strengthen cooperation and joint efforts with other parties – to make more contributions in promoting global sustainable development on the principle of ‘common but differentiated responsibilities’.”

In Manila, activists led by Kalikasan, a Philippines-based network of environmental groups, protested outside the United States embassy, a day before, to “denounce the green economy path to enriching corporations”.

“We, the people, who are not allowed to speak at the summit, whose rights are being trampled upon, will not be silenced,” said Lyn Pano, general secretary of the Asia Pacific Research Network, during the protest. “We will strengthen our ranks and constantly struggle (to reject the green economy).”

Despite the vocal protests the ESCAP chief’s message to participants at the Rio summit suggested that countries in Asia and the Pacific were embracing green growth as part of their development plans.

“We are pleased that green economy policies have been recognised as an important tool for sustainable development and poverty eradication,” Noeleen Heyzer, executive secretary of ESCAP said during a high-level meeting.

The rush by U.N. bodies – including the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) – to endorse green economy policies ignores concerns in Asia that it “is being used to undermine the accepted sustainable development framework,” said Shalmali Guttal, senior researcher at Focus on the Global South, a Bangkok-based think tank.

“There is alarm that this is an attempt by the developed countries, the world’s major polluters, to enforce ‘green protectionism’ in international trade,” she told IPS.

“Developing countries in Asia have a reason to be nervous because this is another attempt by industrialised countries to avoid the commitments they have made to help developing countries meet their development targets,” Guttal said. “U.N. bodies should listen to the people they are supposed to be helping.”

Disagreements between ESCAP and larger governments in the region over the terms “green growth” surfaced at an October 2010 ministerial meeting in Kazakhstan. A press release circulated at the end of the sixth U.N. ministerial conference on environment and development for Asia and the Pacific (MCED-6) had to be reformulated.

Four countries – China, India, Iran and Russia – objected to the words ‘green growth’ appearing prominently (including in the press release headline) as a policy that had been endorsed by Asian ministers, forcing ESCAP to issue a new press statement identifying green growth as “one approach to sustainable development.”

“This is an area that has become contentious since then,” a Bangkok-based Asian diplomat told IPS on condition of anonymity. “We pay more attention to ESCAP statements to scrutinise how the words ‘green growth’ and ‘green economy’ are used.”

“Internally, most countries are doing their bit towards developing low-carbon alternatives and investing in green technology,” he explained. “But we object to being pushed to endorse a green economy in the context of sustainable development.”

ESCAP, in fact, was in the vanguard of “green growth” debate, recognising it as a sustainable development alternative in 2005. It stemmed from the MCED-5 hosted by South Korea, an emerging leader in green economics.

Three years later, following the 2008 financial crisis, others endorsed the green growth model, ranging from UNEP to the heads of the world’s 20 largest economies.

“Asian countries are facing resource constraints, the price of fuel is rising, and this is an impediment to their development,” says Rae Kwon Chung, director of ESCAP’s environment and development division. “Poverty cannot be resolved without resolving the resource constraints. The recent food and fuel crisis will have to trigger a sea change.”

“Developing countries need a different energy system than the current system,” he told IPS. “The green economy is one of the strategies how to operationalise sustainable development.”

The need for this shift, an ESCAP report titled ‘Low Carbon Green Growth Roadmap for Asia and the Pacific’ argues, was because the region uses three times as much resources as the rest of the world to produce one dollar.

Many of the region’s economies are net importers of resources and vulnerable to price hikes, notes the ESCAP document, released ahead of the Rio+20 summit.

An estimated 42 million people were pushed back into poverty in this region in 2011 as a result of oil and food price increases, adding to the 19 million people who lapsed into poverty the previous year, notes the ESCAP report.

“The region needs now to urgently shift away from business-as-usual resource-intensive strategies and embrace a growth strategy that is based on resource efficiency,” the report says.

Asia’s large developing economies, China and India, and smaller ones like Cambodia and Vietnam, were commended in the report for introducing programmes to “green their economies.”

But, the larger Asian economies raise a red flag when green growth is placed in another context – as a new, internationally-binding prescription for sustainable development in the Global South.

“This will remain a fractious issue in Asia and ESCAP sessions will reflect this in the future,” the Asian diplomat remarked. “Some governments have already said enough is enough.”


Thursday, June 28, 2012

Women’s Major Group Final Statement on the Outcomes of Rio+20

By Women Deliver, June 27, 2012

The Women’s Major Group (WMG), representing 200 civil society women’s organizations from all around the world, is greatly disappointed in the results of the Rio+20 conference. We believe that the governments of the world have failed both women and future generations.

Women’s Rights Rolled Back

Two years of negotiations have culminated in a Rio+20 outcome that makes almost no progress for women’s rights and rights of future generations in sustainable development. The Women’s Major Group has worked around the clock to maintain women’s rights and commitments to gender equality that have already been agreed to, but gaining affirmation of those rights left no time for real progress and commitments to moving toward the future we need.

Women worldwide are outraged that governments failed to recognize women’s reproductive rights as a central aspect of gender equality and sustainable development in the Rio+20 Outcome Document. Reproductive rights are universally recognized as human rights. The linkage between sustainable development and reproductive rights was recognized in in Agenda 21 and subsequently in the 1994 International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD) Program of Action.

While we have heard that the Rio +20 Conference was not a bilateral process but a multilateral one, it is unacceptable that our reproductive rights agreed upon nearly 20 years ago were renegotiated and not reaffirmed in the final outcome document. We are, however, pleased with the reaffirmation of the ICPD and the Beijing Platform for Action as well as their subsequent review outcomes. In particular, as we prepare for ICPD +20, Beijing + 20, the MDGs +15, the SDGs processes and the post-2015 development agenda, we urge governments worldwide to reaffirm these commitments to gender equality, and in particular, sexual and reproductive health and rights, so that all women and men, adolescents and youth can live their lives to their fullest potential.

Nor were there strong commitments to women’s rights to land, property and inheritance. Not only from a human rights perspective, but also from an economic perspective, excluding half of the world’s population from access to resources is utterly foolish. Several heads of state also criticized these grave omissions in the text, and the Prime Minister of Norway commented that in the case of Norway, the share of GDP generated by women exceeds national income from oil revenue.

No Right to a Healthy Environment

Thousands of peoples’ right to a healthy environment are being disrespected. The Women’s Major Group is dismayed and alarmed that there is no reference to radioactive pollution and its devastating impact on our health and our environment, including rivers, aquifers, food and air. The Rio+20 outcome document should have recognized the unacceptable risk of nuclear pollution and the high cost of nuclear energy. The Women’s Major Group stands in solidarity with the women’s organizations from Japan present here in Rio who are calling for an immediate shut down of nuclear power! We also note with dismay that the text on mining highlights the interests and profiteering of the mining companies rather than advocating for a healthy environment for women, their communities, and indigenous peoples.

Further, the critical connection between climate change and gender is not mentioned at all. This is unacceptable and contrary to women’s daily experiences. Women, children, indigenous peoples and the impoverished (the majority of whom are women) are the most heavily impacted by increasingly dire consequences of climate change. Equally critical is the huge potential contribution to climate mitigation and adaptation that could be made by women, yet their essential role in leading and participating in desperately needed climate solutions is not mentioned.

Halting Land-grabbing, Ensuring Women’s Control and Access to Natural Resources

In many countries of the world women produce up to 80% of the food, cultivating lands that they do not own, gathering food from forests to which they have no entitlements. The rush for resources to fuel our unsustainable development with minerals and biofuels has already evicted great numbers of women from the lands they have cultivated and protected over millennia. Women call for an immediate halt to land-grabbing! We cannot put women’s food production in competition with biofuels, Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs) and agro-industrial corporations – the Monsantos of this world. We are very disappointed that there are no clear steps outlined for a moratorium on GMOs and more broadly that there are no concrete measures to assure women’s right to access to and control of the natural resources that are the basis of their livelihoods, in particular the mining section does not assure rights of impacted communities.


Wednesday, June 27, 2012

“The Future We Want”: Not perfect, but balanced

By Social Watch, June 21, 2012

More than 100 heads of State and government prepare to approve on Friday in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, the outcome document of the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development (Rio2012). After intensive and protracted informal negotiations, representatives of 191 countries reached an agreement on Tuesday.

President Dilma Rousseff of Brazil said at the opening ceremony on Wednesday that the agreement was the result of a major effort to establish compromise solutions, and that it did not mean a backing down from previous commitments, especially those signed 20 years ago at the Earth Summit, also held in Rio de Janeiro.

Rousseff remarked relevant gains, including the adoption of sustainable development goals (SDGs); the creation of a high-level political forum to follow their implementation; the strengthened endowment of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP); the expansion of the civil society’s role regarding sustainable development; the adoption of an unprecedented 10-year programme towards sustainable production and consumption patterns; the recognition that the GDP is not an accurate measure for development and the commitment to design an alternative formula.

The text, entitled “The Future We Want”, also calls upon the private sector to incorporate sustainable development information into their balance sheets.

Rousseff called for urgent actions to protect the oceans, as developing countries depend on their resources. In 1992, she added, the world leaders acknowledged that the principle of common but differentiated responsibility was essential to achieve sustainable development, and also the need to curb the unsustainable production and consumption patterns.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said that the old model for economic and social development is broken, and that Rio2012 is a unique chance to set it right, to create a new model that balances the imperatives of robust growth and economic development with the social and environmental dimensions.

The negotiations were hard but significant progress was made, according to Ban. The SDGs will build on the advances made under the MDGs and are an integral part of the post-2015 development agenda.

Sha Zukang, the Secretary-General of the Conference, said that we are living in another historic moment and that the green economy can be a tool for sustainable development.

More than 40,000 people, including parliamentarians, mayors, and civil society representatives take part in Rio2012.

There were no objections to the adoption of the outcome document at the final plenary of the "pre-conference informal consultations". Even the European Union left its previous objections aside.

The text is not perfect but represents the possible balance, said Brazilian Foreign Minister Antonio Patriota.

The document reflects some of the main demands of the developing countries, including the reaffirmation of the Rio Principles, among them the principle of common but differentiated responsibilities, the confirmation of commitments such as the Agenda 21 and the Johannesburg Plan of Implementation, an intergovernmental process to develop the SDGs, another intergovernmental process under the UN General Assembly to facilitate the mobilization of resources towards those objectives, the creation of a mechanism to transfer environmentally sound technologies and the exploration of modalities to allow developing countries to access to these technologies.

Algeria, as Chair of the Group of 77 and China, said that the outcome document was the best possible after more than a year of hard negotiations.

On its part, the United States appreciated the balanced outcome of the hard work, but showed its disappointment because the reproductive rights were not recognized and there were no a range of priorities among the SDGs.

Denmark, on behalf the European Union, said that the document could have been more action-oriented. Norway remarked the positive elements on gender equality but regretted the lack of agreement on sexual and reproductive rights.

Bolivia expressed its happiness regarding the recognition to the rights of Mother Earth, the human right to safe drinking water and sanitation and the rights of indigenous peoples.

Nauru, representing the Alliance of Small Island States, said that the outcome document could not provide for all situations but it was a positive step to guide further works.

Cuba said the text was the result of a compromise, but was a good conclusion given the difficult negotiations.

Venezuela said that Brazil has shown its leadership managing transparent and open negotiations, and expressed its concern on the lack of political will among developed countries for strong commitments on finance and technology transfer.

Egypt, speaking for the Arab Group, said that it would have liked a more ambitious document but welcome the reaffirmation of the Rio Principles, although warned that the green economy was not a replacement of sustainable development.

Argentina found the text balanced and wanted that balance to be preserved.

Congo, on behalf the African Union, referred to the strengthening and upgrading of UNEP and supported to change its name to United Nations Environment Organisation (UNEO).


Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Africa After Rio+20

By Michel Camdessus and Muhammad Yunus, Huffington Post, June 24, 2012

It is clear that Rio+20 has not delivered what many of us had hoped. Twenty years after the world committed itself to increased efforts to tackle inequality, hunger and environmental destruction at the first Earth Summit, we seem to be moving in the wrong direction.

It was a major disappointment that Rio+20 saw a lack of progress on defined and measurable sustainable development goals. Rather than agreeing new global action to meet existing equity commitments, many seem to have been diluted or have disappeared.

Instead, we saw a wasted opportunity to build on the way the MDGs (Millennium Development Goals) have focused global attention on the needs of the extreme poor. We are pleased to see that the Rio+20 statement recognized the need for increased efforts to meet the MDGs by 2015. But what is lacking is any commitment to timetables or outcomes to achieve and extend this ambition.

This is a huge setback for Africa and other developing regions of the world. As the latest report from the Africa Progress Panel highlighted, the continent continues to suffer from deep, persistent and enduring inequalities. We called for agreement on an international drive to close the gap where the MDGs are going to be missed and to continue progress beyond 2015. This has not happened.

While new efforts to meet the MDGs and to extend them beyond 2015 are vital, they are also not enough on their own. They need to be complemented by practical commitments to address the combined demands of rapid population growth, increased consumption of scarce natural resources, climate change and environmental degradation on our world.

This puts the failures of the global food system high on any agenda for action. Again Africa's citizens are paying a very high price for these failures. Over 200 million people, the highest proportion of any region, face food insecurity in sub-Saharan Africa.

Ensuring that Africa can meet present and future food needs requires agricultural productivity and small-holder farmers, many of whom are women, to be put at the centre of economic growth strategies. But while stressing the importance of agriculture, the Summit again failed to agree on provisions for the urgently needed investment in small-holding farming and climate adaptation assistance.

Africa is forecast to be the continent worst hit by climate change. Increasing harvests and food production in these challenging circumstances requires a major commitment, by governments within and outside the continent, to fund a climate-resilient Green Revolution in Africa.

This will also require increased international co-operation in managing scarce water resources -- essential in Africa whose rivers cross many national borders. So it was alarming to see the Rio Summit apparently giving renewed emphasis to national sovereignty on this critical issue.

Nor did we see the steps needed to strengthen land rights protection and introduce global standards for land acquisition. In the last decade, speculators have bought up over 134 million hectares of land in Africa -- an area larger than the UK, France and Germany combined. All too often, it is the poor people who live on this land whose livelihoods and futures are threatened.

None of these ambitions can be met if wealthier countries use the excuse of the global financial crisis to break their promises to the poorest on the planet. The Rio statement rightly calls on Governments to keep their word on all ODA commitments. Yet over 40 years after the developed world first committed itself to spending 0.7 percent of its annual national wealth on aid, only five countries have met this target.

Rich countries, meanwhile, spend 80 times more in subsidy to their own farmers than they do in supporting agriculture in the developing world. Promised money to help poorer countries protect their citizens against climate change has simply not been delivered. This failure helps explain why many developing countries are reluctant to sign up to new international goals.

We understand that national budgets, in developed and developing countries, are under intense pressure. It is why we need to examine new funding mechanisms such as levies on international air transport or bunker fuel taxes. In particular, we agree with our colleague, Mr. Kofi Annan in calling for a financial transactions tax as an innovative method for mobilizing development and climate change finance.

Despite the missed opportunities at Rio, it is not pessimism but action we need. We saw support for the importance of green growth strategies for eradicating poverty, reducing inequalities and upholding human rights. If countries adopt the green accounting measures, endorsed by the UN and World Bank, alongside more traditional economic data, it will be a major step in driving sustainable development.

Above all, in a world more inter-connected than ever, it is becoming clearer by the day that only through multilateral co-operation can we redress unjust and persistent inequalities, world hunger and environmental destruction. But the longer we ignore this truth, the larger these challenges will become.


Monday, June 25, 2012

Rio agreement on SDGs threatens strength of post Millennium Development Goal framework.

By CAFOD, June 22, 2012

As the Rio+20 Earth Summit closes, CAFOD is concerned that agreed text on the SDGs sends confusing and contradictory signals about a future set of global goals to guide the fight against poverty and environment degradation.

In Rio, Governments agreed to set up an additional negotiation track at the UN, the intergovernmental panel, which will work on the SDGs in parallel to the High Level Panel on post-MDGs. This means there is no clear commitment to one set of goals.

Nanette Antequisa, Director of CAFOD partner, ECOWEB: Achieving a new set of ambitious goals which incorporated the voices of people in poverty to replace the MDGs after 2015 was already a challenging task. It is a real shame that Rio+20 has made that agreement even harder.'

Post-MDG Policy Advisor, Bernadette Fischler said: The Rio agreement should have puts its weight behind the post-MDG process that has recently been established and sending a clear signal that an integrated approach to poverty reduction and environmental protection must be at the heart of the global development framework post-2015. Instead governments are squabbling to agree who will lead yet another international initiative the exact purpose of which remains undefined. The new set of goals must deliver positive change for the world’s poorest people who don’t classify the food, water, energy, and clean air they depend on as either poverty or environment issues – they just want to survive and live decent lives.


Sunday, June 24, 2012


Released for Endorsement and Support

The fourteen Peoples’ Sustainability Treaties, evolved through a consultative process with hundred of civil society organizations, converged at the Rio+20 to launch a Manifesto on the final day of the summit. They have declared that another world is possible after Rio+20 and pledged their commitment to a transition toward increasingly sustainable futures on earth.

The signatories to this Manifesto refuse to sit idly by in the face of another failure of governments to provide hope for a sustainable future for all. They announced their own responsibility for undertaking actions, inviting and encourage similar actions and commitments by other rightsholders and stakeholders, communicating a vision for healthy communities, sustainable and equitable human well-being and its associated strategies, and coming together in the form of a global citizen’s movement to shepherd the transition to a sustainable, equitable, and democratic future. These would come together in the form of a global citizen’s movement to shepherd the transition to a sustainable, equitable, and democratic future, one in which ethics is both a right and a responsibility—at the level of the individual, the community and the planet.

Humankind faces multiple and daunting crises that are more than likely to confront and impact billions of people in the decades to come. In addition, research is showing us that our actions are very likely going to cause us to transgress multiple planetary thresholds and boundaries. Despite this, governments at Rio+20 are missing yet another opportunity to formulate an effective response to these crises. Indeed, since 1992, there has been a retrogression in the consensus that was reached at the Earth Summit—and reflected in such principles as burden sharing, articulation of rights, mobilization of support, and protection of the vulnerable. Repeated attempts to revive this consensus—at Johannesburg in 2002, Bali in 2007, Copenhagen in 2009, and now Rio de Janeiro in 2012—have come up empty handed, thus thwarting efforts to build upon it. Despite unprecedented growth in the global economy since 1992, governments are trapped in making insatiable demands for still more unsustainable growth and rising inequity to remedy problems that economic globalization itself has caused.

The signatories have pledged to:

Equity is the overarching demand from the civil society world, and must be the foundation of the collective global response. We call for equity within generations, equity across generations, and equity between humans and nature. For this we need to revert back to making individual and societal decisions based on equity and ecological factors and not merely on monetary factors. A different sort of economics, a new approach to learning and education as a process, a revised understanding of ethics and of spirituality then become the ways in which we can work toward a more Equitable society; one that recognizes our integral relationship with the natural world

Localizing our systems of economies, decentralizing governance, and advancing sustainable lifestyles and livelihoods becomes the new social order of sustainable societies. Localism is the theme emerging across the board which is linked to the principles of devolution, of decentralization and of subsidiarity, turning localism into a world-wide movement becomes the key to unpacking many of the complexities we face, whether in the case of sustainable consumption and production or in the case of radical ecological democracy. Protecting the rights of Mother Earth and of humans, transforming our governance systems through radical ecological democracy, respecting cultural diversity, and strengthening sustainable economies is the way towards sustainable futures for all. It is thus essential that we create a more effective, responsible and democratic system of global governance

A Global Citizens Movement is the collective response towards transitioning to a sustainable world. All sections of society must thrive to converge upon their visions and convictions and find common ground for collective action that can bring about the transformation required to ensure the wellbeing of all on the planet—humans as well as nature. Such a global citizens movement would catalyze for a peaceful and prosperous new world that generates widespread happiness and contentment – thus propagating widespread practices of mindful intentional action. For this, a new sense of ethics, values and spirituality must be seeded within current and future generations through a redesigned system of learning, education and enlightenment.

This manifesto calls for action that helps move simultaneously toward a more localized socio-economic structure and toward a supra-national mindset that helps us transcend the parochial concerns of a corporate-capitalistic globalization to activate a global citizens movement.

The Peoples’ Sustainability Treaties is an initiative by global civil society organizations to come together to develop an independent, collective outcome for a sustainable future beyond Rio+20. The treaties are essentially a forward looking process and targets a future beyond Rio+20 and will become a living document towards the transition to a sustainable world order.

More information on the Peoples’ Treaties process, the outcome documents and on the Manifesto of post-Rio+20 action can be found at: . All civil society organizations and citizens of the world are invited to commit themselves by endorsing the Manifesto at:

For any Rio+20 follow-up action please contact Mr. Uchita de Zoysa at

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Rio+20 verdict? The green economy is growing up

By Green Economy Coalition, June 2012

As we come to the final day of three years of preparations and six months of intense intergovernmental negotiations has Rio+20 been a success or a failure? Oliver Greenfield, Convenor of the Green Economy Coalition, gives his reflections.

The Rio+20 outcome document that is now being finalised by Heads of State and ministers has been met with equal levels of enthusiasm and disparagement. While government delegations are calling the text a significant achievement, 1000 NGOs, institutions and individuals have signed a petition calling it “The Future We Don’t Want” – citing failures on removing fossil fuel subsidies, failure to protect oceans, failures to address women’s reproductive health.

The outcome document has many failings. It lacks timeframes, urgency and a clear indication of how the transition will be funded. But, the prospect of green economy has not died. A year ago, governments were suspicious of the concept, now they are exploring green economy as one tool for sustainable development. To quote the Venezuelan delegation during the final text release –“Green economy has changed from something that is being imposed, to something we own.” Rio+20 has helped the concept of a green economy take its first tentative steps into the world.

The sustainable development community now has a mandate, albeit weak, for many of the things we wanted. We have a commitment to the Sustainable Development Goals, to strengthening UNEP, to embolden corporate sustainability reporting, to developing beyond GDP metrics, to adopting the 10 year programme on sustainable consumption and production. We also have some encouraging signals on energy and the bolstering of science in policy making. At first reading The Future We Want is probably graded a C- but it is definitely not an F.

Above all Rio+20 has proved two things. First, sustainable development and greener economies will not evolve without the support of a strong multilateral system. The role of the UN has never been so important and we need events that world leaders feel compelled to attend. Always seeing the glass half empty (or completely empty) does damage to future chances of success. Second, Rio+20 has witnessed a geopolitical shift, not in economic power, but in leadership. The stars of the show have been Brazil and Colombia. Brazil took up the reins of the negotiations and put an end to the intergovernmental squabbling, while Colombia drove through the Sustainable Development Goals. The axis of leadership has shifted.

So Rio + 20 has been a stepping stone, not a turning point. We are closer to coherence but the bigger battles lie ahead.The vision of a new economy has been born. Its toddler years and adolescence are still to come. Here at the Green Economy Coalition we will be working hard to ensure that it grows up fast. We invite you to be part of the transition.


Friday, June 22, 2012

Agenda 21 ‘degraded’ in Rio – Bangladesh Minister

By Kimbowa Richard

At a side event organised by DARA (an independent International organisation based in Spain) on the ‘the place for climate vulnerability in the Rio agenda’, Ministers from Bangladesh, Costa Rica and Nepal decried the increasing effects of climate change on the lives of their citizens and their economies

In his submission at a discussion panel that included other Ministers from Nepal and Costa Rica, the Bangladesh Environment Minister - Dr. Hasan Mahmud said that there has been a ‘degradation of Agenda 21’ in Rio. He noted that with only a few paragraphs, climate change is not adequately addressed as millions of people continue to be displaced due to a loss of livelihood. He added that with inadequate Rio texts, his country’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) losses will only grow which will further aggravate this condition. ‘Rio should amplify climate change in the Rio+20 outcome texts, Dr Hassan Mahmud cautioned.

On his part Mr. Rene Castro, Environment Minister of Costa Rica said that Climate change and climate vulnerability must be prominent in the Rio Agenda and Sustainable Development Goals for them to have any chance of success. He informed the meeting that it is a basic human right to have a home rather than being displaced by climate change as it appears to be in different parts of the world.
‘To have forced migration is unacceptable, Mr Rene emphasized. He disclosed that Costa Rica currently uses up to 1% of its GDP to offset climate change related impacts on infrastructure, schools, settlements and other sectors, but this is expected to rise if no counter steps are taken.

The Nepalese Environment Minister - Dr. Kashab Man Shakya, Environment said that the climate problem is international. He gave the example that when the Himalaya (the water tower of South Asia) glaciers melt, it is not just Nepal that suffers from the resulting avalanches and landslides. Bangladesh as well as India suffers too. ‘Therefore much more international collaboration is required to avoid such effects’, Dr Kashab noted.

The way I see it, this side event exemplified the real need to reach vulnerable and marginalised communities and groups when developing the planned Sustainable Development Goals that should have a clear linkage with the post 2015 (MDG) development framework. Such an inclusive, unified equity – sensitive process should be able to come up with a global response on how climate change and other environmental challenges currently faced by vulnerable countries in Africa, Asia and Latin America should be addressed.

The Climate Vulnerable Forum is an international partnership of vulnerable countries from Africa, Asia, the Americas and the Pacific founded in 2009. 19 members of the Forum adopted a 14-point Ministerial Declaration in Dhaka, Bangladesh in mid-November 2011 at a meeting inaugurated by UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon on the threshold of the UN talks in Durban. Costa Rica is incoming Chair and DARA is a key support partner.

East African Community urged to mobilise more resources internally and give priority to own citizens in use of water resources

By Kimbowa Richard

The East African Community (EAC) organised a side event in Rio to show case progress towards sustainable development in the region. The event was attended by the Secretary General – Ambassador Richard Sezibera, Chairman Council of Ministers – Mr Musa Sirma, Speaker of the East African Legislative Assembly – Rt. Hon Margret Zziwa, AU Chairman – Mr Jean Ping, Deputy Secretary General – Ms Jesca Eriyo and African Union Commissioners.

In his remark, Ambassador Sezibera noted that since 1992, East Africa has been implementing sustainable development commitments as per Agenda 21. He further noted the progress made in the integration process that has seen increase in Foreign Direct Investment, and intra-trade within the 5 EAC partner states. However, he noted that the EAC economies are heavily dependent on rain fed agriculture, which makes them vulnerable to climate change, changes in commodity prices, the global economic downturn among other challenges.

Ambassador Sezibera added that East African has numerous natural resources that support millions of livelihoods for example the Lake Victoria basin. Hence these resources have to be harnessed sustainably to secure long term survival. In this regard, the EAC has put in place a Protocol on Environment and Natural Resources that has given rise to institutions like the Lake Victoria Basin Commission; legislations related to management of transboundary ecosystems and the control of polythene materials.

He added that during the Conference EAC will sign a Contract with International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) and later in September with UNEP on advancing sustainable development in the region. He also urged partners to support the newly created East African Climate Change Fund.

The Executive Secretary – Lake Victoria Basin Commission (LVBC), Dr. Canisius Kanangire highlighted the potential and challenges of sustainable development in the Lake Victoria basin, and the work his organisation is doing to propel sustainable development. He also highlighted the current Lake Victoria Basin strategic plan. He concluded that sustainable development in the Lake Victoria region requires wider participation and stakeholder involvement.

The newly elected EALA Speaker – Rt. Hon. Margret Zziwa gave an overview of the provisions in the East African Community Treaty that put sustainable development in place. ‘I call upon fellow Speakers from the Assemblies of the five Partner States to ensure that legislative processes domesticate more sustainable development laws’, the EALA Speaker concluded.

In the plenary, an issue of East Africa’s fast urbanisation challenges was highlighted. In addition, the need to mobilize resources internally was brought up, arising from the Rio outcome document that does not make new clear commitments in relation to finance

The Guest of Honour – Ms Rhoda Tumusiime (AU Commissioner for rural economy and agriculture) applauded the EAC for coming up with a Consensus statement for Rio + 20 and the EAC Climate Change Fund and urged for more action to mobilise resources for sustainable development from within the region. She also urged the EAC to secure that action on climate change takes centre stage as part of the development interventions, as the region is increasingly vulnerable to its effects.

On use of the region’s water resources, Ms Rhoda Tumusiime urged the EAC to ensure that the people of East Africa are given priority rather than ‘individuals’.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Harvesting the rain drop in Brazil

By Ketki Angre, June 21, 2012

Can 1 mm of rain on the roof help wash away the water problems of a community?
If the Rio example is anything to go by, it certainly looks like a promising proposition.

Their math says: 1 mm of rain per square metre = 1 litre saved.

Under the aegis of the Brazil government's project called 'Brazil without misery', the 'Water for Everyone' project works at two levels - it provides water to communities that do not have access to municipal supply and makes the community a stakeholder in its own development.

Here's how: Communities are taught how to build cisterns in their locality to store rain water, harvested during the summer, when Brazil receives good rainfall on a daily basis. Once community members learn how to set-up the cistern, they help other communities do the same.

The harvested rain-water is stored in community cisterns that can be accessed for domestic use and even for the small garden and subsistence farming.

Bruno Maciel Moraes, who works with Banco do Brasil, that finances the 'Cisterns de placas' initiative says, "The community gets empowered. If you are involved, you develop."

brazil-favela-new-295.jpgWe visited the Sergio Silva community in the Complexo do Alemao locality of Rio de Janeiro, previously notorious and synonymous with its high crime rate and drug mafia dominance. (Complexo do Alemao has as many as 17 'favelas' or slums.) Through the community cistern project, families here have greater access to drinking water and water for domestic use, including to a part of the city which even the municipal body does not service.

The 'cisterns de placas' project that has been working in eastern Brazil for a while now, and the results seem encouraging. In fact, there are 60000 cisterns in 89 counties in Brazil. The target is to reach one million. Though the cost of installation of one such cistern is about 2000 reais (US$ 1000 approx), given that it can easily help take care of the water needs of 5-6 families for eight months without any trouble, many suggest the returns are well worth the money invested.


Rio Outcome Bleak With No New Funding

By Thalif Deen, Terra Viva, June 19,2012

Amidst recrimination, anger and charges of “strong arm tactics”, negotiators eventually endorsed a global plan of action for sustainable development following marathon sessions lasting over six weary days.

A proposal for a 30-billion-dollar global fund for sustainable development – initiated by developing countries – was shot down even before it could get off the ground.

The United States and the 27-member European Union (EU) refused to approve the proposal, leaving in doubt how an ambitious blueprint for sustainable development, titled “The Future We Want,” is to be financed over the next decade.

“Without funding commitments, the Rio+20 outcome is likely to go the same way as previous documents of this nature, adopted with much fanfare and at great cost by world leaders,” Ambassador Palitha Kohona, Sri Lanka’s permanent representative to the United Nations, told Terra Viva.

The funding is essential for most developing countries if they are to implement the lofty aspirations expressed in the 49-page outcome document.

“If developing countries are not brought on board, the outcome document will remain a pious list of unfulfilled dreams. The future that we all want must be a future that we all can have,” said Kohona, a former chief of the U.N. Treaty Section, who has been closely monitoring negotiations both at Rio+20 and the politically-disastrous 2009 climate change conference in Copenhagen.

But all is not lost, according to Martin Khor, executive director of the South Centre, a Geneva-based think tank of developing nations.

“The document is quite fair and balanced, given the current negative state of international cooperation for development,” he said.

Khor told TerraViva that at least the final document reaffirmed the Rio principles, including the common but differentiated responsibilities, which is precious for developing countries as it spells equity in sharing the costs of shifting to an environmentally friendly economy.

“Until almost the last day it seemed like some developed countries would refuse to even reaffirm what was committed at Rio 20 years ago,” Khor said.

It is a sad state of affairs, he said, that a reaffirmation of Rio, which in previous times would have been automatic, would now be considered a success of Rio+20.

“A weakness is that there is no commitment by the North for new funding or for concrete technology transfer,” he added.

However, the 132 member Group of 77 (G77) developing countries, plus China, managed to get a decision to start a U.N. General Assembly process to consider a new financial and a new technology mechanism. But it will be a tough fight to actually set these up.

“The global economic crisis has thrown a long shadow over Rio+20. Nevertheless, the G77 and China won a victory in having most of their issues accepted in the document,” Khor said.

Secretary-General of the Rio+20 summit Sha Zukang admitted the hurdles that had to be cleared before reaching final agreement.

“We think the text contains a lot of action. And, if this action is implemented, and if follow-up measures are taken, it will indeed make a tremendous difference in generating positive global change.”

Of course, he added, this document is the product of intensive protracted negotiations. And therefore, it is a compromise text.

“Like all negotiations, there will be some countries that feel the text could be more ambitious. Or, others who feel their own proposals could be better reflected. While still others might prefer to have their own language. But, let’s be clear: multilateral negotiations require give and take.”

Meena Raman, a negotiation expert at the Malaysia-based Third World Network said, “The outcome document does not have the ambition needed to save the planet or the poor but it has not taken us backwards, particularly given our initial fears that Rio+20 might be Rio-40.”

“This minimal outcome signals a lack of political courage, leadership and commitment from developed countries, and those campaigning for the future we really want will have to redouble our efforts.”

Ambassador Kohona said, “It is not going to be clever to disguise disinclination with clever terminology. We all know how donor countries mobilised massive funds at very short notice to deal with the financial crisis for which they themselves were responsible.”

“The environment may be approaching a much more serious crisis level,” he warned.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

RIO+20: Ignoring Science, Negotiations Become Political Battle

By Stephen Leahy, June 19, 2012

The science is crystal clear: humans are threatening Earth’s ability to support mankind, and a new world economy is urgently needed to prevent irreversible decline, said scientists and other experts at an event on the sidelines of the Rio+20 Earth Summit.

Yet the Global Environment Outlook report, or GEO 5, which was launched on June 6 and assessed 90 of the most important environmental objectives, found that significant progress had been made only in four in the 20 years since the first landmark summit in Rio in 1992.

Achim Steiner, the executive director of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) said the results of GEO 5 were “depressing, even to me”.

“This ought to have us shaking in our boots,” Steiner told TerraViva at the Fair Ideas conference that concluded Sunday. ”It is an indictment of our behaviour over the past 20 years and of the governments we elected. We need an honest conversation about why we are not turning things around.”

Instead, “what’s happening right now in the RioCentro (Rio+20 official site) is that science is being picked out of the text of the final agreement,” Johan Rockström, executive director of the Stockholm Resilience Centre in Sweden, told the conference.

Rockström said he had received updates from the negotiations that the United States and some of the world’s least developed countries were attacking the science showing humanity is pushing up against “planetary boundaries”.

Climate is only one of those “planetary boundaries”. Another is the ongoing decline of biodiversity, where so many plants and animals are going extinct that the Earth’s living systems, upon which humanity depends, are unravelling. Fresh water is another planetary boundary. Water is a limited resource, yet water use has increased six-fold in the past century.

“The science is absolutely clear: we are up against the edges of the planet’s ability to support us and approaching irreversible tipping points,” Rockström said.

What the science is also showing is that “we are in a situation where we have to share finite budgets for carbon, phosphorus, freshwater, land and so on”, he added. It is clear the majority of the world – that is, countries of the global south – has used far less of those “budgets”.

If rich countries are to consume their fair share, they will have to use less, Rockström explained, and for that reason, the very science of planetary boundaries is under attack by certain interest groups whose profits rely on the ability to use these resources, no matter how destructive.

“There is no question rich countries must reduce their ecological footprint,” agreed Steiner.

The term “ecological footprint” refers to the system of measuring how much ecosystem it takes to support each human life on the planet. The average American footprint is many, many times larger than the average African footprint.

At the same time, poor countries need to learn how to green their economies, Steiner said. Above all, “none of this can be done under the current economic system that is imprisoning us.”

What Rio+20 is really all about is the beginning of a new world economy and a new era of international governance. “More will come from this than expected, but not in the sense of formal agreements or documents,” he said.

“We have hard choices to make. We cannot have win-win situations all the time,” said Camilla Toulmin, director of the International Institute of Environment and Development (IIED) based in London.

“In Rio, we need a grand bargain: the rich countries agree to cut their consumption, waste and energy use and the low and middle income countries agree to move forward towards low carbon economies,” Toulmin told attendees.

The bargain is easier said than done, however, and negotiations have morphed into a political battle that is no longer about science or development. It is a battle between “those who feel their interests are threatened and don’t want change and the rest of us who recognise the compelling need for change”, Toulmin said.

“It would be great if we could work this out rationally… but I fear we’re headed for an unplanned and violent resolution, judging by the current state of negotiations.”


Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Blogging the Rio+20 Earth Summit for the Rest of Us: What's at Stake with the Green Economy

By Oscar Reyes, Institute for Policy Studies, June 16, 2012

Simply obtaining measures to implement the commitments made 20 years ago would be better than creating any new corporate-driven initiatives or issuing yet more empty promises.

President Barack Obama may be steering clear of the Rio+20 Earth Summit, but thousands of government delegates, civil society activists, and business lobbyists are already streaming into Brazil.

I arrived last night and will blog throughout this UN Conference on Sustainable Development. I'll bring you the latest about the talks among those somber-suited delegates who'll buzz around a complex of aircraft hangars on the edge of the city. And I'll sum up the action at the tent city that has sprung up in Rio's vast and verdant Flamengo Park — where the People's Summit for Social and Environmental Justice is taking place.

To kick things off, here's some recommended reading for anyone who's about to board a plane to Rio to attend the summit from June 20-22, or to help you follow the action if you're not. To learn what's at stake, I recommend reading the Rio Conventions, which world leaders agreed to follow during the meeting they held here in 1992. These landmark treaties laid out the principles under which key issues of environmental protection are to be discussed. The three landmark conventions address climate change, biodiversity, and desertification.

Then there's Agenda 21 — a modest and rather toothless action plan for supposedly "sustainable development." (While over-excited tea partiers may consider that document to be a Soros-funded, left-wing conspiracy for the United Nations to achieve world domination, it never had much impact.)

And although the first Rio Earth Summit successfully established a framework for multilateral environmental negotiations, its impact has remained limited. Nature magazine's damning report card, which makes that clear, is also very disturbing. Global greenhouse gas emissions have risen at even faster rates than before. We continue to lose biodiversity at an unprecedented rate. Land degradation is causing the continued spread of deserts.

For this reason, many delegates in Rio this time around are simply calling for measures to implement existing commitments. They say that would be better than creating any new corporate-driven initiatives or issuing yet more empty promises. The Third World Network has a comprehensive overview of the key issues, and is publishing regular updates with details of who said what at the Rio+20 talks.

"Green economy" proposals have proven to be some of the most contentious so far. On June 14, the 133 countries that comprise the G77+China (the largest negotiating bloc, representing the majority of the world's population) walked out of talks on this element of the text. They cited a lack of progress on funding to help developing countries achieve more sustainable development and "technology transfer" mechanisms that could ease patent restrictions to promote the spread of cleaner technologies. Today, they kicked out of the agreement text that would have advocated a "transition to a green economy."

That's a win for progressives. Really. Wait — don't we want a greener economy? Of course we do, but as this briefing, this video , this animation, and this report clearly show, there's widespread concern that the term "green economy" is being used as a cover by rich countries lobbying for new markets to be created in biodiversity and ecosystems, and new avenues for financial speculation. A truly green economy, by contrast, would recognize the limits of what can be "financialized." It would protect both the common good and public resources.

The battle between these very different worldviews will continue here over the coming days. The Rio+20 negotiating text remains littered with language that could be used to promote markets for environmental services. And the fight against the anti-democratic variety of green economics must be waged outside this conference too, because the World Bank and other powerhouses are busily building institutions to support these new markets


Monday, June 18, 2012

Liberia Looking for a Sustainable Economic Future at Rio+20

By Travis Lupick, IPS News June 15, 2012

Deep in the forest in Gbarpolu County, northwest Liberia, a group of men working a surface gold mine are asked what will happen to the land when they are finished with it.

They laugh, and shoot each other confused glances.

Gbessay Musa, who says he left Sierra Leone in search of work three years ago, delivers a cheerful response.

“We will leave the place when there is nothing left,” he exclaims. “We will find another site where there is money. The land here, it will just be here.”


Happy for a break from digging under the day’s hot sun, the young men are in good spirits, and more laughter follows. Musa is asked if he cares about the land, or just his gold.

“The people down here, they are getting by,” he answers, not fully understanding the question; his only consideration is for the livelihoods of the men who work with him.

The miners’ indifference is understandable. After 14 years of civil conflict that only ended in 2003, opportunities for education and meaningful employment in Liberia remain limited. The war devastated this West African nation.

A March 2011 World Bank report states that Liberia’s energy infrastructure was “completely demolished,” that piped water access fell from 15 percent in 1986 to less than three percent in 2008, and that the national road network was left in “a state of severe disrepair.”

To say that the government of Liberia has a number of competing priorities would be an understatement. It could easily share the attitude of the miners in Gbarpolu and forego concerns for the environment amid the rapid development of the country’s natural resources.

Yet ahead of the Rio+20 United Nations Conference for Sustainable Development scheduled for Jun. 20 to 22, the impoverished nation is leading a push out of Africa that calls for economic prosperity and environmental sensitivity, and asks that the two no longer be treated as mutually exclusive.

As executive director of the Liberia Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), it is Anyaa Vohiri’s job to ensure that Liberia’s natural resources are managed in a sustainable manner. The task can be a challenge, she tells IPS.

“You’re looking at immediate needs. So my role at the EPA is to say, ‘Okay, yes, we need all of the economic benefits, but not in a way that shoots our self in the foot,’ ” Vohiri says.

On May 25, Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf gave Vohiri’s office a major show of support.

Delivering the plenary address at the Summit for Sustainability in Africa in Gaborone, Botswana, Sirleaf said that striking a balance between immediate needs and long-term sustainable development is a top priority. She warned that the continent must ensure it does not deplete its natural resources while trying to meet short-term needs. She also stressed that in order to plan and implement a sustainable economic future, policymakers must take the future into account.

“How do we ensure that our watersheds, forests, fisheries and other ecosystems are protected from overuse and degradation because we need one more hospital or one more school?” Sirleaf asked. “Development and conservation can go hand in hand, provided we develop a framework for action around a shared vision.”

At the end of the two-day summit the Gaborone Declaration was drafted. It states that “urgent, concerted actions be undertaken to restore and sustain the ability of the Earth to support human communities…and thereby contribute to the prosperity of future generations.”

Vohiri says that the Gaborone Declaration will be carried to Rio+20 and defended there.

“What we give the world right now is our biodiversity,” she emphasises. “So if we do not get support for sustainably managing our ecosystem, we are in trouble. The world is in trouble.”

According to data supplied by the EPA, Liberia’s mean annual temperate is projected to rise between two and four degrees Celsius by 2100. An EPA presentation on climate change dated May 2012 lists key climate hazards for Liberia as increases in temperature, changes in rainfall patterns, tropical storms, and rising sea levels and coastal flooding.

An August 2010 United Nations Development Programme report states that Liberia has already started to experience the effects of climate change, “which include reduced soil moisture, shifts in temperature, erratic rainfall and heat waves.” The document emphasises that 70 percent of Liberia’s labour force is employed in agriculture, and that that sector is the most vulnerable to the impacts of climate change.

“This desk study revealed that the increase in heat intensity and erratic rainfall patterns could be symptoms of climate change which have an adverse effect on crop yields and livestock production beyond the impacts expected,” the document continues.

One of Liberia’s most outspoken advocates for climate change mitigation is Sieane Abdul-Baki, a special assistant to the Minister of Gender and Development. She says that specific attention needs to be given to the disproportionate impact that climate change is expected to have on women and children.

Abdul-Baki says that her hope for Rio+20 is to see strategies for sustainable development incorporate considerations for gender sensitivity. She notes that in developing countries, household tasks such as food production and the procurement of water are largely the responsibilities of women, and those are areas where the effects of climate change can most acutely be felt.

“Women usually make decisions when it comes to what kind of fuel they will use for lighting their homes,” Abdul-Baki says. “So they may be driving deforestation. But when you have them informed about the impacts of climate change, they may be able to change their attitudes. So when it comes to adaptation and mitigation, we have to build women’s capacity.”

Abdul-Baki concedes that at an international summit as big as Rio+20, the priorities of developing countries can be overlooked.

“The smaller countries, we usually align ourselves into groups, or blocs,” she says.

“Because when we put ourselves into groupings, our voices become louder than when we negotiate on an individual basis.”

Abdul-Baki notes that at Rio+20, Liberia will be participating in negotiations and workshops as part of several coalitions, including the Africa Group, the Group of 77 and China, and the Least Developed Countries Group.

Vohiri says that such stakeholders have the opportunity to do development right and in a way that is sustainable. But the support of the rest of the world is needed.

“Smaller countries may not feel that they have the power to make change,” Vohiri says. “That is why we have to be there, that is why we have to speak.”


Plight of dying Lake Chad highlighted in Rio

By Kimbowa Richard, June 17, 2012

Lake Chad which is the fourth largest African Lake after Lake Victoria, Tanganyika and Nyasa has had its size reduce by 95% in the past 45 years. According to the Lake Chad Basin Commission (LCBC), in 1963, the size of the Lake was 25,000 sq Kms as opposed to 2,000 sq Kms today.

During this year’s Africa Environment Day, President Derby of Chad said that Lake Chad as a northern frontier, symbolizes resistance against the advancement of the desert in Africa and that it also constitutes a padlock to protect African river and forest basins. “Lake Chad is not only Chadian it is also African, in fact it is even a world heritage that deserves being declared as a heritage of humanity”, he added.

As a further step to sensitize development partners on the urgent imperative to save Lake Chad during the on-going United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, the Lake Chad regional authorities through the LCBC organised a side event, on June17, 2012.

The information seminar highlighted efforts made by the regional authorities - Niger, Chad, Nigeria, Cameroon, Central African Republic, NGOs and specialised agencies to address the challenges facing Lake Chad. These include degradation and desertification effects, lack of harmonisation of policies for sustainable management of water resources amongst the affected Lake Chad basin countries.

These include adoption of the Lake Chad Basin Water Charter by Heads of State and Government on April 30, 2012; development of an Integrated river basin management (vision 2025) with a framework for action (in short term – 8 years) and long term (20 years). This is the basis for the call for international action from development agencies and donors to assist and participate in these development efforts.

In addition, a Strategic Action Programme for the Lake Chad Basin has been adopted that specifies five Ecosystem Quality and Water Resource Objectives. These include improved quantity and quality of water; restoration, conservation and sustainable use of bioresources in the Lake Chad basin; conservation of biodiversity in the Lake Chad basin; restoration and preservation of ecosystems in the Lake Chad basin; strengthened participation and capacity of stakeholders, and institutional and legal frameworks for environmental stewardship for the Lake Chad basin.

As a follow up a donor roundtable is planned soon to enable generate resources from the Lake Chad region, development agencies and private entities to support a five year investment plan that has been developed, according to Engr. Sanusi Imran Abdullah, the Executive Secretary of LCBC.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Danish ’92 Group launches a discussion Paper: Building an equitable green economy

By Kimbowa Richard

Today I attended an exciting presentation of a discussion of a paper developed by the Danish’92 Group at a side event in the on-going Rio + 20 Third Preparatory Committee meeting. According to the authors, an ‘equitable green economy’ is an important tool to sustainable development.

The paper sees the development of an equitable Green Economy as a progression, transforming all aspects of the current mainstream economy and spreading out to all sections of society, and it stresses that this transformation is as much about the right processes as it is about the required outcomes.

The paper sees the equitable Green Economy as a means for achieving the WHAT of sustainable development, i.e. agreed objectives of equity and sustainable development. It stresses that these objectives must comprise all three strands of sustainable development: the social, the economic and the environmental.

And based on this, it also stresses that these objectives cannot only be the ones defined in the Rio process – such as agreements under the Rio Conventions or the proposed Sustainable Development Goals – but must encompass the whole range of development goals as agreed in the MDGs and/or in national development plans.

The paper underlines the importance of having these objectives defined to include both the transformation processes and their specific outcomes in a wide range of sectorial, cross-sectorial and thematic areas relevant to both developed and developing countries.

It goes on to analyse what these objectives of equity and sustainable development might look like in three key, interlinked areas: Food, water, and energy access and security. The bulk of the paper’s analysis is about the HOW of the link between an equitable Green Economy and sustainable development. It puts forward five key working principles, which together form a filter to inform policy and market decisions in progressing on the equitable Green Economy pathway

Read the full paper from here

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Mine Tailings Pollute a Chilean Town’s Water

By IPS News June 14, 2012

People in the small town of Caimanes in northern Chile will suffer severe health problems if water pollution produced by a tailings dam built by the Los Pelambres mining company is not cleaned up, experts warn.

Ironically, the Minera Los Pelambres has accused local residents who complained about the situation of creating a spurious conflict for private gain. The case comes to trial on Jun. 28.

“These are crimes against the local cultural heritage and society which violate human rights, and the state is responsible for failing to guarantee access to clean drinking water for the people of Caimanes and for letting a company expose them to lethal danger,” Patricio Bustamante, an archaeoastronomer who studies the astronomical beliefs and practices of ancient civilisations, told IPS.

Bustamante said the company’s copper mining operations in Valle del Choapa, 250 km north of Santiago, has had a negative impact on the community and has caused enormous losses to the local heritage, as 140 archaeological sites have been dug up and 500 stones bearing 2,000 engravings have been moved from their original positions.

But the worst thing, in the view of experts, is the construction and operation of the El Mauro tailings dam higher up in the Andes mountains. Seven kilometres long and 270 metres high, it is the largest toxic chemical dump in Latin America.

El Mauro, which means “place where water springs from” in a local indigenous language, is located eight kilometres upstream from the town of Caimanes.

According to studies by Bustamante, the tailings dam has not only destroyed the source of the Pupío brook, but has also caused the loss of groundwater, biodiversity and the last remnants of canelo (Drimys winteri) and white Chilean myrtle (Luma chequen) forests on the planet.

It is also a serious hazard to people living in the surrounding areas. If the dam were to collapse, people would have barely five minutes in which to escape to higher ground, but there is no early warning system.

What makes matters worse is the rate at which the tailings reservoir has been filled, taking only four years instead of the planned 25, with a mixture of toxic waste and water welling up from the ground.

The most important study on water pollution in Caimanes was carried out in November 2011 by Dr. Andrei Tchernitchin of the state University of Chile, who found high concentrations of toxic metals in several water courses.

“At the Caimanes bridge, the amount of iron was 50 percent higher than the permitted level, and manganese was at nearly twice the permitted level for drinking water,” Tchernitchin told IPS.

Based on these results, the scientist collected more samples. In analyses carried out in February 2012, he found manganese levels in a puddle a few centimetres above a stream that were much higher than international standards.

“The permitted level of manganese is 100 micrograms per litre, and we found 9,477 micrograms. The iron level was also 30 percent higher than the permitted level,” he said.

“This is extremely serious, because it means groundwater is being polluted quite near the town, a couple of kilometres away from the tailings dam, and the reservoir contents leaking out there are polluting not only the groundwater but also the brook,” he said.

He added that groundwater pollution could continue for five or 10 years, at which point drinking water would become contaminated.

He warned that if contamination continued at this rate, there would be serious consequences for the health of the local population. “Long-term exposure to manganese causes central nervous system diseases like psychosis, parkinsonism and dementia,” he said.

Tchernitchin, head of the Chilean Medical Association’s Commission for Health and Environment, said more research is needed, but stated that it is imperative “to compel the company” to clean up the water, even if this “is expensive, because I assume that whoever pollutes must take responsibility for cleaning up.”

He said he found it “strange” that samples taken by the company did not contain any of the pollutants found in his studies.

Minera Los Pelambres, which has been operating in the area for 10 years, belongs to the Luksic family, the wealthiest in the country and one of the richest in the world, according to Forbes magazine.

Back in 2006, the courts ruled in favour of the Caimanes community, in a trial that confirmed the pollution that the company is now denying. But a 25 million dollar settlement, divided between the owner of a large estate, Fernando Dougnac, a lawyer who had represented the community, and a group of local leaders, made it possible for the mining company to continue building the tailings dam.

Later, with a new team of lawyers, another lawsuit was brought against the mining company, local leaders, and the community’s previous attorney, for corruption. At the same time, 11 community members went on a hunger strike for 81 days.

In a counter-accusation, Minera Los Pelambres filed charges against the president of the Caimanes Defence Committee, Cristián Flores, and its lawyers for conspiracy and corruption. The mining company alleges that the committee is artificially stirring up a conflict with a view to financial gain.

“The difficulty is that the Minera (Los Pelambres) has brought lawsuits that are being investigated by a single prosecutor, who has never examined the company’s operations, yet upheld an accusation so baseless that even the police reports say there is nothing in it,” Sandra Dagnino, one of the lawyers accused by the company, told IPS.

She finds it inconceivable that the judge will not consider the report by Dr. Tchernitchin, endorsed by the University of Chile and the Chilean Medical Association, as valid evidence.

The trial, in which the defence will present close to 80 witnesses and Jean-Paul Luksic is expected to testify, was scheduled for Jun. 7 but has been postponed until Jun. 28.


Friday, June 15, 2012

Developing world holds key to keep Rio principles alive

By Nitin Sethi

With Prime Minister Manmohan Singh slated to attend the Rio summit on sustainable development, the government has prepared the grounds to help 'friendly' Brazil but not accept the adverse conditions that Europe is keen to impose at the event, which culminates with the meeting of heads of state from June 20 to 22.

Sources in the Indian team warned that while Brazil would be looking for a 'successful' and substantial results from the high-profile meeting, there is a risk of the existing Rio principles being junked unless the developing world sticks together as it has done so far.

"The fundamental principles for all international environmental negotiations were set up under the Rio Declaration 20 years ago. The balanced terms, which have become the basis for talks like on climate change, had all come out of these Rio principles. Now, the developed countries want to discard those principles and completely take away the very framework of environmental negotiations," an Indian negotiator for the Rio summit told Times Of India.

The pitched battles for a final declaration by the negotiators from more than 180 countries have been on through the year, and are reaching a crescendo as the summit dates draw closer. Wide disagreements largely remain over two issues - thematic areas and sustainable development goals (SDGs).

The developed countries, India believes, are putting the horse before the cart since they are pushing for an elaborate list of environmental concerns where nations need to take time-bound actions against fixed targets. This concern is being highlighted even as they want to remove the differential between rich and developing countries. The G77 and China have stuck together to demand that the large principles of how SDGs will function be agreed to before the world negotiates over areas for action.

This would ensure that the responsibility to meet the global targets is distributed, based on respective capabilities of the countries and not by playing blind to their socio-economic needs.

Observers say a large consensus is emerging that the SDGs might be agreed to in principle and the details worked out over the next three years. However, in such diplomatic negotiations countries often tend to hold the cards close to their chest till the end.

"It's instructive how the developed world is pushing for a rewrite of the climate convention as well as the Rio principles by 2015. It suggests that they want an overhaul of all existing international environmental regulations. One must not be fooled that the developed world is looking at this as economic instruments to be moulded to their best interests," a negotiator told Times of India.


Wednesday, June 13, 2012

"Not humanity’s last chance"

Yang Fangyi and Nala Songtai, China Dialogue, June 12, 2012

Despair is in the air ahead of next week’s Earth Summit as consensus proves elusive. But even the best of outcomes would only be the start – the real work comes later, argue Yang Fangyi and Nala Songtai.

When the United Nations Conference on the Human Environment was held in Stockholm in 1972, environmental protection was an exotic idea to most nations and people. But the declaration it produced clearly set out humanity’s duty to safeguard the natural world and the need for international cooperation to do so. The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) was established, and national governments followed suit with their own environmental authorities. This was the start of a new age of global green negotiation.

Twenty years later, in very different international circumstances, world leaders gathered in Brazil, where they put their names to the Rio Declaration on Environment and Development and sustainable-development blueprint Agenda 21, establishing a number of international principles such as common but differentiated responsibilities – the idea that rich countries should bear a bigger share of the burden than poor countries in tackling climate change – and the precautionary approach.

This laid the foundation for negotiations on three major conventions, on climate change, desertification and biodiversity. The 1992 Rio conference also prompted countries to examine their own sustainable-development strategies. Two years later, in 1994, Beijing formed the Administrative Centre for China’s Agenda 21 to set and implement a national sustainable-development plan.

Two decades ago, relieving poverty was by far and away the most pressing priority for most developing nations. In many places, that is still the case. But the years since 1992 have reshaped the world stage, and brought in new and competing pressures.

Emerging economies have grown rapidly, while growth in developed nations has slowed. We have seen financial crises in the west and a realigning of southern and northern economies. Meanwhile, global environment and resource pressures have worsened. According to a UNEP report, between 1992 and 2012, the world’s population grew by 26%; greenhouse-gas emissions increased by 36%; biodiversity fell by 12%; and 300 million hectares of forest were lost.

Social-development issues have not gone away. Improvements have been seen in areas such as healthcare, protection of rights and interests and food security. But globalisation and other forces have driven frequent famines in Africa, and controlling infectious diseases such as HIV is an ongoing battle.

Clearly, there are still major challenges for sustainable development, despite the many positive achievements to date. At the international level, further negotiations on the three international conventions signed in 1992 have been slow, particularly in the case of climate change. Finance and technology transfers are problematic, responsibilities are divided unevenly, international law is not adequately binding and global governance mechanisms are decentralised. Structural failings continue to hold back international progress.

And so, next week – from June 20 to 22 – the world will again gather in Brazil, for the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development, or Rio+20. The leaders of more than 100 nations will sketch out a blueprint for future sustainable development, focusing on how to build a green economy, and the right international framework for sustainable development.

But behind the idealism lies fierce disagreement between developed and developing nation groups. For different nations, “the future we want” can mean very different things.

The “green economy”, one of the themes of the conference, sounds wonderful for instance. Who could object to a system that aims to promote both development and environmental protection? But there is still no international consensus on what a green economy looks like. Developing nations are particularly dubious.

After all, for many countries, poverty is still the number one problem. Will the green economy replace sustainable development and reduce the balance between society, economy and environment? Will it emphasise the environment but actually result in new trade barriers? Will developed nations use “green” as an excuse to add new strings to international aid, which already comes with many conditions attached?

With little confidence in the green economy and less in the market solutions worshiped by the developed nations, developing nations are taking a conservative approach. Some Latin American NGOs have even launched campaigns against the green economy.

Meanwhile, developed nations such as European Union countries hope the Rio talks will focus on environmental governance and produce green economic development roadmaps and milestones – but they are unwilling to include preconditions for these, such as social development, in the declaration text. This has led to deadlock, and progress in negotiations is slow. Even though UNEP has put forward a number of successful examples of the green economy, discussions on this theme of the conference are particularly difficult.

Then there’s the question of whether to create new international bodies, or simply strengthen existing ones. The United Nations Commission on Sustainable Development (CSD), a forum that focuses on environmental, economic and social matters arising in the sustainable development field, was founded in 1992. But as a branch of the UN’s Economic and Social Council (Ecosoc) the CSD does not have the power to command or coordinate other UN bodies.

So the second point of focus for the meeting will be strengthening the framework for international governance of sustainable development. Four choices have been put forward: a high level forum or commission on sustainable development, strengthening the CSD, rewriting the Ecosoc charter to give it a stronger role, or bolstering the functions of UNEP.

After talks in early May, opinions have tended towards the first option – a new sustainable development commission, or high-level political forum. The former option is preferred by EU and Scandinavian nations, while the latter is supported by many developing countries. Whatever the details, it is very likely that Rio will see the formation of a new high-level sustainable development body.

There is also fierce debate about how to strengthen UNEP’s role. Most developing nations support a bolstering of UNEP’s functions, with more nations brought onto its governing council, more funding, more powers and more capacity, and a stronger role in coordinating environmental affairs within the UN system. The European and African nations would prefer to promote UNEP to a World Environmental Organization modelled on the World Health Organization.

As world leaders gather in Rio once again, a new chance is presented. This is a space for those leaders and other participants to discuss crucial questions at the heart of sustainable development, to renew political commitments and make plans for water and food security, oceans, forests, sustainable consumption and other key issues affecting our future. It is an opportunity to talk through sustainable development targets and methods for monitoring progress, to boost cooperation on funding and technology and further encourage civil society and business to participate in sustainable development.

The Rio conference will produce a non-binding declaration, which will renew political commitments and set out principles for the future. Whether or not the principles of “common but differentiated responsibilities”, and “polluter pays”, are reaffirmed will shape the rules by which international environmental issues are resolved in future, and even influence other development fields. So, the Rio conference is certainly important, and will influence the next 20 years of sustainable development.

But implementation of any top-down declarations and political aspirations produced at Rio requires the participation of all social groups. Rio can act as a guide for the future – but it is not the last chance to save humanity. Only action on society, environment and economy from business, civil society and government can ensure sustainable development. Rio may describe the future for us, but it can’t build it. The road to sustainable development remains long and hard, and we cannot expect Rio to provide all the answers.


Monday, June 11, 2012

Rio+20: UN expert urges Governments not to sideline the human right to water and sanitation

By UN Human Rights. Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, June 6, 2012

United Nations Special Rapporteur Catarina de Albuquerque called on world Governments to fully support the human right to safe drinking water and sanitation at the UN Conference on Sustainable Development, which will be held in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, on 20-22 June.

In an open letter to States negotiating the outcome document of the Rio+20 Summit, the UN independent expert expressed concern that a clear recognition of the human right to water and sanitation is at risk of being suppressed from the original text after three rounds of “informal-informal” negotiations held in New York in the past three months.

“Some States suggested alternative language that does not explicitly refer to the human right to water and sanitation; some tried to reinterpret or even dilute the content of this human right,” Ms. de Albuquerque warned, recalling that it already has been recognized as a human right under international law, including by the General Assembly and the Human Rights Council in 2010.

In her view, when agreeing on a sustainable development target for water and sanitation, Governments have to integrate the human right to water and sanitation and “aim at achieving access to safe and affordable drinking water and sanitation for all without discrimination, in sufficient quantities to protect human health and dignity, particularly for the most marginalized.”

The Special Rapporteur warned that the decisions taken by States at Rio+20 will impact national policymaking, national and local budget allocations and the prioritization of funds by donors. “The outcome of the Rio+20 negotiations, therefore, has strong potential for helping shape the future and peoples’ lives for decades to come. States must not miss this opportunity,” she underscored.

“I call on all States to maintain their support to this fundamental human right and its explicit inclusion in the Rio+20 outcome document,” Ms. de Albuquerque said. “It is clear that a commitment to water and sanitation without the recognition of the human right to water and sanitation is insufficient to achieve the future we all want.”