Saturday, July 21, 2012

I beg to differ on Rio+20

By Gonzalo Pizarro, Blog Humanum, July 18, 2012

I have two confessions to make. I was in Rio+20. I am also a cynic by nature. My motto in life is “always suspect the worse in others and you’ll rarely be disappointed”.

I was a part of UNDP’s team preparing for, and then part of our delegation. I have been following what the expectations have been about the Convention, as well as what it was really going to be about.

From the beginning, there was a strong push to paint Rio+20 as the most important environmental gathering in history. Also, given the strong outcomes of Rio 92 nothing less than a meeting that would transform multilateralism would be acceptable.

My cynical self was being fed with an endless series of early reports indicating that the different venues would not be ready on time; that Heads of States would not attend; that the Outcome Document had no ambition. In other words, all was going as expected.

It was against this background that several voices, including the host, Brazil, and UNDP, reminded the world that sustainable development is about integrating the social, economic and environmental strands of development. After all, intergenerational issues are not being properly addressed if we do not address the needs of those who are living in extreme poverty today as well.

As usual, the devil was on the details. How to go from rhetoric to action? Here, the second wave of bad press was relentless. It was the portrait of a doomed meeting. While negotiations where still ongoing, everyone was happily hammering the nails in the coffin of Rio+20, and multilateralism at large.

With just a few days left before the Heads of State arrived to Rio and only a bit more than 30% of the paragraphs of the Outcome Document agreed, everything seemed to indicate that the doom camp was right.

Only that they were terribly wrong. With the Brazilian negotiators taking the lead, the Outcome Document was agreed on time. In it, the world clearly commits to sustainable development as the only viable path to development. It clearly spells that sustainable development is to be understood as the integration of the environmental, social and economic strands. It sets up an inclusive process for achieving a post 2015 framework, including a new set of Goals, which need to be universal. It commits to Sustainable Energy For All, it addresses biodiversity in the oceans, water and sanitation. It gives the UN System a strong mandate to continue supporting MDG acceleration in the remaining years.

Paragraph 106 is a key one for UNDP in my opinion: “We also emphasize the need to accord the highest priority to poverty eradication within the United Nations development agenda, addressing the root causes and challenges of poverty through integrated, coordinated and coherent strategies at all levels.”

Not everything was good, though. The lowest point in the Outcome Document comes as women’s reproductive rights were omitted from the text. The far reaching negative consequences of such an omission have already been pointed out by the Administrator.

Summits such as Copenhagen, Johannesburg and now Rio have increasingly become relevant as well for what happens outside the negotiations. I believe we need to start looking, and recording them, as “Development Trade Fairs” of sorts.

There were over 700 concrete commitments registered at the Conference from governments, business, industry, financial institutions and civil society. These amounted to $513 billion in funding, making Rio the most successful “Development Trade Fair” in history.

Rio also marked a tectonic shift regarding civil society participation and transparency in the process. With the introduction of the RioDialogues, citizens from around the world had the opportunity to discuss and concretely influence the outcome for the first time in global summits of this kind.

These two last features of Rio are, in my view, game changers that will mark Global Summits to come as much if not much more than the Outcome Document.

Finally, when Rio was being close to being wrapped up, came the big announcement. The new Rio+ Global Centre On Sustainable Development. This groundbreaking initiative, a partnership of the Government of Brazil and UNDP, will be the first center for research and facilitate exchange of knowledge and promoter of international discussions on sustainable development, explicitly understood as the integration of the social, economic and environmental strands.

Maybe I should reconsider my motto after all.


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