Rio+20: The Future We Want versus the Powerpoint they negotiate ...

Date de la référence: 
25 May, 2012

Over the last six months I have been away from home a lot watching our governments editing a powerpoint in windowless rooms. Sounds sad, I know. But the document entitled "The Future We Want" is not just any powerpoint. It´s supposed to be a future worth choosing that the world commits to at the Rio+20 Earth Summit to be held from June 20th to 22nd. We have uploaded the latest text for all to see here - it´s your future that governments are talking about after all. Negotiators are meeting from May 29th to June 2nd to try and agree this vision for the next 20 years.
In reality, there couldn´t be a much bigger gulf between the future I want for my daughters and the powerpoint our governments have been arguing over. I was already pretty enraged by the initial draft that was born in January (around the same time as my second daughter). So you can imagine how I felt, when I noticed that one of the few saving graces of that January text had been watered down to extinction in the latest draft. The launch of a High Seas Biodiversity Agreement, which would finally protect over 60% of the world´s oceans from the Wild West exploitation we see today, is long overdue and should be delivered at Rio. You have to wonder who the Co-Chairs (the people who produce new text) have been listening to. At the last negotiating session earlier this month, a clear majority of states demanded nothing less than the launch of a High Seas Biodiversity Agreement to be the outcome of Rio+20. Is it the fact that the United States does not like this idea that is making the Co-Chairs deaf to the pleas of South Africa, Brazil, Ghana, Chile, Uruguay, Costa Rica, the European Union, Jamaica, Trinidad and Tobago, India, Guatemala, Peru, the Philippines, Fiji, Uganda, Barbados, Argentina, Sri Lanka, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Guyana, Kenya, Tanzania, Antigua and Barbuda? We do not know. But we certainly expect all these countries to make their voices heard at the negotiations and ensure that High Seas Biodiversity protection is central to the Rio+20 outcome. This issue is now a clear test case as to whether Rio+20 delivers anything we, the people, want - or simply a lowest common denominator powerpoint.
At one point, the newest text at least made me smile. If this text gets approved, we will have global consensus that "Mother Earth is a common expression in a number of countries and regions". Seriously, it says that. I can see Mother Earth crying, though, if she reads what this document has to say on energy, agriculture, corporate accountability, growth or trade - to pick just some examples.
On energy, there is no commitment to an energy revolution nor any actions that could credibly move us in that direction. It´s stunning to see so many governments struggling to pay their bills and still not getting the hang of the idea that they could simply stop investing in polluting industries that cost society dearly. So, no, there is no commitment to eliminate fossil fuel subsidies by 2015 or 2020, for example. Just a vague call to, "as appropriate", "rationalize" and "phase out" subsidies in the "medium term". UN speak for doing nothing. Similarly, for agriculture, there are no commitments to shift tax incentives, agricultural research and training budgets to scale-up ecological farming or to end subsidies that perpetuate chemical-intensive production.
It´s even more infuriating that governments are not taking advantage of these obvious savings, as they are holding out the begging bowl to business throughout the new text. There is a lot of talk of public private partnerships, of "inviting business" to do things and a lot of hope expressed that business will come up with the money governments have been failing to deliver for causes such as fighting climate change (they call this "complementing public finance"). Obvious solutions - such as stopping to line the pockets of oil companies awash with money - are not chosen. Nor is there a will to regulate business to make them contribute their fair share to society´s needs. The words "corporate accountability" are mentioned, but in a manner that has nothing to do with holding anyone accountable for their social and environmental impact. Instead, the newest draft has even watered down the proposal for mandatory reporting by corporations. Progressive investors and businesses have been trying to at least make this small step forward at Rio+20. I wish them luck in still having their voice heard. But what is really needed is a global instrument to ensure full liability for social and environmental impacts of global corporations.
On growth, the text presents a paradox. A Sustainable Development Goal (see below) is proposed to create new measures of wealth going beyond Growth Domestic Product (GDP). We like that. But that proposal is very much out of sync with the rest of the text, that keeps calling for "sustained economic growth" as the solution to everything. Governments have to choose. They can keep chasing GDP growth at all cost - and continue to live in a fantasy world where cleaning up an oil spill, because it leads to extra GDP, is something positive - or they can abandon growth as an end in itself and seek real prosperity for all. I know what I would choose for my daughters.
On trade, you also have to wonder which planet this text is from. Like in January, this text still believes in the living dead as it calls for a "redoubling of efforts" to conclude the fatally stalled Doha WTO (World Trade Organization) round of trade liberalization. They can only do that, because they seriously still think that "trade liberalization ... can substantially stimulate development." In reality, trade liberalization often means trading away what we hold dear, such as forests or oceans.
Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) will be a phrase you will hear a lot of between June 20th and 22nd. Governments will claim that they are the exciting new thing coming out of Rio+20 and that they will set the world finally onto a sustainable path. That would be good, and we agree that governments should urgently agree Sustainable Development Goals. Indeed, we think the world could and should, at Rio+20 this June, commit to providing sustainable energy for all and achieving zero deforestation by 2020 (for example). That´s not on the table, though. For now, all that governments have put forward is a list of issues (from oceans to equity) and the launch of a torturous process to agree on SDGs for the years after 2015. That, for a powerpoint entitled "The Future We Want", is simply not good enough.
If there is a saving grace to the newest draft, it is the fact that the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) could be truly strengthened at Rio. Even the weaker option in the text calls for UNEP to be given real authority, a coordination mandate and, above all, stable, adequate and predictable finances. The only way to make sure that really happens, though, is to upgrade UNEP into a fully-fledged environment agency (i.e. to choose option 2, Paragraph 83 alt 2 for any negotiatior reading this ...). Only if that paragraph is in the final powerpoint presented at Rio will the world have taken a real step forward towards a well-governed global environment.
In one month time, Rio+20 will be history and the powerpoint they negotiate again next week will have turned into a final outcome document. I am looking forward to seeing more of my daughters come July. But for now we must ensure that the launch of a High Seas Biodiversity Agreement and a UN Environment Agency are finally delivered at Rio. And that the rest of their powerpoint is exposed as the Greenwash it is.