Stripped of Controversy to Appease US and EU Rio +20 Final Text Is Rich in Generalities

Delegation discuss final Rio +20 document The preliminary draft of the final document of the Rio+20 United Nations Sustainable Development Conference that was presented over the weekend excludes controversial items, such as resource definitions and specific goals.

The text as it now stands is broad and general, but it stresses  social aspects such as international partnerships for the eradication of poverty, improved living standards for families settled within land reform projects, transportation and education. It also mentions combating gender discrimination.

The wording is the result of negotiations among representatives of 193 countries, NGOs and members of social activist movements. Suffice it to say that the document now has 50 pages, down from over 80 on June 13 when the Rio conference began, and much less than the 200 pages before that.

One proposal that has now disappeared from the document is a sustainable development fund that would have had a US$30 billion annual budget beginning in 2013, rising to US$100 billion annually by 2018. The fund was defended by Brazil and other developing nations, but rejected by rich countries.

In substitution, a UN forum will discuss the matter. The removal of the fund proposal is considered a victory of the rich nations; the United States, Canada Australia and Japan who led the opposition calling the idea inopportune economically and politically.

The document does deal with financing and means of implementation of the goals and commitments undertaken. Where there are impasses the document says the rich countries should contribute money – for sustainable development projects, training and commerce.

For example, there is a call for the transfer of clean technology but there are no details on how that will occur or what costs will be involved because the issue divides developed and developing nations.

As the document now stands, it has six chapters with 287 articles, but should be sharply reduced in size before it is signed on June 22.

Social Questions

Almost every chapter in the document has some mention of social problems. “We recognize that the eradication of poverty along with sustainable patterns of consumption and production, as well as the protection and stewardship of natural resources, are fundamental and essential to sustainable development,” says the chapter on Common Vision.

The text specifically reaffirms commitments (economic, social and environmental) made in the past, notably those at the Rio 92 (Eco-92) conference.

The document states that more attention should be paid to Africa.

Green Economy

One controversial concept is that of the “Green Economy,” that turns out to have different meanings for different groups. The text reflects those differences. Rich nations are concerned with production, consumption and commercialization of goods.

As it stands, the text sidesteps controversy; it reads “The Green Economy in the context of sustainable development and the eradication of poverty has different approaches, visions, models and tools available in each country, in accordance with circumstances and national priorities to achieve sustainable development in its three dimensions, which is our primordial goal.”

Even so, there are 15 suggestions about the relationship between the Green Economy and national sovereignty and sustainable development. There are references to “more welfare for indigenous peoples,” along with women, children, young people and the handicapped. There are recommendations for food as part of the campaign against poverty.

Specific Issues

A chapter on specific issues mentions poverty eradication, food and nutritional security along with sustainable farming, energy, sustainable tourism, sustainable transportation, sustainable cities and human settlements, health and population, promotion of full employment, dignified work with social protection.

A chapter is dedicated to reducing disaster risk (less loss of life and material damage, lowering the economic and social costs), with recent earthquakes in Japan, Chile and Haiti in mind.

On climate change, concern is evident, but there are no specific recommendations on levels of greenhouse gas emissions. “We reaffirm that climate change is one of the greatest challenges of our time and express profound concern with the emission of greenhouse gases and the fact that they continue to grow globally,” says the text.

The final part of the document still finds space to mention: biodiversity, mining, education, consumption, sustainable production, desertification, soil degradation, drought, mountains and chemical products and residuals. The latter, the problem of chemicals and residuals, is an example of where developed nations can assist developing nations, says the document.

Brazil’s minister of Foreign Relations, Antonio Patriota, declared that he is hopeful that it will be possible to conclude a final text by – Monday night, June 18.

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