The Rio+20 UN Conference on Sustainable Development agreement has “little meat on the bones” and failed to deliver for the poorest and the planet, according to CAFOD policy analyst Bernadette Fischler.
She said: “It is good news that the Rio+20 agreement has positioned the green economy in its rightful and right-headed position: in the context of sustainable development and poverty reduction.
“But the text that was delivered in Brazil has too little meat on its bones to offer meaningful guidance towards transition to a green economy. Where are the commitments to support developing nations green their economies? Where are the pledges of money? This was supposed to be a meeting that took us to the next stage: it is 20 years since the original Earth Summit, and yet it feels like we have learned little and are starting nearly from scratch rather than building on decades of understanding and increasing urgency.”
CAFOD is also concerned that agreement on the Sustainable Development Goals (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 to work on the SDGs in parallel to the High Level Panel on post-2015 work on the Millennium Development Goals. This means there is no clear commitment to one set of goals which is likely to lead to confusion and a flabby process.
CAFOD partner Nanette Antequisa from the Philippines travelled to the summit in Brazil. She said: “The Rio agreement should have puts its weight behind the post-MDG process and sent 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 have been squabbling over 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.
“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.”
She said that the text agreed at Rio is too weak to ensure a transition to the Green Economy, because of the voluntary (or more correctly Best Endeavour) nature of the provisions. The best endeavour nature of this agreement is perplexing: there are no meaningful commitments to support developing countries in greening their economies and certainly no money pledges. There is little detail on how we will achieve real technology transfer and companies are only invited to consult on how to be greener. So at best it’s the start of a process and good mood music. Much will depend on what happens at a national level and there is no mechanism for accountability or for peer review or to see how far countries are achieving these aspirations.
There is also a gap in analysis. Whilst we think factoring in environmental costs and benefits is important, it also carries a risk that once a thing carries a value it can become traded (with all the risks of financialisation and trading that this involves) and that it will become the property of the powerful. There is no recognition of this in the text. Although the references to role of communities, social impacts and tackling inequalities would go some way to addressing the problem, it would be good to have had something stronger on monitoring impact of financial instruments for example, or safeguarding community rights or recognising the role of government in ensuring that economic value does not undermine value as public goods.
Easy wins are also missing, for example on Fossil Fuel Subsidies, even though there is a long standing G20 commitment for them to be phased-out.
The Rio +20 agreement has given the private sector a central role in achieving sustainable development. It is important to remember that businesses need to be transparent and accountable as well. Some companies report a lot. Many are opaque and secretive about their operations. To change the patchy, piecemeal status quo, any increased role for global businesses has to be accompanied by mandatory corporate reporting on the social, environmental and human rights impacts of their operations at home and abroad.
Access to Energy
CAFOD welcomes the commitment to make access by the 1.4 billion people to “modern sustainable energy” a reality, recognizing this is essential for poverty reduction. However, there are no specifics about how this will be achieved, by whom and when. Will the 1.4 billion living in energy poverty be consulted about what services they need and who will measure if they are getting them? What is meant by “modern and sustainable” energy? Does this include big hydro, bio-fuels and even “cleaner” fossil fuels, as the text suggests? Where will the finance needed to crack energy poverty come from? The declaration gives us the aspiration but leaves the key questions unanswered.