Rio+20 Final Draft Text Recognizes Our Problem, Proposes Scant Few Concrete Solutions

Andrea Arzaba/Adopt a Negotiator/CC BY-ND 2.0

Well, The Guardian has obtained the Rio+20 final draft text, which world leaders are expected to sign on to when they arrive in Brazil in a few hours time (barring some last-minute exceptions being raised).

After going through all 283 points of the document my initial impression is that
the whole thing correctly "recognizes" the problems—or "acknowledges," or "notes" them—but does precious little to actually lay down concrete actions to solve them, or even, really, attempt to meaningfully change the underlying economic, social, and environmental thinking that has gotten us to this point.

At risk of getting too heady right off the bat, I wonder if part of the issue is language itself, definitions perhaps.

Here's point 12:

We resolve to take urgent action to achieve sustainable development. We therefore renew our commitment to sustainable development, assessing the progress to date and the remaining gaps in the implementation of the outcomes of the major summits on sustainable development and addressing new and emerging challenges. We express our determination to address the themes of the Conference, namely a green economy in the context of sustainable development and poverty eradication, and the institutional framework for sustainable development.

At several points the phrase "achieve sustainable development" is used, which confuses a mode of being for a goal. There will never be a point when we can say we have now achieved sustainable development. Rather it's a way of thinking, acting, and being, ever changing and evolving.

Beyond that, the entire text reads like significant progress has been made, and not that we're failing entirely to make significant progress on pretty much every issue raised, at least the primarily environmental ones—as a string of pre-Rio reports has outlined, that latest being from Nature.

What's really discouraging to me is that nowhere is there any real acknowledgement that we need to redefine what we mean by a "developed" nation, recognizing that the levels of resource consumption in wealthy places simply can't be extended to the rest of the world. Trying to achieve what the US, Europe, Japan, etc., have is a recipe for disaster.

While there's some mention of addressing equitable development and resource consumption, without the underlying acceptance that we all need to grow up and say to one another that an entirely new economic, environmental, and social paradigm is needed, and that ecologically sustainable and socially equitable levels of resource consumption look far more like what they do today in Thailand than in Tokyo, only then will we really be on a path to sustainable development.

If this text is what negotiators and world leaders think will lead us into an ecologically sustainable mode of being, well... here's how Craig Bennett from Friends of the Earth describes it:

Developed countries have repeatedly failed to live safely within our planet's limits. Now they must wake up to the fact that until we fix our broken economic system we're just papering over the ever-widening cracks. (BBC News

Kumi Naidoo from Greenpeace International:

The approach that has been taken is to go for the lowest common denominator. The trick here is to look very carefully at the UN-ese language being used. If they use the world 'voluntary', it means it is not going to happen.

Jim Leape from WWF:


Oh, and all those Sustainable Development Goals we had heard about earlier in the year, well, it's been acknowledged they are a good thing, but discussion on specifics of those is pushed off to another day.

A few bright spots...
OK, it's not absolutely awful.

UNEP's role will be expanded. Not as much as originally hoped and aimed for a couple months back—or as much as I was expecting, based on conversations I had with UN staff earlier in the year—but it's a solidly good thing. Everyone I know at UNEP has their heads solidly screwed on straight in terms of the severity of the environmental problems we face as well as the enormity of what has to happen to solve them. Too bad their reaction has to be translated through diplomat-speak so often.

And there are a few small turns of phrase that are good to see—beyond the repeated inclusion of the word 'equitable', which reportedly was being objected to at times by the US.

Here's one of them, from the end of point 109 of the text:

We also recognize the importance of traditional sustainable agricultural practices, including traditional seed supply systems, including for many indigenous peoples and local communities.

While it doesn't come out and say it, obviously, the middle of that sentence, the part about traditional seed supply systems, is a strong shot against corporate agriculture and the patenting of seeds—both of which undermine food security around the globe currently, and even more so in future climate-stressed conditions.

If you want to wade your way through all that UN-ese Kumi Naidoo refers to, here it is: Rio+20 'Future We Want' draft text

Tags: Developing Nations | Ecology | Economics | Environmental Footprint | Rio+20 | Sustainable Development

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