published on 29 January 2013 in air

Rio+20: The future we want?

Rio+20: expectations and disappointment
The appointment that we were so looking forward to, of the international conference on sustainable development, Rio+20 – United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development (UNCSD), held 20 years after the historic Earth Summit in Rio in 1992, and 20+20 years after the Stockholm Conference on the environment that laid the foundations for international environmental policies, ended just a few days ago.
Surely there were many expectations. The appointment was supposed to lead to a concrete programme, of the Governments, for a more sustainable global economy, rooted in the conventions that were born and which developed over the last 20 years in order to face the more urgent global challenges. But in this period of crisis, it was perhaps foreseeable that the summit would not succeed in obtaining binding commitments of the Governments on the more pressing topics – energy, climate, land use and biodiversity. The summit was not attended by the principal Heads of State who attended the G20 meeting in Mexico. On the days of the summit, the European decision makers declared that sustainability, for the European Countries, should lead to a growth that was not weighed down by public debt, highlighting that the priority and the focus of European policies is obviously aimed at the economic axis of sustainability.
Notwithstanding the advent of the Internet and the incredible progress of multimedia in the last 20 years, the novelty of the apps for SU Rio+20, and the ease, today, of accessing information and toward a dialogue, Rio+20, was not able to repeat the success of the mass media of Rio in 1992, and – especially in the European context – it even showed a poor level of interest in the press.
At Rio 2012, essentially, a declaration to strengthen the principles that were confirmed 20 years ago, with a greater emphasis on social issues, and perhaps some progress, although decidedly small compared to the expectations, were obtained. It is all contained in the document, The future we want.
The preliminary versions of the document, that were discussed in the pre-negotiation stages had already led to protests from civil society, from nongovernmental organisms and the native communities, that had requested a review of the text of the document, and the inclusion of more ambitious aims. Among the many aims that were missing, there were: cuts and reductions in fossil fuel subsidies in the OECD Countries – climate change mitigation and release of resources in order to face the challenges of the climate and energy; legitimization of women’s reproductive rights, protection of the oceans from excess fishing with the creation of protected marine reserves; zero world hunger, centrality of policies regarding land use – zero net land and forest degradation by 2030, and policies to face draught; progress in the definition of the amount and methods of allocating funds to help development.
The comments that were reported in the press by the international observers, were very critical. The Italian press reported the following declarations: for Oxfam ” “Rio will go down as the hoax summit. They came, they talked, but they failed to act” . For the WWF, this was “a squandered opportunity”. The Director General of the International WWF declared, “Rio+20 was a conference about life: about future generations; about the forests, oceans, rivers and lakes that we all depend on for our food, water and energy. It was a conference to address the pressing challenge of building a future that can sustain us. Unfortunately, the world leaders who gathered here lost sight of that urgent purpose. The urgency to act, however, has not changed. And the good news is that sustainable development is a plant that has taken root; it will grow regardless of weak political leadership here in Rio. We did see leaders stepping up in Rio, it was just not in the negotiations. There is exciting leadership happening in communities, cities, governments and companies that are laying the foundation to protect our environment, alleviate poverty, and move us toward a more sustainable planet.”
For Climate Action Network, “the climatologists’ verdict is very clear: we have very little time to decrease the emissions of greenhouse gases that threaten climate stability. We cannot afford conferences where nothing is decided and commitments are postponed”. The severe criticisms were however softened by the more optimistic declarations of some Heads of State and also of the UN Secretary, Ban-Ki-moon when closing the negotiations stage. Although when opening the negotiations, Ban-Ki-moon had admitted the weakness of the document that was being discussed, at the end of the negotiations he declared the summit “is a great success for the international community. This outcome document contains many recommendations that are very ambitious with respect to three pillars of our goals: social equity, economic development and environmental sustainability. Opinions may differ, but sustainable development is an idea whose time has come, it has become part of our vision of the world”.
The American Secretary of State, Hilary Clinton, who is a supporter of the battle for women’s reproductive rights, however stated that, “ the final declaration marks a real advance for sustainable development”. Following the positivity and injection of faith in the future, also the Italian Minister for the Environment, Corrado Clini declared that “Italy favourably welcomes the final document of the Conference and prefers to see it as a new chapter of a renewed common commitment. It is a roadmap that will continue to be followed in Europe at the next EU council, in which the ratio of the growth objectives and strengthening of the green economy will be established.” In the various declarations, the Minister Clini highlighted the importance of sharing the green economy model as an instrument for sustainability with an emphasis on a research of the sustainability indicators, beyond the country’s GNP: Apart from these individual declarations, that were inspired by different institutional and political needs, in general the international observers – and first, as already pointed out, the international WWF – reported a lack of political leadership, of a true political vision, and the tangible commitment of the Governments on future programmes. Awareness, analysis of the problems and the instruments to face them are not lacking. Instead there is a lack of capacity to plan and carry out a common and diversified commitment to share common objectives.

Some numbers from Rio
If we take a look at the numbers, these say that Rio+20 was the biggest conference ever organized by the United Nations. And the estimates of the WWF tell us that the entire mechanism that brought us to Rio has cost over 150 million US$. In a ten-day period, thousands of events took place. Almost 50,000 participants, delegations from 188 countries, over 100 Heads of State and Governments, a little less than 10,000 Non Governmental Organisms and 4,000 newspapers took part in the Conference. The Official documents report that at the Conference 513 billion US$ were mobilized in commitments for sustainable development in the sectors of energy, transports, green economy, reduction of natural disasters, desertification, water, forests and agriculture. At the time this article is being written 712 voluntary commitments have been recorded for sustainable development by the governments, the business world, academy and civil society.

The outcome of Rio+20
What does the declaration of principles and objectives contained in the document produced at the new summit actually consist of? The document is very vast, it contains 283 paragraphs that we cannot describe in detail here. However we shall summarize the more important parts. In “The future we want”, the Heads of State renew their commitment towards a sustainable development that will integrate the economic, social and environmental dimension of development, with an accent on the urgency to eliminate poverty, guarantee equity – even of gender – protection of human rights and democracy, as conditions that are required for sustainability.
The topics of the Conference in Rio, 2012: green economy  in the context of sustainable development and eradication of poverty and the institutional context for sustainable development remain priority instruments of the international community to pursue sustainability.
The document greatly emphasises the urgency to fight and eliminate poverty, accelerating the efforts made towards the Millennium Development Goals, and giving great importance to the policies regarding use of the land to guarantee food safety. The only way to face the large global challenges, that are deeply interwoven, is integration and coherence in implementing the decisions made at the various Summits on sustainability, given the condition that the commitments that have already been made shall be maintained. Furthermore, the document also recognizes the need to work on the indicators of sustainability that go beyond the country’s GNP: the crucial role of all the actors and all those who have interests in the battle for sustainability – from the Governments to the institutions and the local communities, to the civil society and the citizens and to the workers, without excluding any groups regarding gender, age, race, social origin and politics, the importance of the involvement of the public sector and also the private sector in order to reach a sustainable development, and in particular public-private partnerships, a key role in the business world and industries, that can carry out more responsible practices, like those promoted by the UN Global Compact; and the equally fundamental role of the scientific and technological community – in the progress of knowledge and also in support of a transfer of clean knowledge and technologies to the poorer countries – and the interface between science and policies, the importance of education and training for sustainability, also for work, the central role of the United Nations, but also the important contribution of other relevant international organizations, including multilateral development banks and other international financial institutions, that are able to mobilize resources for sustainable development; the commitment to strengthen UNEP (United Nations Environment Programme) as the worldwide reference authority on environmental themes, respect of the national sovereignty on the natural resources and however the importance of the participation of the developing countries in defining the future agenda for sustainability, the need for more integrated and coherent planning on a national , inter-regional and international scale, on topics regarding sustainability, with the involvement of the relevant actors at various levels. With regard to this, the document points out an initiative that has had an inter-regional success, the Green Bridge Partnership Programme, with the voluntary and open participation of various types of partners.
The crucial topics and sectors are: food, water, energy, sustainable tourism, sustainable transports and mobility, sustainable cities, health, work migration and demographics, the seas and the oceans, support of Small Island States, and Africa, together with efforts in other more vulnerable regional areas, the decrease of the risk of natural disasters, climate change, biodiversity, desertification, land degradation and draught, mountain regions, waste products and chemical products, education, gender equality and strengthening of the role of women. The instruments for the implementation of Agenda 21 of the 1992 Rio Declaration were confirmed. With regard to the financial resources required for the implementation of various sustainability programmes , it was agreed to establish an intergovernmental process – with the technical support of the United Nations system – to evaluate the actual financial requirements, to consider the efficacy, the coherence and the synergies of the existent instruments, and to evaluate additional initiatives. An intergovernmental committee, consisting of 30 experts, with a fair regional representation, will implement this process which will end in 2014.
The document acknowledges the crucial importance of the fulfilment of the commitments of the Official Development Assistance (ODA) by the industrialized countries – i.e. to allocate 0.7% of the GNP to developing countries and 0.15-0.20% of the GNP to the poorest nations among the developing countries, by 2015 – accompanied by a growing attention to transparency and quality of the assistance. It also acknowledges the key role of the Global Environmental Facility Fund (GEF) and the innovative financial mechanisms. Practically, the document identifies the aims and instruments that are crucial in order to promote sustainable development, identifying synergies and potential trade-offs among the existing programmes and policies. However there are only few really innovative passages in the outcome of Rio+20 on the more urgent and hot topics, both with regard to instruments and the targets.

The initiatives to be ‘rewarded’: a way for the future
As it always occurs on the occasion of these large summits, many opportunities can stem from the meetings and from the dialogue between institutions. In particular, on a Governmental scale, many opportunities can evolve from the bilateral or even regional meetings. Among the initiatives to be ‘rewarded’, which were born in Rio+20, we wish to point out an agreement that involves our country, Italy. Our Minister for the Environment, Mr. Corrado Clini, in fact , signed a bilateral agreement with Brazil, to promote the diffusion of sustainable energy in the developing countries.
The agreement which confirms five years of collaboration of Italy and Brazil in co-Chairing the Global BioEnergy Partnership, includes joint initiatives in the sector of new clean energy. The Italian companies shall work alongside the Brazilian companies in projects that invest in clean energy in developing countries such as Mozambique, Ethiopia and the East African Countries, where Brazil is already present – and in other regions, in order to promote their economic growth and development with technologies that are more environment-friendly.
The agreement between the Italian government and Brazil is an example of one of the possible bilateral initiatives that unite business objectives and objectives of sustainable development, and eradication of poverty in the Southern countries of the world. Initiatives of this type are welcome, because they can contribute to creating a bridge between a global plan of the sustainability policies and programmes that are more micro – more concrete – on a regional, national or even local scale. In order to put into practice the tangible projects, the so-called win-win conditions must be created, that enable the Governments and the private sector to invest in projects that are economically convenient, that lead to mutual benefits – environmental, social and economic – even for sectors and countries that the investments are destined to.
For all this to work, a key role will be played by: a good knowledge of the territory, of the culture and the local communities, the approach of the participation, the involvement of the relevant stakeholders, the public-private partnerships and integration – in the aims, instruments and the contents of the programmes and projects. If leadership for sustainability is truly growing in the communities, companies and Governments, and initiatives and tangible projects are building the roots of a more sustainable future, perhaps the plan to follow is that of multiple roads. To integrate multilateral, bilateral and bottom-up (born from the bottom) initiatives increasingly in the global institutional context for sustainability, with the specific local requirements or the needs of the sector, merging the public and private sectors in partnerships that can generate the resources that are necessary to face the challenges of the future we want.

Edited by Alessandra Goria

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