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Africa: Key Issues at Rio+20
Jun 15, 2012 (120615)
(Reposted from sources cited below)
The United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development,
more commonly known as Rio+20, is in full talking mode this
week, although the official summit takes place next week, on
June 20-22. But while many ideas and new terminology will be
aired, and the volume of official and parallel documents are
more than even the most dedicated international conference
junkie can read, the script seems familiar. Rich countries
are for the most part determined to block firm commitments
to strong action.
Probably the best that can be expected, according to leading
analyst Martin Khor, executive director of the South Centre,
are commitments to new more serious on-going discussions. He
presents a clear summary of the issues at stake in the most
recent issue of the South Bulletin, reposted in this issue
of AfricaFocus Bulletin. The South Centre website
(http://www.southcentre.org) has additional articles on this
and related themes.
The official conference site is at http://www.uncsd2012.org/
and the site for the Stakeholder Forum including NGOs is at
Among the most substantive alternative analyses of new
thinking on sustainable development is the just-released
report by the Civil Society Reflection Group on Global
Development Perspectives, "No Future without Justice,"
available at http://www.reflectiongroup.org/
For previous AfricaFocus Bulletins on economic issues, visit
http://www.africafocus.org/econexp.php For Bulletins on the
environment and climate change, visit
(1) The Friends Committee on National Legislation (FCNL) is
calling for organizational endorsement, from U.S. or African
groups, of a letter to the U.S. Senate calling for greater
oversight and restraint in U.S. military operations in
Africa, in contrast to the legislation currently before
Congress which calls for intensified military involvement.
The text of the letter is available at
To add your organizational endorsement, send a message by
June 20 to Cassidy Regan at firstname.lastname@example.org
(2) Washington Post articles on U.S. intelligence in Africa
June 14, 2012, "U.S. Expands Secret Intelligence Operations
in Africa" http://tinyurl.com/cntbaeb
June 15, 2012, "Contractors run U.S. spying missions in
(3) Avaaz Petition on the Sahel - Launched yesterday, this
international petition has over 200,000 signatures by this
morning. Help it reach one million.
"18 million people -- including 1 million children -- are
desperate for food in Africa's drought-struck Sahel, but
urgent appeals for assistance are met with deafening silence
by governments worldwide. The UN has only received 43% of
the $1.5 billion in aid needed -- it's a giant shortfall.
The US, Japan, France and Germany are the countries with the
power to make all the difference by pledging your fair share
of the aid. We urge you to stop this catastrophe from
turning deadly by acting now."
To sign go to
Many thanks to those subscribers who have recently sent in a
voluntary subscription payment to support AfricaFocus
Bulletin. If you haven't yet sent in such a payment and are
able to do so, please help AfricaFocus reach more people
with reliable information on Africa. Send in a check or pay
on-line with Paypal or Google Checkout. See
http://www.africafocus.org/support.php for details.
++++++++++++++++++++++end editor's note+++++++++++++++++
Rio+20 Summit: The Key Issues
By Martin Khor
Executive Director, South Centre
The biggest international event this year is the UN
Conference on Sustainable Development or Rio+20 on 20-22
June. It was meant to celebrate the Earth Summit of 1992, to
reaffirm the political commitments made then, and to come up
with up-to-date action plans to counter the crises which
have become much more serious than 20 years ago.
But the negotiations to produce an outcome document got
bogged down with new concepts, especially the 'green
economy', and now the developed countries appear reluctant
to a simple reaffirmation of the original Rio equity
principle, or to re-commit to provide finance and technology
A big breakthrough to tackle the world's environmental and
economic crises is now beyond the reach of the Rio+20
Summit. But it can still be a success if it reaffirms old
commitments and launches new processes to strengthen
institutions and to initiate new goals and action plans.
This article summarises the key issues that are being fought
over and that will have to be resolved at Rio+20.
The Earth Summit in Rio in 1992 (known officially as the UN
Conference on Environment and Development) was a landmark
event which launched "Sustainable Development" as an
internationally accepted concept .
Environmental problems would be seen in relation to and in
the context of the development needs of developing
countries. Sustainable development would have three pillars
or dimensions â economic, social and environmental.
The Rio Principles, adopted after marathon negotiating
sessions, achieved the integration of environment,
development and equity elements. There were environmental
principles such as precautionary and polluter pays,
development principles like the right to development, and
equity principles like the common but differentiated
The Commission on Sustainable Development was set up to
follow through on Rio 92. It did well initially but it had a
design flaw â it meets only 2 to 3 weeks in a year and has
too small a Secretariat. That has proven to be far too weak
institutionally to address sustainable development's three
pillars. As crisis after crisis hit the world, the CSD was
too weak to rise to the challenge.
Twenty years later, diplomats and political leaders meet
again at Rio+20, known officially as the UN Conference on
Sustainable Development. Diplomats will finish the
negotiations on 13-15 June (and if not they may continue
their negotiations or take part in informal consultations)
to conclude an outcome document, that will be an action plan
for the years ahead.
For four days, 16-19 June, there will be Sustainable
Development Dialogues on ten themes, the summaries of which
will be presented to the heads of government and state that
are to attend the Summit proper, on 20-22 June.
And on the sidelines of these official events will be the
People's Summit and other activities of social movements and
NGOs, that will attract many thousands of people. But some
feel these are not the sidelines or side events after all.
They may be the real thing, the getting together of civil
society that can change the existing order, rather than the
stuffy events going on inside the Rio Conference Centre.
There is a general sense of disappointment that the official
Summit will not deliver an Earth-shaking or game-changing
outcome, or even an earth-saving one. The crises after 1992
â environmental and economic -- have grown bigger and more
serious, this time posing real threats to the economy and to
Earth as well.
Obviously the solutions have not been found in the 20 years
after Rio 1992. And, seeing the way the official
negotiations have gone, there may not be any major
breakthrough either in Rio+20.
But neither should Rio+20 be a failure. If it cannot
announce any breakthroughs, it can at least initiate new
processes that can lead to stronger institutions and new
methods of tackling the world's crises.
For this to happen, trust has to be rebuilt by reaffirming
the principles and action framework of Rio 92. The
commitments made on providing finance and technology
transfer to developing countries have to be renewed and made
relevant to the present needs. Action plans for various
subjects should be endorsed. A commitment to bring about new
or at least stronger institutions has to be made. And
agreement has to be reached on the new issues that has taken
a lot of the energy and time of the Conference preparation â
the green economy and sustainable development goals (SDGs).
The following is a short summary of the key issues at
Rio+20, and the differing views on them.
1. Reaffirming the Political Commitments?
For developing countries, a "must" in Rio is reaffirming the
Rio principles, especially the common but differentiated
responsibilities (CBDR), which brings equity in the centre
of the obligations to save the world. All have the duty to
take environmental action, but developed countries (due to
their role in contributing to much of the pollution,
emissions and resource depletion, and to their higher
economic standing) have the leading role in reducing their
own environmental impact, and in providing finance and
technology transfer to developing countries to move towards
sustainable development paths. Failure to fully reaffirm
these principles is taken to be a retreat by the North from
the global understanding of the environment-development
Developed countries are showing reluctance to update their
endorsement of CBDR. Most of them only want a reference to
reaffirming the Rio Principles but not have a special
mention of CBDR. One or two countries don't even want any
mention of CBDR. They want developing countries (except
perhaps the poorest) to take on similar obligations as the
Absence of CBDR references would make developing countries
reluctant to take on new concepts that may imply new
obligations, such as green economy and SDGs. They are also
worried that with the removal of the equity principle, the
basis for international cooperation and for development
assistance is threatened, with major consequences for future
2. The Green Economy: What It Is, What It is Not?
When this topic was placed on the agenda of Rio+20 as one of
two priority issues, few if any officials of developing
countries had knowledge of its meaning in international
negotiating terms. Much of the energy of the process has
gone into defining what it is not and what it is. Although
the "green economy has been a concept in academic circles,
it is still a new term in international diplomacy.
Developing countries are concerned that the 'green economy'
will replace 'sustainable development' as the key paradigm
in the environment-development nexus, with the loss of the
Rio 92 consensus on the three pillars and the international
commitments on finance and technology. They are also worried
that the term may be misused as grounds for trade
protection, loan/aid conditionality and new obligations on
developing countries. They have thus been reluctant to give
high status to the green economy term, insisting it is one
of several concepts and tools that can be used to achieve
sustainable development, and that it should not be used as
policy prescription or a new international policy framework.
They have thus tried to reduce the role of the green economy
in the outcome document, which should state the principles
or elements, and that each country should make use of the
concept as a tool in its own way.
Some developed countries believe the green economy is a new
important concept that can lead to changes in the way
economies are organized. For example, greening the economy
through government spending on environmental programmes such
as clean energy and the creation of "green jobs" was seen as
an important element for fiscal stimulus packages to counter
the economic crisis. From this national use of 'green
economy', some countries, especially in Europe, wanted Rio
to endorse a UN green economy roadmap with environmental
goals, targets and deadlines. However this faced resistance
from developing countries and a few other developed
The negotiations are still intense on the meaning of what a
green economy is, and how the term could be used and should
not be used. The roadmap idea has diminished, with the green
economy goals transferred to the sections on sectoral
actions, and to the SDGs. However the green economy will
remains a hotly contested issue in Rio.
3. Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)
This is also a "new issue" in that it was not in the terms
of reference in the General Assembly resolution that gave
the mandate for Rio+20. It was proposed last year mainly by
Colombia, and many saw it as a kind of alternative to the
Green Economy roadmap. It has now gathered steam and is
expected to be one of the key "deliverables" in Rio.
The developing countries have accepted SDGs as a concept and
an operational tool. They have engaged in putting forward
principles and elements that should frame the SDGs. A key
principle should be common but differentiated
responsibilities, so that any obligations arising from the
SDG process would be treated with in an equitable manner.
The G77 and China also want the three pillars (social,
economic, environment) to be represented in a balanced way
in terms of selected goals, and they are concerned that the
EU has put forward only environment goals.
Rio+20 will launch a post-Rio process to decide on the goals
and their details, since it is too late to come up with a
definitive list. However, most developed countries,
especially the EU, want a selected number of SDGs to be
listed as priority goals, and to have some details if
possible, so that Rio+20 can have some tangible results.
They proposed the areas of energy, water, oceans, resource
efficiency, land and ecosystems (including forests) and
insist on having them in a list of "indicative" priority
issues. The EU also proposed having many goals with target
years in the texts on sectoral actions. However, the G77 and
China do not want to mention any issues, since any list of
SDGs have to have balance among the three pillars and there
has not been mature discussion yet on how to select SDGs or
how many there should be. It is critical of developed
countries for only mentioning environment goals. It has
refrained from naming any issues of its own.
Another key contested area is the nature of the SDG post-Rio
process at the UN. Developed countries want the UN Secretary
General to take charge of a process for experts to come up
with the SDGs, whereas the G77 and China want the
governments to drive the process and decide on the SDGs, so
that whatever goals are selected are decided on by the
governments, while inputs can be given by the UNSG and
How the SDGs and the post-Rio process will relate to the
MDGs and the post-2015 development agenda process is another
issue. The "development community" has already started
discussion on the follow up to the MDGs, and do not want a
decision on SDGs to pre-empt the development agenda. Many
developing countries are worried that a high status given to
SDGs at summit level may marginalize the MDG-linked
development agenda. Thus, how the SDGs and MDGs and their
processes interface will have to be sensitively handled.
4. Institutional Framework for Sustainable Development
This is perhaps the most important issue because it is the
lack of strong institutions dedicated to sustainable
development that has enabled other agendas (such as WTO and
bilateral trade and investment agreements, and deregulation
and liberalization of finance) to have precedence over the
environment and social development.
There is agreement that the Commission on Sustainable
Development has been too weak and needs to be transformed
into a more powerful body such as a Sustainable Development
Council (proposed by EU, Norway, Switzerland) which meets
more regularly and has more authority. The G77 and China has
proposed a high-level political forum on sustainable
development with annual Ministerial meetings, and with terms
of reference to be decided on after Rio. There is also broad
agreement that ECOSOC should be strengthened to take on the
challenge of sustainable development. The negotiators have
had matured discussions on the functions of an institutional
framework, and in Rio the form will be intensely debated.
There is also broad agreement that UNEP has to be
strengthened, with universal membership in a governing
council, and more resources, and a bigger role in having
some coordination among the large number of environment
agreements. However there is an on-going dispute as to
whether UNEP should become a UN specialized agency (which is
strongly advocated by European countries and by Africa) or
retain its status as a programme but be strengthened (which
most other countries prefer).
5. The Means of Implementation (Finance and Technology
Transfer): Re-commiting to Supporting the South or a Retreat
from Rio 92?
The means of implementation (MOI) was a centerpiece of Rio
1992. Developing countries successfully argued that they
could switch to environmentally sound development paths only
if there was financial and technology-transfer support from
developed countries. This was a much fought over area in
1992 and is shaping to be an equally hotly contested issue
The developing countries insist that Rio+20 should at least
renew the original commitments of developed countries to
provide new and additional financial resources, and that
once again they pledge to make efforts to meet the aid
target of 0.7% of their GNP. However even these minimal
aspects are being resisted by some developed countries,
especially US and Canada.
The G77 and China has proposed that developed countries
provide new sustainable development funding to developing
countries, at least US$30 billion a year in 2013-17 and
US$100 billion a year from 2018 onwards, and to set up a
sustainable development fund. Actually this is not a new or
big demand, since in 1992 the UNCED secretariat estimated
that the Agenda 21 programmes would cost at least $600
billion a year for developing countries to implement, and
that they should obtain new international funding of $100
billion a year. The developed countries have however
objected to the G77/China proposals of figures or a fund.
On technology transfer, the situation is equally bleak. All
major developed countries have objected to reaffirming the
1992 commitments to provide technology transfer on
concessional and preferential terms to developing countries.
For Rio+20, they have even objected to the term "technology
transfer" in the title of the technology section. And if
they propose to use "voluntary transfer of technology on
mutually agreed terms" which implies sale of equipment on
commercial terms, which is opposite to the technology
transfer concept. Even mild language to have a balanced
approach to IPRs has been rejected, as has the concept of
enhanced access by developing countries to environmentally
Should developing countries agree to new concepts like green
economy and sustainable development goals, which carry the
prospect and implication of new obligations, if there is no
longer even the promise of international support, and if
there is a retreat from and denouncement of the original
global pact of 1992? This is one of the big issues that
Rio+20 may have to confront.
Success in Rio: What Would It Take?
A successful outcome from Rio would include:
- A reaffirmation of the original Rio principles and
commitments adopted 20 years ago in the original Rio Summit.
At the least this would mean that the political leaders and
especially the developed countries are not retreating or
backtracking from what they agreed all these years ago. The
most important Rio principle that needs reaffirming is the
common but differentiated responsibilities, which means that
the developed countries agree they have to do much more in
terms of reducing pollution and emissions and in their use
of natural resources, and that they have to provide finance
and technology to developing countries, so that every
country has the means to move towards sustainable
- A recognition that the crises in environment and economy
are even more serious today than 20 years ago, and adoption
of new commitments by the political leaders that are
adequate enough to tackle these crises in a systemic and
- An agreement to significantly strengthen the institutions
for addressing sustainable development in a serious and
adequate manner. The present UN Commission on Sustainable
Development showed early promise but turned out to be too
weak as it only meets 2 to 3 weeks in a year, and it has a
small secretariat. It has to be radically reformed or else
transformed into a new Council or Forum on Sustainable
Development which can meet the challenges thrown up by the
global crises in the three dimensions â environmental,
economic and social. Meetings must be scheduled regularly,
and not just for a few weeks, and the secretariat must
become a strong organisation with more staff and dynamism.
The Rio summit should adopt a decision to have this strong
institution to and launch a process to determine the
details. The UNEP meanwhile should be given a mandate to
strengthen its organization and operations, with more
resources, so that it can work more effectively to build a
strong environment pillar.
- There must be clear commitments to support developing
countries to take on more responsibilities in addressing
environment, economic and social problems. Thus the summit
cannot backtrack on the "means of implementation." There
should be a re-commitment to new and additional financial
resources for sustainable development, and to technology
transfer on concessional and preferential terms, as was
committed 20 years ago in Rio and on many other occasions
- The Summit should launch a process to decide on and flesh
out sustainable development goals. However the goals should
also be backed up by concrete action plans, with details on
the financing and technology transfer aspects to implement
these plans. The SDGs should interface properly with the
post-2015 MDGs process. Meanwhile there should be a strong
implementation plan for the actions recommended in the
section on sectoral issues in the outcome document.
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