Day 3 and the final of the open negotiations process at Rio+20, and the corridors are awash with frustration and disillusionment from hopes that negotiators will reach any real outcomes beyond their habitual editorial tweaks.
After a snail-paced first day on Wednesday (yawn), some excitement unfolded in the Green Economy session yesterday afternoon; negotiators for the G77 + China threatened to walk out of the conversation all-together. At a steamy stalemate with the EU, the G77 wrapped up the day with a little heated banter, refusing to carry on the skirmish over means of finance and implementation (who pays for transition to a ‘green economy’? who is responsible for what?). The United States was lambasted for blocking progress and deleting meaningful language (mainly in regards to language that would challenge that country’s somewhat consistent sensitivities to funding requirements, to any specific details on the transfer of technology, and on measures targeting US unsustainable (business and governance) practices (agricultural and fossil subsidies). The US behavior yesterday beckoned reaction from civil society group, Climate Action Network, to slap the US with the ‘Fossil of the Day’ award (a tradition of calling out countries that have performed badly in the climate change negotiations).
As an American, a global nomad, and an active proponent of sustainable development; I feel it’s important to consider a few perhaps dry but very pragmatic (hopefully realistic) expectations that would allow us to realize the United States broad goals and principles on environment and sustainable development. Although we’re in an election year, and it may seem ridiculous to even think of these hopes for US commitment, I’m still a helpless romantic at heart and, like my fellow trackers, living out my youth bouncing off extremely improbable realities, so let’s just give ourselves the benefit of the doubt (not to be confused with fooled by randomness), but allow ourselves to believe the following are possible.
Firstly, let’s make note that the US negotiation position has been to encourage a system where small changes on a global scale does work (bottom up innovations, for example, or new communication technologies that can allow public and private partnerships to successfully address key environmental challenges), but that for a number of political disputes on climate and sustainability, the US is committed to principles and sustainability philosophy rather than specific goals. So these here commitments are wishful thoughts, but with policy shifts affected by (often irrational) economic, financial, human, natural, and intangible indicators (we are human after all), who knows if these hopes can turn into realities –as the old adage of Bob Dylan goes, ‘the answer is blowing in the wind..’
A few ideas on commitments I want the US to take leadership on for creating a better future:
Sustainability Monitoring & Reporting: Currently, a comprehensive (universal or functioning localized system) for sustainability and environmental reporting DOES NOT EXIST. Companies around the world are not necessarily mandated to include sustainability factors into their regular corporate reporting systems, so all of the various reporting guidelines can only be symbolic rather than affective tools to evaluate the impacts of business on people and the planet.
So What? A global policy environment requiring business sustainability reporting is necessary and possible; and the US can and should lead on the creation of (1) market-based accountability standards, and (2) global standards. (Steven Waygood of Aviva Investors, seems to be the leading pusher for these standards through his Corporate Sustainability Reporting Coalition). Again, this expectation is not perfect; as stands, there is no effective comprehensive data on state environmental performance; it would need to be created and that the US HAS stepped up to lead standards on cross-cutting issues of relevance (global accounting standards, finance, intellectual property), there is no reason why it cannot show commitment and leadership to include this into the draft for the Green Economy.
Transfer of Technology
The US has been almost a silent (but not sole) leader on the contributions of its technologies for human development around the world (mostly because of policies that have incentivized businesses to expand and create abroad). It’s hard to believe that we have yet to design and implement a better infrastructure to deal with technology transfer; but the reality is that it’s a mess. Being the leader of innovation (still), and with such a sensitive jobs market, why not take leadership on increasing valuable areas of expertise (mechanical and engineering among others) in the green tech space. Why not lead on securing a stronger intellectual property system through increasing technology and knowledge transfer world-wide so as to benefit from (rather than being abrasively impacted by) the already growing shift of research and development, innovations, and findings abroad?
Formal Alliance on Environment and Trade
Currently there isn’t one on the table at Rio+20; this is ridiculous because trade is always prioritized over given its relevance to the oversight body of the WTO. We DO have treaties on climate change, etc., but discussions on these are done in very loose settings within the WTO. Having an actual treaty on environment and trade would be central to any arrangement around the green economy; the US must lead on making this come to the forefront.
Promote and Allow Localized Agendas to Flourish:
I want to see the US initiate more to the conceptual framework that allows people to establish their own goals and achieve them in ways that work for them, but which has strong enough agreements, guidelines and oversight to ensure checks and balances are well established to prevent cronyism.
About the authorSumita Ghosh
Sumita Ghosh is a development economist from the United States working with leaders from business, government, and civil society to design and implement real solutions to critical human development and climate challenges. She's also a Rio+20 Fellow.