Today was the first official day of the Rio+20 Earth Summit, where Heads of State and ‘world leaders’ arrived in their droves to… well, what? It’s actually not at all clear what they are here to do, since the Brazilians have officially closed the text, and it seems that negotiations are over. The expectation at the moment is that the text will not change much, if at all, over the next 3 days.
This is, quite frankly, a disaster. The text is incredibly weak and watered down from the zero draft that we came in with last week. Apart from missing references to fundamental issues such as a high commissioner for future generations, green job creation, reproductive rights, and much more, it is peppered with passive language. Phrases like ‘We acknowledge’, ‘we encourage’, ‘we recognize..’. appear time and time again in the text, unlike the original 1992 Rio Declaration, which speaks in terms of ‘we must, we will, we shall.’ It may not seem like a big difference, but it means a hell of a lot in terms of the legal implications of the commitments. The text is so weak, that the Major Group for NGOs outright rejected it in this morning’s plenary, declaring:
We stand on the brink of Rio+20 being another failed attempt. With governments only trying to protect their narrow interests instead of trying to inspire the world. If that happens, it will be a big failure.
…You cannot have a document called the Future We Want without any mention of planetary boundaries, tipping points or planetary carrying capacity.
…The text as it stands is completely out of touch with reality. Just to be clear, NGOs at Rio do not endorse this document.
So, imagine my upset when I went to the UK briefing for NGOs last night, and our Secretary of State, Caroline Spelman, declared the text a success. For 45 minutes she talked without drawing breath. She said that ‘no one has got everything they wanted’ but that it was a success and that this text represented a big step forward. THEN she asked us to applaud the work of her ministers.
Certainly, the ministers here have a hard job with long hours and that deserves to be acknowledged. But applause should be saved for when the job is done. Applause should be saved for when we actually have a text that demonstrates the ambition that we are calling for. I was so frustrated by her relentless positive spinning last night, that I left the briefing and cried.
Disillusion turned to anger today, when I went along to the reception for UK participants, and had an argument with Nick Clegg! Or, let’s call it a reasoned debate. I managed to corner him after he gave his opening speech, in which his main points were:
- He knew we were disappointed, but this week was never going to be like 1992
- It is hard to get 192 countries to agree on anything, so the current text is an achievement
- He emphasised that countries had agreed to move forward with Sustainable Development Goals
- We need to be careful not to communicate the text as a glass half empty, when it is a glass half full
I told him that the young people here would not consider it a glass half full, or a glass half empty, but a glass that had shattered on the floor. Because the current text had stripped away many of the basic rights and principles of the 1992 Rio Declaration. That you can not consider such a move a success, when the current environmental and economic situation is so much worse than it was then. That this text was a massive step backwards, since it had stripped away mention of reproductive rights, a high commissioner for future generations, and only had one mention of green jobs.
He responded that they never said that they thought it was a success (even though Caroline Spelman said it at least 10 times last night – messaging fail); that it was G77 who had blocked green jobs (which is true); that if he had got to write the text it would be completely different; that G77 have a fundamental suspicion of the UN process and that it wasn’t up to him or the EU to bring a stronger text in that G77 wouldn’t sign up to out of principle. That the text, although less ambitious, had more integrity for everyone signing up to it, and that they were being more considerate of what G77 wanted.
I replied that I didn’t believe that everyone signing up to the text meant it held integrity, when the text was inherently meaningless. And I said that G77 were blocking mostly because of financing and implementation issues.
Which he VEHEMENTLY denied. (And at this point, his bodyguard started tugging on my bags and clothes to pull me backwards) He said that G77 blocking things had ‘nothing to do with financing’.
Which is just. not. true. It is all about money. And money, is about burden-sharing. To say that the EU, US and other developed countries have been making concessions to G77 is ridiculous. They may have given away small wins to G77, but they have not moved on the key issue of Common But Differentiated Responsibilities (CBDR). This is the principle that recognises that some countries are richer, and might have got us into this mess in the first place, and some countries still have an urgent need to develop and lift millions out of poverty, and so have differing levels of responsibility when it comes to paying for solutions. CBDR is only mentioned in 2 places in the current text, as opposed to 10 places in the Rio+10 text drafted in Johannesberg.
This is not a step forward. This is not success. This is not progress.
And two last things – Nick, if you want to write the text, GO AHEAD. I was under the impression that negotiating the text was THE reason you were invited here. Also, you are a public servant, not Angelina Jolie. Next time, tell your bodyguard to be less manhandly and let the people talk to you. Actually, come to think of it, Angelina Jolie is a goodwill ambassador, right? Get her in here, stat. She might do a better job.
About the authorHanna Thomas
Green Jobs Director at The Otesha Project UK, leading the work of the East London Green Jobs Alliance. MSc Climate Change & Policy. Tracking the negotiations through a grassroots lens! Rio+20 Fellow.