Rio+20: Green Economy is Not Always Green

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Brazil's CURITIBA-Green CityBy Richard Johnson
IDN-InDepth NewsAnalysis

GENEVA (IDN) - The current round of informal negotiations from April 23 to May 4 on the outcome document of the UN Conference on Sustainable Development (Rio+20) promises to be rather intense and challenging, given the great divide in the positions of countries on crucial issues.

This is by no means surprising. The first round of talks on the so-called zero draft outcome document from March 19 to 27 in New York too saw a clear divide among developing and developed countries on several key areas.

These included the green economy, the institutional framework for sustainable development, sustainable development goals and the means of implementation.

According to Meena Raman, a senior advisor of The Third World Network, negotiations so far have shown that developed countries are opposed to proposals by the Group of 77 and China (G77), which contain specific references to the Rio principle 7 of "common but differentiated responsibilities" (CBDR) in several parts of the outcome document. They did not want that principle to be singled out and given particular emphasis, and preferred a general reference to all the Rio principles in the beginning of the outcome document.

The Rio Declaration on Environment and Development adopted at the June 1992 UN summit is the internationally agreed set of principles for sustainable development, and was the outcome of intense negotiations.

In response to the developed countries' resistance, the G77 reiterated that while it supported all the Rio principles, there was an appropriate place and context for the reference to the CBDR principle in specific parts of the draft outcome document.

The 206-page compilation text of the document that now includes proposals and amendments by Member States is comprised of five chapters: preamble/stage setting; renewing political commitment; green economy in the context of sustainable development and poverty eradication; institutional framework for sustainable development (IFSD); and framework for action and follow-up including Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and means of implementation such as finance, access to and transfer of technology, and capacity building.

In a paper for the South Centre Bulletin, Meena Raman analyses some of the key areas of the divide among the Member States.

On the 'Green Economy in the context of sustainable development and poverty eradication', the G77 proposed the insertion of several introductory paragraphs saying that these are necessary to address the context for the green economy.

The G77 wanted a reaffirmation "…that market-based growth strategies are insufficient by themselves to ensure equitable economic growth and to solve the problem of widespread poverty, to provide adequate health care, education, full employment and decent work for all and to reduce inequality and promote social development and inclusion."

The US, Canada, Japan and New Zealand in response wanted a positive tone expressed instead of having a negative start to the chapter, writes Raman.

The G77 proposals also called for reforms in global economic governance, including in the financial system and architecture and the need to continue to work towards a new international economic order.

These proposals were opposed by developed countries (the US, Canada, Japan, the European Union and New Zealand) who called for its deletion. The US said that these issues were "off topic" and that there was need to "maintain focus on sustainable development", a sentiment shared by the other developed countries.

The detailed proposal of the G77 in this regard is as follows, writes Raman: "We reaffirm that the current major challenge for developing countries is the impact from the multiple crises affecting the world today, particularly the ongoing economic and financial crisis, as a result of the deficiency of the international financial system."

In this context, the G77 wanted a reaffirmation of "the urgent need to address the lack of proper regulation and monitoring of the financial sector, the overall lack of transparency and financial integrity, excessive risk taking, overleveraging and unsustainable patterns of consumption and production in developed countries."

A further proposal by G77 states: "We are convinced that sustained and widespread prosperity will require major reforms in global economic governance, including the reform of the global financial system and architecture, along with the renewed commitment to sustainable development to balance material wealth improvements with the protection of the natural resources and ecosystems and to ensure equity and justice."

The G77 also proposed that "sustainable development must remain our overarching goal." It further proposed that member states "…view green economy in the context of sustainable development and poverty eradication as one of the tools to achieving sustainable development. In this regard, we emphasize the need for each State to assess and consider related opportunities, challenges and risks as well as the means of implementation needed. It should foster integration of the three pillars of sustainable development and not be a rigid set of rules, but provide options for policy making."

The G77 further proposed: "Green economy policies in the context of sustainable development and poverty eradication should be developed with respect to the right to development of each country while allowing for the eradication of poverty and hunger, the achievement of social equity while reducing inequalities, and reducing environmental degradation with a view to re-establish harmony with nature.

"At the same time, it is vital to promote sustainable development models in order to encourage changing the unsustainable consumption and production patterns. These efforts should be supported by an effective international cooperation through technology transfer, capacity building and financial resources on favourable terms, in accordance with the commitments made at the major United Nations Conferences and Summits on sustainable development."

The US and Japan wanted the "right to development" bracketed while the EU, New Zealand, Switzerland, US and Canada called for deletion of the last sentence in the above paragraph relating to international cooperation on technology transfer, capacity building and financial resources.

Another G77 proposal to address the challenges faced by developing countries in the adoption of green economy policies was also opposed by the EU, Japan, US, Switzerland and New Zealand.

The G77 proposed: "We acknowledge that developing countries are facing great challenges in eradicating poverty and achieving sustainable development. The adoption of green economy policies may result in risks, challenges and additional costs to the economies of developing countries. Such challenges and risks should be duly considered by countries in accordance with their priorities and at their own pace. In this regard, developing countries' efforts should be supported by adequate means of implementation by developed countries, including new and additional financial, technical and technological assistance, such as the transfer of environmentally-sound and state of the art technology, as well as capacity building."

The G77 also made further proposals "…to recognise and respect the existence of different approaches, visions, models, policies and tools, sovereignly decided by each country, in order to achieve sustainable development and poverty eradication in an integrated manner including the three pillars."

It wanted to emphasize “that green economy in the context of sustainable development and poverty eradication should be in strict accordance with national objectives, social, economic, and environmental development policies and the attainment of internationally agreed sustainable development commitments, including the MDGs (Millennium Development Goals)."

The G77 further called for the "need to foster better understanding of the social, environmental and economic implications and impacts of green economy and for international support and cooperation, including of the UN system, to facilitate the achievement of sustainable development, through different nationally defined visions, models, policies, tools and approaches, including green economy, while recognizing that no one-size-fits-all solution to sustainable development."

On the issue of what the green economy policies must not do, the G77 wanted such polices not to:

(a) create trade barriers or any form of protectionism, unilateral measures or other border trade measures, consistent with principle 12 of the Rio Declaration on environment and development;

(b) generate conditionalities in the areas of financing, ODA (official development assistance) and other forms of international cooperation ;

(c) widen technology gaps or exacerbate technological dependence of developing countries on developed countries;

(d) restrict the policy space for developing countries to pursue their own paths to sustainable development, inter alia by imposing additional mandatory and/or legally binding commitments on developing countries;

(e) endanger the development of indigenous people and local communities, their cultural heritage and traditional knowledge, including those of minor ethnic groups;

(f) increase inequality and endanger the development and advancement of women, youth, children and disabled people;

(g) represent a pretext for developed countries to renege on past commitments;

(h) limit the livelihoods of small and subsistence farmers, fishermen and those working in small and medium enterprises and

(i) restrict productive activities in developing countries that are key for eradicating poverty.

Developed countries in general were not in favour of several of the proposals above and wanted their deletion, writes Raman.

The EU also proposed the establishment of "a global green economy roadmap, with deadlines for specific goals, objectives and concrete actions at the international level in a specific number of crosscutting and thematic areas." This proposal was not agreed to by Canada, the US, and New Zealand. [IDN-InDepthNews – April 23, 2012]

2012 IDN-InDepthNews | Analysis That Matters

Image: Brazil's CURITIBA-Green City | Credit: UNEP

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