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31 January 2012

First round of Rio+20 negotiations: Major Groups urge Member States to be more ambitious

The initial discussions on the “zero draft” outcome document for the UN Conference on Sustainable Development (UNCSD, or Rio+20) were held from 25-27 January at UN Headquarters in New York. finished last Friday after the start of the second reading of the first two sections. Expectations were high at the start of the initial discussions, especially concerning the reactions on the draft outcome document. The latter was prepared by the Co-chairs of the Rio+20 Bureau on the basis of inputs submitted by Member States, Political Groups, United Nations institutions and Major Groups and civil society organizations, and serves as a basis for negotiation. At first sight, it seemed that delegates of the various Member States widely shared the opinion that the “zero draft” integrates many key issues of the sustainable development agenda and as such provides a good basis for negotiations in the lead up to the Conference. However, they also seemed to agree that more ambition is needed to make Rio+20 a real success.

Comments from Member States reflected a whole range of ideas, remarks and concerns: for some the “zero draft” was too focused on the environmental dimension; others said it did not provide sufficient attention to issues such as “oceans” or “climate change.” Some advocated for the establishment of a specialized UN environmental organization; while others stressed that the means of implementation are more important to focus on. Moreover, some delegates feared that the potential Sustainable Development Goals may replace the Millennium Development Goals. Other concerns raised included the need for a transition to a green economy at the national level; a stronger accent on good governance and the empowerment of women; and the establishment of a sustainable consumption and production framework.

Representatives of the nine Major Groups also had the opportunity to express their views and remarks on the zero draft during the plenary discussions. For many of them the draft lacks urgency, ambition and detail. In the lead up to the Rio+20 Conference, these groups will lobby their governments in the hope that Member States will adopt a more ambitious outcome document and set a pathway for sustainable development.

Below are some of the main concerns raised by the Major Groups during the initial discussions:

According to the Farmers Major Group, “the current document fails to make the link between food security, food sovereignty, and the steps needed to ensure the rights of farmers, especially family farmers, peasants, women, youth, and indigenous communities, to successfully produce that food.” The Farmers Major Group underlines the importance of artisanal and small-scale fishing communities for sustainable development and poverty alleviation. It believes that the outcome of 17th session of the Commission for Sustainable Development (May 2009) can provide a useful orientation for agricultural policies and it would like to see farmers included in decision-making processes concerning all aspects of agricultural policies.

The Scientific and Technological Community welcomes the mentioning on scientific assessments of the state of the planet and on strengthening the science-policy interface. However, it would like the Zero Draft to “become much stronger on initiating new, unprecedented efforts and commitments of harnessing science, technology and innovation through international cooperation, including for capacity building in developing countries.” It recommends launching an inclusive process to establish a “global mechanism for international scientific collaboration, coordinated research on major sustainable development challenges, and capacity-building in developing countries.”

“The private sector (…) must be actively engaged to address the implementation gaps that have limited achievements of the sustainable development goals,” stated the Business and Industry Major Group. For the crucial task of “greening” economic sectors, the improvement of existing processes (e.g. through resource efficiency and life cycle approaches) is considered “to be as important as launching new products, services and technologies.” This Major Group does not necessarily support the establishment of green economy roadmaps by sectors, as “sectors are usually not ‘centrally’ managed coalitions,” but suggests “to focus on economy-wide enabling frameworks to foster improvement in these areas.” Furthermore, to address transboundary challenges related to, for example, trade, intellectual property rights or providing access to environmental information without threatening confidential business information, the Major Group calls for clear regulatory frameworks at national and international level.

The Major Group Workers and Trade Unions acknowledges the need for nationally adapted green economies, but refuses green economies that “are not based on principles, regulations, and a strong leadership by the governments.” The principles of the green economy need to be defined in the zero draft and include human rights aspects. It also urges governments to recognize in the zero draft that inequality is a serious sustainability problem. It welcomes the establishment of an universal social protection floor as a possible concrete outcome of Rio+20 and strongly recommend the inclusion of specific targets related to green and decent work as well as an agreement on a Financial Transaction Tax (FTT). Finally, this Major Group said that they “will only support Rio+20 if the right for information, public participation and environmental justice is fully recognized (as it was in Rio) and elaborated for its implementation.”

The Local Authority Major Group welcomes the references to the urban dimension of sustainable development and the role of local governments and multi-level governance in the zero draft, but considers that more ambition is needed to achieve real progress in this regard. Recognizing that the development of green urban economy strategies is essential for the achievement of sustainable development, the Major Group stresses that “urban areas need to be empowered and appropriately supported to take action.” Additionally, it calls for the strengthening of the role of local governments within the Institutional Framework for Sustainable Development either through “an overall reform and improvement of the modalities of participation for all Major Groups” or through the commitment “to full participation of Governmental Stakeholders in global sustainable development policy-shaping as well as implementation.”

The Major Group for NGOs is of the opinion that the zero draft fails to propose binding targets and actions. More concretely, it urges "governments to fully implement Principle 10 of the Rio Declaration” (on public participation, access to information, access to justice and transparency) and to establish an Ombudsperson for Future Generations. Furthermore, it proposes that “Rio+20 should address the accountability of all stakeholders, especially the private sector.” Accountability should include, among others, the internalization of costs as well as the assessment of social, health and environmental impacts of private sector activities. This Major Group further calls for the establishment of a framework convention on corporate environmental and social responsibility and supports the establishment of a Council for Sustainable Development as well as a specialized UN environmental organization.

The statement of the Indigenous Peoples Major Group points out five main concerns: Firstly, the Groups calls for the recognition of culture – ethic and moral values as well as cultural and spiritual traditions – as the fourth pillar of sustainable development. Secondly, it addresses the need to affirm a human-rights based approach to sustainable development and to recognize the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples as a standard in the implementation of sustainable development at all levels. Thirdly, in relation the economic diversity and “green economies,” the Indigenous Peoples Major Group notes that “self determined development” is a critical component of “resilient economies and ecosystems” and sustainable development. Fourthly, this Major Group emphasized the importance of securing the rights of Indigenous Peoples and the poor over lands, territories and resources. Finally, it urges Member States to recognize the importance of indigenous and local knowledge for sustainable development.

The Major Group Children and Youth urges the international community to adopt measures that focus on poverty eradication, “especially in the context of rising youth unemployment” and to make sure that the outcome document “recognizes gender equality and human rights’ protection, including sexual and reproductive rights of women and young people.” It underlines that the zero draft needs more integrated and cross-sectoral solutions in its Framework for Action. It also proposes to establish a specialized UN environmental organization as well as an Ombudsperson for Future generations.

The Women’s Major Group advocates for a “major paradigm shift” to break with the economic development of the recent past (the “neo-liberal system” as well as “structural adjustment policies”). Gender equality, sexual reproductive rights and health should be much more strongly emphasized in the outcome document. The Group supports the establishment of an Ombudsperson or an international court on the environment. Concrete outcomes of Rio, proposed by this Major Group, include agreements on a social protection floor, the global implementation of Rio Principle 10, the full implementation of the precautionary and polluter pays principles, as well as the establishment of an independent technology assessment and monitoring body.

To access the statements delivered by Member States, Major Groups and United Nations institutions during the initial discussions, click here.

Next steps:
The next round of negotiations on the zero draft will be held at the end of March 2012. Until 29 February, Member States will have the opportunity to send their comments and proposals for amendments regarding section III – V of the zero draft to the Rio+20 Bureau. Civil society and Major Group representatives should keep this deadline in mind when lobbying their governments to include their proposals and suggestions in the draft outcome document.

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