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Second Round of Rio+20 Informal-Informal Negotiations concludes: A step closer to reaching consensus?

Two weeks of informal-informal negotiations on the outcome document (previously known as the Zero Draft) for the UN Conference on Sustainable Development (Rio+20) took place at UN Headquarters (UNHQ) from 23 April through 4 May. In-depth, often intense discussions lasted into evening sessions and were split into two working groups: Working Group I, which addressed sections III (green economy in the context of sustainable development and poverty eradication) and V (framework for action and follow-up), and Working Group II, which addressed sections I (Preamble), II (Renewing Political Commitment,) and IV (Institutional Framework for Sustainable Development, or IFSD). Co-Chairs John Ashe (Antigua and Barbuda) and Kim Sook (Republic of Korea) alternated facilitation of the two groups.

Despite the complicated character of the negotiations, clear themes emerged during the discussions. The co-Chairs’ efforts to streamline the text formed two new incarnations, the Chairs’ Suggested Text (which was discussed during the first week of negotiations), and the New Chairs’ Suggested Text (NCST), discussed during the week of 30 April. These texts alternately pacified Member States concerned with the increasing unwieldy length of the document, and disappointed States (sometimes the same representatives) who felt that their previous proposals had been ignored or excised.

At the conclusion of the negotiations on 4 May, 21 paragraphs had been agreed ad referendum, and 400 remain to be agreed. The negotiations were interspersed with caucus events on the weekend in between the two weeks; DESA led a capacity-building workshop on the first day of negotiations.

Going Forward

On the final day of negotiations, the Bureau decided that a third round of “informal-informal” negotiations will be held 29 May through 2 June, to continue negotiations. Co-Chair Kim, convening the closing plenary, suggested that the group must change its working methods. By 22 May, the co-Chairs will produce a new, streamlined text for delegates’ consideration, and the next incarnation of the working groups will be divided more evenly, with Sections I-IV addressed by one and Section V, the other. Due to a prior engagement, co-Chair Kim will be unable to attend this extra round of informal-informal negotiations; Vice-Chair Keith Christie (Canada) will replace him there.

Co-Chair Kim gave Major Groups the opportunity to speak at the closing plenary. Most Major Groups repeated their earlier exhortations (see above); the Major Group for Workers and Trade Unions stressed that the outcome document must tackle the global jobs crises, especially with jobs that are environmentally beneficial. The Major Group for NGOs advocated the inclusion of civil society in participatory practices, and requested that Rio+20 spur decisive action; the Major Group for Women voiced concern at the bracketing and deletion of language on human rights.

In his closing address, Secretary-General of the Conference Sha Zukang exhorted the delegations to work towards the objective of arriving in Rio de Janeiro with at least 90% of the text ready, to then negotiate the final tenth with the highest level of political support at the conference. Mr. Sha voiced his optimism that the outcome document will renew political commitment, be action-oriented, contain inspiring agreements on both its themes, contain Sustainable Development Goals, and create or strengthen the institutions necessary for post-Rio.

An Overview of the Negotiations

Section I – Preamble

Discussions on the preamble/stage setting emphasized poverty eradication, human rights, the Rio Principles, good governance, and harmony with nature. After five read-throughs, agreement ad referendum was reached on two paragraph renewing commitment to sustainable development. The rest of the discussions did not reach agreement.

On poverty eradication, the EU and Switzerland wanted to emphasize the protection of the environment along with changing unsustainable patterns of consumption and production, while the G77 and China called for a balanced focus among the three pillars (environmental, social, and economic) of sustainable development.

The EU, US, Republic of Korea, and other delegations requested that the human rights discussion be founded on the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, while the G77 and China and the Holy See proposed additional text on the right to food and the right to development. The US agreed to language on the right to development, but rejected the right to food.

On Rio Principle 7, of “common but differentiated responsibilities,” several governments (US, EU, Japan, Switzerland, New Zealand, Canada) opposed the G77’s efforts to highlight this principle. After the G77 proposed two separate paragraphs, on the Universal Declaration on Human Rights and on general international obligations, but more discussion is still necessary.

The EU wanted to mention investment in the context of good governance and State efforts to create enabling environments, while the G77 opposed focusing on investment without attention to debt, trade, finance etc.

Ecuador and Bolivia proposed language on the rights of Mother Earth in the context of harmony with nature; text was moved here from Section V, but no agreement was reached.

Section II - Renewing Political Commitment

The first subsection here, reaffirming Rio principles, proved the most controversial. No agreements have been reached as yet on this section, as Canada, the US, EU, and Japan disagreeing with G77 and China’s singling out of the principle of common but differentiated responsibilities, and bracketing the group’s extra language on developing countries.

On assessing progress to date and remaining gaps, and addressing new and emerging challenges – the second subsection – discussion focused on aid commitments and on the root causes of poverty. Again, the G77 and China requested language on official development assistance along with unsustainable production and consumption, while the US, EU, and Canada reserved. The US, EU, and Japan voiced objections to G77 and China’s suggestion of text referring to the lack of implementation of previously-agreed international conventions.

Eventually, four paragraphs were agreed ad referendum, recognizing examples of progress in sustainable development; acknowledging the importance of ecosystems in poor peoples’ livelihoods and the need to generate decent jobs; reaffirming the Istanbul Programme of Action for the Least Developed Countries (LDCs); and acknowledging the natural and cultural diversity of the world.

The final subsection, engaging Major Groups, focused on access to information and on differing perspectives on the role of women, civil society, and the private sector. The US and G77 and China again found themselves on opposing sides regarding making available to all stakeholders relevant information on environmental monitoring and assessment, and on women: the G77 and China preferred language on women’s “empowerment” over stronger wording on “women’s leadership.” The EU and US suggested strong language on public-private partnerships, which the G77 and China requested to lessen; the US, Canada, and New Zealand wanted to ensure that civil society access to information should exclude proprietary information of commercial value.

Two paragraphs were agreed ad referendum, on the participation of indigenous peoples in achieving sustainable development, and on gender equality and women’s empowerment.

Section III, Green economy in the context of sustainable development and poverty eradication

Switzerland often tried to introduce more prescriptive language to make the text more binding. The European Union (EU) frequently requested the addition of goals and targets after most of the paragraphs in section III, calling for specific examples to create collective goals in the “common endeavour of sustainable development.” On issues of land and water, in particular, the EU introduced alternative paragraphs adding to the discussion. The representative of Algeria, speaking on behalf of the G77 and China, along with the US, Australia, and New Zealand, rejected most of these additions as they “complicate” the text and introduce qualitative changes to its substance.

The relationship between green economy strategies and government policy was the basis for some discussion over language. The EU, Republic of Korea, and Turkey favoured a suggestion by Switzerland to replace “green economy strategies” with “green economy policies... as part of their sustainability strategies,” an approach mirrored by the G77 and China during the discussion of the role of business and industry stakeholders.

Means of Implementation (MoI) formed a common subject for discussion, as the United States (US), Canada, and other countries frequently asked for all mentions to be moved into section V in favour of a streamlined section III.

Section IV - Institutional Framework for Sustainable Development

During these negotiations, four readings occurred of most of this section and its four subsections: strengthening/reforming/integrating the three pillars; the UN General Assembly (UNGA), Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC), Commission on Sustainable Development (CSD), and proposal of a sustainable development council (SDC); the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), the specialized agency on environment proposal, international financial institutions (IFIs) and UN country-level activities’ and regional, national, and local issues and activities.

On the first subsection, the EU made two proposals for a mechanism of periodic peer review and for regular measurement of progress; delegations including the G77 and China and the US found these proposals insufficiently clear.

On UNEP and the other UN agencies, the G77 and China presented and then withdrew its proposal for a high-level, intergovernmental forum building on the CSD along with the strengthening of the capacities of UNEP. Kenya, speaking on behalf of the African Group, announced that the African proposal was insufficiently incorporated into the G77 and China position, especially regarding the strengthening of Nairobi-based UNEP. No agreements had resulted by the close of the negotiations amongst the available options.

On IFIS and country-level operations, delegates agreed to one paragraph ad referendum, addressing the need for IFIs, UNCTAD, and other entities to give due consideration to sustainable development. Disagreements centred around how to build on assessments and measures for addressing sustainable development, including a regular global sustainable development assessment and the ongoing initiative “Delivering as One,” among others.

Finally, on regional, national, sub-national, and local activities, delegates including Mexico requested language calling for the strengthening of UN agencies in their capacities to support States’ endeavours towards sustainable development; a compromise was reached here. Two paragraphs agreed ad referendum address the importance of the regional dimension as complementary to national level activities and in promoting a balanced integration of sustainable development.

Section V - Framework for Action

During the discussion of the chapeau to section V, the G77 and China requested the clear inclusion of the Rio principles, to which the EU, Republic of Korea, and Switzerland wanted to add a mention of the two themes of the conference. The US, Canada, and Japan requested streamlining and deleting parts of the text, particularly the mention of “goals, targets, and indicators,” while the G77 and China, US, Japan, New Zealand, Russian Federation, and Canada argued against mentioning a “green economy roadmap” here.

The first sub-section of Section V, priority/key/thematic/cross-sectoral issues, includes an extensive list of draft paragraphs that were discussed during the negotiations. These include: poverty eradication; sustainable agriculture and food security; water and sanitation; energy; sustainable tourism; transportation; harmony with nature; sustainable cities/human settlements; health; jobs; oceans and seas; Small Island Developing States (SIDS); Least Developed Countries (LDCS); Africa; other groups and regions with sustainable development challenges; disaster risk reduction and resilience; climate change; forests; biodiversity and ecosystem services; desertification, land degradation and drought; mountains; chemicals and waste; atmosphere; sustainable consumption and production; mining; education; family; gender equality and the empowerment of women; private sector; and sustainable innovation and investment.

On oceans and seas, States reached consensus about the necessity of including reference to ocean acidification in the text; the G77 and China advocated strengthening initiatives to address ocean acidification including by enhancing the resilience of the ocean ecosystem and supporting marine research, while the EU added a focus on the communities affected by this process.

On Small Island Developing States (SIDS), the US and G77 were at loggerheads over committing to increased support for SIDS, while Australia and New Zealand favoured the original text here, without adding or deleting commitments.

The US and Norway called for streamlining and strengthening the language, within the education section, on sexual and reproductive rights, which the observer for the Holy See opposed. Similarly, on gender equality and women’s empowerment, though a relative consensus was reached, only some representatives (Norway, the G77 and China, the EU, Liechtenstein) requested a mention of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) in the text.

On tourism, the US preferred not to recognize the role of States in promoting investments in sustainable tourism; the G77 and China voiced concerns, but agreed. The EU advocated mention of local communities and indigenous people, and New Zealand included focus on cultural tourism in addition to eco-tourism. On this subject, the delegates were able to agree ad referendum.

The Russian Federation proposed to include the notion of road safety as an integral part of sustainable development, in the paragraph on transportation; the US, EU, Kazakhstan, and the G77 and China agreed. The G77 and China asked to delete the mention of emissions caused by transportation systems, while the EU and US opposed this suggestion.

Sustainable urbanization was mentioned, addressing slums (which the Republic of Korea preferred to term “urban regeneration”) and natural and cultural conservation, a proposal by the EU.

On water, Japan and the EU emphasized the importance of developing Integrated Water Resource Management (IWRM) and Water Efficiency Plans. Several representatives, including the G77 and China, preferred to keep the language consistent with that of the Millennium Declaration, which refers to “basic sanitation” rather than “adequate sanitation,” both of which were used in the NCST.

Regarding the dimensions of water as a human right, Canada requested deletion as the human right to water is not specifically codified under international law, and the US bracketed the mention of water and sanitation as essential for the full enjoyment of human rights. After emphasizing the critical importance of water resources, the NCST suggests promoting new commitments to reduce water pollution, a paragraph that the EU, Canada, the US, Switzerland, and the Republic of Korea requested be moved to the MoI section.

During the discussion on energy, the EU and New Zealand suggested adding the word “sustainable” to mentions of energy services, while G77 and China also called for the inclusion of the descriptor of “modern.” Regarding the affordability of energy services, the US requested the deletion or amendment of the paragraph, while the G77 and China requested clarification. New Zealand and Canada preferred to leave out a mention of cleaner fossil fuel technologies in favour of a more generic message towards the advancement of technology, and the G77 and China, US, and Canada requested that the paragraph be ended without a mention of technology transfer.

The EU, supported by Kazakhstan, Switzerland, Belarus, and Norway, stressed the interdependence of energy, water, and food security issues. Similarly, the US, EU, Republic of Korea, Norway, and Switzerland expressed their support to the Secretary-General’s initiative on Sustainable Energy for All, while the G77 and China preferred not to single out any specific initiative here.

On energy subsidies, the EU and New Zealand led the call for the phasing out of environmentally and economically harmful subsidies, including for fossil fuels, which the US and Canada supported. Japan reserved, wanting to keep language that was already agreed upon. The G77 and China, on the other hand, wanted to delete the paragraph, emphasizing the importance of energy subsidies for developing countries, especially in their efforts to bolster renewable energy sources.

The second subsection, accelerating and measuring progress, mostly discussed Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The US, Canada, and Japan voiced concerns that SDGs would compete with the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) for resources; G77, though it shared this concern, supported the establishment of an intergovernmental process (under the General Assembly) for creating SDGs. Norway, emphasizing the necessary expertise of non-governmental actors in the creation of SDGs, favoured deleting the word “intergovernmental.” Specifics on the SDG process through the establishment of a list of thematic areas was rejected by the G77, the US, and Switzerland, among others.

The final subsection addressed MoI, particularly finance; science and technology’ capacity building; trade; and the proposed registry or compendium of commitments (introduced by the US).

On subsidies, G77 and China pointed out that the Doha Round of development negotiations has not yet reached a consensus on subsidies, so the need for a strong commitment to their elimination at Rio is key. New Zealand, Australia and Iceland agreed, while Japan refused, Canada suggested less prescriptive wording, and the EU and Republic of Korea reserved.

On the role of international financial institutions (IFIs) and business and industry, several States were concerned with adding environmental or sustainable language to the text, while specifics regarding supply chains, favoured by the EU and Republic of Korea, proved problematic for the G77 and China, US, and Japan. Norway, Switzerland, Australia, the EU, Mexico, and Turkey supported the introduction of Global Compact’s principles of corporate social responsibility, while the G77 and China preferred to hold off on this inclusion to avoid creating barriers for procurement.

Major Groups

On 1 May, the Bureau decided to afford the opportunity for Major Groups to make statements each afternoon thereafter, as part of its continuing efforts to involve all stakeholders. The Major Group for Workers and Trade Unions made a statement that day calling for the introduction of a financial transactions tax, the creation of decent work opportunities, and the establishment of social protection floors, to be included in the outcome document. The Major Group for Farmers deplored the lack of a rights-based approach in the document, along with the excessive role delegated to the private sector, in their view. They called for a greater focus on decent work.

The following day, the Major Group for Women emphasized the need to focus on rural women and to strengthen the commitments on sexual and reproductive rights. The Major Group for Farmers repeated their exhortation to recognize decent work, in particular for fishers. The Major Group for Indigenous People voiced their disapproval of the market-based approach, advocating a clear recognition of the rights of Mother Earth. The Major Group for Local Authorities expressed their satisfaction about strong language on cities, but asked for a greater recognition of local networks, regional planning, and the need to develop cohesive territories.

The Major Group for Children and Youth underscored the strong commitment of young people to Rio+20, encouraging the delegations to keep up their strong efforts towards finishing the negotiations. The Major Group for the Science and Technological Community urged governments to develop a global facilitating mechanism for better scientific cooperation and a science-based policy interface. The Major Group for Business and Industry welcomed the emphasis on investments, while requesting greater support for innovation and the protection of intellectual property rights.

For detailed, daily summaries, please visit the website of IISD’s reporting services.