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What Next -- Climate Watch

Tariq Banuri on Rio +20

Message of Tariq Banuri posted on the Rio+20 page.


The Rio+20 Co-Chairs have circulated the zero draft of the negotiation text. It is faithful to the substance and the tone of the discussions at the 2nd Intersessional, whose minutes have also been released. Civil society will need to engage actively with governments and the Bureau in order to push them into raising the level of ambition, which currently seems to be scraping bottom.

The text is 19 pages in length, divided roughly evenly between general and sectoral issues. The latter give it a “populist” tone, in the sense that it now has a little something for everybody even if not consequential–water, energy, climate, biodiversity, access and information, oceans, SIDS, women, and many others–and othis will surely please and disarm single-agenda advocates. However, it may also disappoint many of them because they will find the text to be declaratory and non-operational in nature.

The text can be reduced a lot because there is much repetition and redundancy–probably because of the desire to quote directly from the original submissions–as well as empty rhetoric.

Ignoring rhetoric, repetition, and reiteration, there are a few innovative elements in the text. These include the provisions on access to information (WRI’s contribution), sustainable development goals (SDGs), voluntary initiatives and partnerships, green GDP, and some of the proposals on oceans. These provide an opening for their advocates to propose tighter and more operational language.

One major surprise is that the weakness of the text on the themes and objectives of the conference. The sections on the green economy sound like an unnecessarily long and defensive explanation that the green economy will not be harmful for developing countries. The text on IFSD provides a few paragraphs of concrete action and even options (strengthening UNEP and CSD versus creating a specialized agency and an SD council respectively), but these are presented in rather cursory manner, and much more work will be needed in the next few months to give the proposals some substance. The text on the international financial institutions is particularly egregious.

Looking at the casual nature of this language, it is difficult to see how much progress can be made between now and June. The good money is on a Durban-type solution in which countries will confine themselves to setting out a roadmap for further negotiations, most likely till 2015.

The text suffers from several major weaknesses. First, just like the climate process, it has abandoned all efforts to match rhetoric with intent. There is chapter and verse on the things that are going wrong, but then a bit of hand waving, some exhortation to everyone to do the right thing (voluntary initiatives), some faith in the miraculous powers of casually articulated new concepts. Indeed, there is no indication of a recognition of the complex inter linkages between the different challenges highlighted here and there.

Second, there is no effort to link the proposals with progress made in other contexts, most notably the climate process. Financing, technology transfer, voluntary commitments (and their registry), and many other mundane issues have reached a degree of maturity in climate negotiations. The draft text is quite innocent of all this knowledge.

Third, the word equity does not appear in the text (though equitable does, but that is not the same thing). Enough said.

Finally, notwithstanding the high importance given to it by countries, energy has received very little attention–only 2 paragraphs, repeating the SG’s Advisory Group’s recommendation, with no indication of what precisely needs to be done.

We have a huge task in front of us to push our governments into converting this pap into something meaningful, consequential, and relevant.”
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