Emma Singer. 12.30.12
Recommendation: At present there is no universal method of accountability in
place to monitor Public Private Partnerships (PPPs). I propose the creation of a dual method of accountability
that combines international regulation with community pressure and
influence. Such a system would
work through the creation of quantitative measurements to determine the success
of PPPs. Alongside this a system
of publication which would allow this information as well as details about PPPs
to be available to all. Doing this
enables communities to be aware of the actions taking place around them and
helps to make bottom-up accountability an option as well as top-down
PPP: Public Private Partnerships (PPP) first
began to gain significant traction at the World Summit on Sustainable
Development (WSSD) in 2002, where although little formal progress was made,
PPPs began to take an overwhelming prominence as a new tool for success in the
absence of state-state action. PPPs mark a shift from official state
to decentralized public private governance strategies relying more heavily on
bottom-up approaches. While many proponents of PPPs, such as
Jacob Scherr, see them as a necessary and integral part of environmental
governance, compliance and systems of accountability still remain an issue, as
at present there is no system set in place although many proposals are
impeding accountability and compliance in PPP:
mechanisms are weak, and difficult to change: Due to the new and evolving nature of PPPs, there are no
real systems of accountability established, so a system of trial-and-error will
need to occur in order for a successful system to be established, this is
impeded by a lack of organizational space for such experimentation to occur.
of non-compliance are not necessarily clear: Reasons for non-compliance and a lack of transparency are
complex and not always clear, especially with PPPs.
representation of marginalized members:
As with all areas of governance, PPP face issues of representation, how to get
important actors involved and compliant and how to ensure equal representation
of groups who may not have as economically stable a background remain important
questions to address.
situation of PPPs as both state and non-state entities: PPPs deal with both state and non-state
entities. Due to this compliance issues become particularly complicated, as
there is no one regulating body that can encompass both of these groups. This
necessitates a need for both top down and bottom up approaches.
involvement on the community and public level: PPP depend upon the involvement of both
private and public sectors, however getting involvement from both private and
public sectors remains a serious problem, especially when we trying to engage
for achieving accountability:
forms of accountability:
Proposed by Karin Bäckstrand, plural forms of accountability include
non-electoral accountability methods.
Plural accountability relies heavily upon civil society, and it
emphasizes peer, reputational, and market accountability. This is done through
the creation of mechanisms by which civil society groups can “police” PPPs and
report them. Plural forms of
accountability put the pressure on non-government entities to police agreements
and places this responsibility with them.
proposed by Bäckstrand, networked governance asserts that state sovereignty is
an outdated model and that networks of governments need to be established in
order to form more formal methods of compliance. Networked governments also allow for multilaterism, and more
communication between private and public sectors.
proposed by Paul Jepson for environmental NGOs, legitimacy based approaches
link legitimacy and accountability.
This approach ignores structural processes and instead relies upon
engagement of public. This is similar
to that advocated for by Peter Newell.
Who argues that civil society is the most powerful mechanism to secure
accountability and is far more important than structural elements within the
government. This has
been seen most prominently as an option in forestry management.
of Transparency and Accountability:
Advocated for by Christopher Bovis, these two principles seek to guide
regulation from two different approaches: community-wide perspective and
national priorities. The result is a combination of both a bottom-up and a
o Principle of Transparency: The principle of transparency seeks to
introduce a system of openness in the public regarding the actions of Member
States, as well as establish practices that are beneficial to both public and
private sectors. This is achieved
through advertisement of public contracts over certain thresholds by means of
multiple publication types. This
relies on community involvement, which may present challenges on a more global
level due to lack of involvement.
o Principle of Accountability: The principle of accountability
operates on a more structural level.
It pushes to establish a “sui generis market,” which allows for the
justification of binding agreements, and works in a top down manner to set up
compliance laws to regulate PPP.
"Accountability of Networked Climate Governance: The Rise of Transnational
Climate Partnerships." Global Environmental Politics 8, no. 3 (August 2008):
Newell, Peter. "Civil Society,
Corporate Accountability and the Politics of Climate Change." Global
Environmental Politics 8, no. 3 (August 2008): 122-153.
"Governance and accountability of environmental NGOs." Environmental
Science and Policy (September 2005):
Yiting Wang, May 2011
The latest United Nations Report on Best Practices and Lessons for the Objectives and Themes of Rio+20 states that “carbon offsets under the clean development mechanism (CDM)” and “carbon emissions trading” can be good pathways to finance the transition to a “green economy.” Here, I want to draw the attention of US government delegation to many unresolved problems of these market-based mechanisms. Consequently I recommend that the delegation:
● Consider the negative effects of the carbon trading activities;
● Pursue more established measures to transition to a green economy, such as feed-in tariffs, tax incentives, industries and building energy efficiency standards, renewable energy portfolio, etc.
● Strengthen international and national governance on carbon markets activities, such as demanding more comprehensive environmental and social impact assessments and local consultation before investing in both domestic and international projects.
BACKGROUND: The Kyoto Protocol of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) orchestrated a range of market-based mechanisms to commoditize “carbon emissions reductions” in order to achieve maximum level of reduction at minimum cost.  The global carbon market created under the UNFCCC has grown exponentially into a multibillion-dollar industry since 2005 (US$144 billion in transaction in 2009).
However, a plethora of problems (e.g. frauds, financial speculation, corruption, patchwork) have emerged, substantially undermining effective and timely carbon emissions reductions efforts and central issues of climate-development justice. Developed countries that signed and ratified the Protocol would commit to binding targets and can reduce emission domestically through a cap-and-trade system such as the EU Emission Trading Scheme (EU ETS). Under cap-and-trade, governments allocate pollution permit to industries, which can improve their energy efficiency to sell the permits to companies who cannot reduce their own emissions.
Additionally, developed countries could invest in clean development mechanism (CDM) projects in developing countries and buy and trade the emission reduction generated in a global market to meet their targets. The voluntary offset carbon (VOC) markets cater to individuals or companies who feel guilty about their carbon footprint. People can offset their emissions by giving money to finance climate change mitigation projects globally. Companies then also buy and trade these offset credits in exchange markets worldwide.
CRITIQUES OF CARBON MARKETS have claimed that they undermine sustainable development and climate justice efforts. Specifically:
● Actual emissions reductions due to the money invested (i.e. the “additionality” requirement) are hard to prove.
● The commoditization of carbon emission reduction generates speculation and volatility of price, until the bubble bursts and investments halt.
● Projects may have negative local environmental impacts; states and project developers sometimes force the project on with little local consultation.
● Under cap-and-trade the overall emission cap is often set too loose to let industries and power sectors invest in new technology and transform production patterns.
● The offset credits are often generated in developing countries to supply new and even cheaper tradable units into Northern markets, thus shifting the burden of climate change mitigation to the South unfairly.
● Carbon trading directs focus away from more established measures of environmental safeguards and government support.
● Carbon markets do not produce fundamental structural changes to stave off fossil dependence and wasteful production and consumption in both the South and North.
EXAMPLES: The EU ETS, the world's largest multi-nation compliance carbon market, is also the best example of the problems. The overall increase in global transaction values in 2009 came largely from EU ETS’s growing volume of trade. This was originated from the dumping of excessive credits by certain industries because of the economic setback, loose cap of emission allowance, etc. The majority of the emissions reductions made within EU ETS and CDM scheme came from big firms making inexpensive efforts to eliminate the industrial by-product gases of HFC-23 and N2O. In 2009, China, India, South Korea, Brazil and Mexico together supplied over 90% of CDM credits.
In the U.S., a dozen environmental justice groups in California recently filed a petition with the State Superior Court to halt the soon-to-be first cap-and-trade scheme in the U.S. They cautioned the negative effects the scheme will have on low-income communities as polluters could still buy off pollution permits and requested considerations of alternatives. In the debate for a national cap-and-trade system, Wall Street has lobbied hard for its rights to trade these permits. Wall Street’s involvement will create a derivative market that might eventually become too complicated to regulate.
The even more volatile and unregulated (with many third-party certifiers) multi-million dollar voluntary market dropped by half in 2009 in both transactions and projects commissioned, as private buyers drew back from the financial turmoil. Again rich societies are avoiding more fundamental changes by buying off the “carbon footprint” of individual consumers and companies. This form of market does not address the root cause of climate change and many other environmental problems at a magnitude that numerous scientific studies suggest.
NEW TRENDS: As the beacon of global climate policies, the UNFCCC COP 16 meeting in December 2010 resulted in the Cancún Agreements, which:
● Made efforts to accommodate smaller scale projects, but also; 
● Paved way for market expansions into other areas such as agricultural projects (as soil carbon sink) and carbon capture and storage that are very controversial in their nature.
More agricultural projects (as soil carbon sinks) including industrial farming now can register for credits under CDM. The World Bank and the Food and Agriculture Organization have pushed the hardest to include agriculture-related greenhouse gas accounting in the Kyoto Protocol, which draws on controversial methods related to deforestation and land use. New Zealand, Uruguay, the U.S., Japan, the Netherlands were also actively pushing this agenda. Carbon dioxide capture and storage (CCS) in geological formations is now eligible under CDM, if it can adequately address environmental liability. OPEC countries, Norway, Australia and the UK have labored for the inclusion of it under CDM since 2006. These countries either see this as lucrative opportunity to continue the use of fossil fuels or already have the control of the highly sophisticated and expensive technology. It might divert urgent funding away from renewable energy and other more effective measures.
UNCERTAINTIES about the global regulatory market and post-2012 Kyoto regime remain for governments and market players. Many developing countries refuse to discuss the specifics of the future without knowing if Kyoto will be there beyond 2012.
RECOMMENDATIONS: Thus in the context of transitioning to a green economy, the the U.S. should advocate for 1) better alternatives to carbon trading and 2) strengthening the governance of these carbon markets activities as an integral part of the institutional framework for sustainable development.
For example the U.S. could encourage all governments to
Pursue more established measures such as feed-in tariffs, tax incentives, industry and building energy efficiency standards, renewable energy portfolio (requirement to source certain percentage of renewable energies for a town, city or state), etc.
Strengthen international and national environmental governing bodies to require more stringent environmental and social impact assessments and local consultation before investing in projects inside and outside of the border.
Carbon offset projects developers should ensure the transparency of the process so that civil society groups will be able to monitor and ensure equity and environmental integrity.
Notes and Bibliography:
Preparatory Committee for the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development. Second Session: Synthesis Report on Best Practices and Lessons Learned on the Objective and Themes of the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development A/CONF.216/PC/8. New York. March 7-8, 2011.
Böhm, S. and S. Dabhi. "Upsetting the Fffset: An Introductio." In Upsetting the Offset: The Political Economy of Carbon Markets, edited by S. Böhm and S. Dabhi. London: MayFlyBooks, 2009.
World Bank. State and Trends of the Carbon Market Report 2010. Washington, D.C., 2010.
Lohmann, L. "Carbon Trading, Climate Justice and the Production of Ignorance: Ten Examples." Development 51, no. 3 (2008): 359-365.
Wolrd Bank. State and Trends of the Carbon Market Report 2010.
 See all oft he following authors: Böhm, S. and S. Dabhi. Upsetting the offset. De Sépibus, J. "Linking the EU Emissions Trading Scheme to JI, CDM and Post-2012 International Offsets: A Legal Analysis and Critique of the EU ETS and the Proposals for its Third Trading Period." NCCR Trade Working Paper no 2008/18 (2008). Lohmann, L. "Carbon Trading, Climate Justice and the Production of Ignorance: Ten Examples." Development 51, no. 3 (2008): 359-365. Wara, M. W. and D. G. Victor. A Realistic Policy on International Carbon Offsets (2008).
 World Bank. State and Trends of the Carbon Market Report 2010
 See the following authors and documents: Reyes, O. "Industrial Gases in CDM: Fixing a Hole?" http://www.carbontradewatch.org/articles/industrial-gases-in-cdm-fixing-a-hole.html (accessed 4/11/2011, 2011). Wara, M.; D. G. Victor. "A Realistic Policy on International Carbon Offsets." (2008).
 “Carbon Market Update: Power and utilities.” KPMG. Issue 1 (2009). http://www.kpmg.de/docs/Sustainability_CDM_Market_Update_China_10-2009.pdf. (accessed 4/11/2011, 2011).
 Sullivan, C. “Enviro Justice Groups Press On, Ask Judge To Halt Climate Law” E&E News. 04/25/2011. http://www.eenews.net/eenewspm/2011/04/25/1 (accessed 05/01/2011, 2011).
 “Carbon Markets.” Friends of the Earth. http://www.foe.org/global-warming/carbon-markets (accessed 05/01/2011, 2011).
Hamilton, K., M. Peters-Stanley, and T. Marcello. Building Bridges: State of the Voluntary Carbon Markets 2010. Ecosystem Marketplace and Bloomberg, 2011.
 Böhm, S. and S. Dabhi. Upsetting the offset.
GTZ Climate Protection Programme. "JIKO Info" 9, no. 1 (2011).
 See the following authors: Sharma, S. Agriculture in the Climate Talks:Looking Beyond Cancún: Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy, 2010. Rochon, E. et al. False Hope: Why Carbon Capture and Storage Won't Save the Climate? Greenpeace International, 2008.
Cabello, J. "Turning Farms into Carbon Sinks: Agriculture and the COP16 in Cancún." http://www.carbontradewatch.org/articles/turning-farms-into-carbon-sinks-agriculture-and-the-cop16-in-c.html (accessed 4/12/2011, 2011).
 Sharma, S. Agriculture in the Climate Talks:Looking Beyond Cancún: Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy, 2010.
Cancun Accords. A separate decision on “Carbon dioxide capture and storage in geological formations as clean development mechanism project activities” http://unfccc.int/files/meetings/cop_16/application/pdf/cop16_cmp_ccs.pdf (accessed 4/12/2011, 2011).
 Reyes, O. "Industrial Gases in CDM: Fixing a Hole?"
Reynard Loki at Justmeans looks at the Canadian-based ETC Group's report on the push for green economy in the Rio+20 Earth Summit
For full story, click here http://www.justmeans.com/Earth-Will-Corporate-Monopolies-Dominate-Green-Economy/51434.html
As we get closer to the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development in June 2012 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil (also known as "Rio+20" to mark the 20th anniversary of the 1992 Earth Summit), the chatter about the "green economy" is increasing.
From biodiversity investments to decoupling, from the production tax credit (PTC) to sustainable cities, from REDD+ to C2C, the phrase "green economy" has come to include a host of practices, approaches, philosophies and technologies that are meant to be more responsible in regard to the present and future health of the planet and its inhabitants.
WHAT DOES A GREEN ECONOMY LOOK LIKE?
For the purposes of their Green Economy Initiative, the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) defines a green economy as one that "results in improved human well-being and social equity, while significantly reducing environmental risks and ecological scarcities. In its simplest expression, a green economy can be thought of as one which is low carbon, resource efficient and socially inclusive...one whose growth in income and employment is driven by public and private investments that reduce carbon emissions and pollution, enhance energy and resource efficiency, and prevent the loss of biodiversity and ecosystem services."
In addition to helping maintain biodiversity and all the services that healthy ecosystems provide humanity, a green economy will help to mitigate the effects of climate change by speeding the transition from a fossil fuel-based economy to a low carbon economy (LCE). And it will also help solve some of the world's most intractable and persistent problems fueled by human overpopulation, such as food security, water security, resource security, poverty, land degradation and an increase in warfare.
I SMELL BIOMASS: HERE COMES THE GREEN CORPORATE GIANT
But how will this green economy -- whether local, regional or global in scale -- ultimately manifest itself? Much innovation of course happens on a small, entrepreneurial level. But once start-up innovators launch a big idea, it doesn't take long for established big businesses to get in on the action, for better or worse. ETC Group (the Action Group on Erosion, Technology and Conservation) has recently warned that the world's biggest corporations are "riding the coattails of the 'Green Economy' while gearing up for their boldest coup to-date -- not just by making strategic acquisitions and tapping new markets, but also by penetrating new industrial sectors."
According to a report issued last month by the Canadian NGO, "The world's largest companies are converging around biomass in anticipation of a post-petrochemical future. That doesn't mean they're simply grabbing land and natural resources; they're also investing in new technology platforms to transform plant-derived sugars (from food and fibre crops, algae, all kinds of plant matter) into industrial products. The gravitational pull of biomass is creating new constellations of corporate convergence across diverse industry sectors."
RIO+20: THE BIGGEST EARTH GRAB IN 500 YEARS?
"While seductive, the new green techno-fixes are dangerous because they will spur even greater convergence and concentration of corporate power and unleash privately owned technologies into communities that have not been consulted about -- or prepared for -- their impacts," warns ETC Group. "If the 'Green Economy' is imposed without full intergovernmental debate and extensive involvement from peoples' organizations and civil society, [Rio+20] risks becoming the biggest Earth Grab in more than 500 years."
The public sector cannot manage sustainable development alone. The private sector must play a large role, particularly in financing such expensive initiatives as REDD+ and the Green Climate Fund. But the implementation of better corporate governance and the nurturing of democratic debate must also parallel the transformation to a green economy. As delegates prepare for Rio+20, they would do well to consider the words of President Theodore Roosevelt, a staunch conservationist who protected some 230 million acres of public land during his time in the White House: "To befoul the unholy alliance between corrupt business and corrupt politics is the first task of the statesmanship of the day."
TWN Update on Sustainable Development Conference 2012 (Dec11/02)
20 December 2011
Third World Network
New York, 20 Dec (Bhumika Muchhala) – The second intersessional meeting for the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development (or Rio+20) was held in New York on 15-16 December for the purpose of discussing the format, content and structure of the outcome document from the Conference to be held in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil on 20-22 June 2012.
In summarizing the discussions, the Secretary-General for the Rio+20 Conference, Mr. Sha Zukang said that if he had to distill a message from the interventions of member states, it is that the outcome of Rio+20 should be strong in will and strong in action. Only then will Rio+20 be a historical and ground-breaking conference, he concluded.
According to the UN General Assembly resolution 64/236, the Rio+20 Conference is supposed to result in a focused political document.
The Bureau of the Preparatory Committee of the Conference informed participants to the New York meeting that it had received 647 contributions (of which 74 were from member states) towards the compilation document, from which the “Zero Draft Outcome Document” is to be produced. This Zero Draft is expected to be ready mid-January next year, based on which negotiations will be conducted for the final outcome document.
At the conclusion of the two-day intersessional meeting in New York, Sha summarized the discussions.
He said that many reiterated what was stated in the General Assembly (GA) resolution (64/236) calling for Rio+20 to have a focused political document. “Many indicated their preference for a single document, not multiple documents that would need to be negotiated in parallel tracks. The message on structure is to follow the guidance of the GA resolution, focusing on the objective of the two themes” (viz. a green economy in the context of sustainable development and poverty eradication, and the institutional framework for sustainable development).
The Secretary-General said that the outcome document should address the deficits that have been identified in implementation, integration and coherence through an action-oriented outcome. He said that most wanted a concise document.
Sha said many prefer that the vision and declaration of renewed political commitment be accompanied by a set of agreed actions – some called it a framework for action, others a plan, and still others a roadmap. Some want these to be attached in annexes, he added further.
He said that it was also emphasized that the actions agreed must specify actors, timeframes and means of implementation. The need for a compendium, or registry, of voluntary commitments to accompany the negotiated outcome was also raised. (The United States had called for a compendium of voluntary commitments).
Sha also said that much stress was placed on accountability for delivery on commitments, whoever the responsible actors, and whether negotiated or voluntary.
“It was stressed that the starting point should be reaffirmation of all the Rio principles and prior sustainable development commitments. There should be no regression,” he said further.
(Many developing countries called repeatedly for the reaffirmation of the principle of common but differentiated responsibility.)
“Building upon that reaffirmation, the outcome must be forward-looking and must provide a vision for the future and endorse a concrete set of actions that address the implementation gap”, Sha added.
He emphasized that Rio+20 must once and for all integrate the three pillars of sustainable development in practice. “One of the most important lessons learned since Rio 1992 is that progress on only one of the three pillars of environment, economic and social, will not be sustainable without the other two”.
He said he heard three key requirements mentioned to ensure that the Rio+20 vision and actions are realized. “First, the actions must be strongly endorsed at the highest level of government. Second, they must be owned by all stakeholders. And third, actors must have at their disposal the necessary means of implementation.”
“There was broad agreement that a green economy must be inclusive, advance poverty eradication and be a means to sustainable development,” he said.
“It is also widely understood that an inclusive green economy must be built in each country according to its own national priorities, characteristics and capabilities. This calls for flexibility, for a menu of policy options and not a straightjacket. Countries will need to share their experiences and lessons learned, and a platform is needed for such sharing. Capacity building will be necessary for developing countries to develop green economy strategies, to mobilize necessary resources and to make necessary investments,” he further added.
Sha said that some member states have proposed goals, timelines and milestones to measure progress. Several have proposed that these be developed in the context of a green economy roadmap. Others have proposed them more broadly, in the form of “sustainable development goals” (SDGs).
“Given the broad support for SDGs, the outcome document will need to reflect proposals in this regard,” added Sha.
He also said that there was strong support for improved measures of progress towards sustainable development that go beyond GDP (Gross Domestic Product).
According to the Secretary-General, several priority areas for action were highlighted by member states. These include oceans; food security and sustainable agriculture; sustainable energy for all; water access and efficiency; sustainable cities; green jobs and decent work; desertification and land degradation; mountains; biodiversity; forests; and climate change. The particular vulnerabilities and challenges facing the small island developing states, the least developed countries and Africa were also mentioned.
“Broad support was expressed for reaching agreement on a 10-year framework of programmes to promote sustainable consumption and production,” he said.
Other cross-cutting issues stressed were gender equality and empowerment, social equity and social protection, education, access to technology and finance and capacity building.
With regard to the institutional framework for sustainable development, Sha said that the guiding principles for Rio+20 were stressed by member states, namely that of promoting integration of the three pillars and implementation. The institutional framework should aim for three achievements: (i) a strengthening each of the three pillars; (ii) a strengthened UNEP, or the elevation of UNEP to a specialized agency to represent the core of the environmental pillar; and, (iii) strengthening of institutional mechanisms to promote balance and integration among the three pillars.
The Secretary-General saw “a growing interest in considering a proposal for creating a sustainable development council to replace the Commission on Sustainable Development, building upon and strengthening existing institutions, including the Economic and Social Council and the General Assembly.”
He said that it was stressed that the institutions of economic and financial governance must also be included in sustainable development governance. Reform measures in finance and economics must include clearly defined mechanisms and processes to follow-up on decisions made in Rio.
The Group of 77 and China made an intervention that focused on several different aspects. With regard to the structure of the zero draft of the outcome document, the G77 and China referred to its submission to the Rio+20 Bureau in October 2011, a document named “Preliminary Elements for the Outline of the Draft Outcome.” It included sections on: (i) assessing progress and gaps in the implementation of the commitments of the outcome of major UN Conferences related to sustainable development, (ii) addressing new and emerging issues; (ii) the green economy concept in the context of sustainable development and poverty eradication; (iii) an institutional framework for sustainable development; (iv) a framework for action; (v) a means of implementation; and, (vi) follow-up.
The G77 and China reaffirmed that this structure, based on the Resolution 64/236, should serve as a guide to negotiations of the outcome document.
The Conference should identify a framework of action in accordance with the principle of common but differentiated responsibilities which will integrate and implement the three pillars in order to achieve tangible outcomes. The actions should include the following four components:
(i) provision of new, additional, stable, predictable financial resources to support implementation activities in developing countries;
(ii) effective access to and transfer of technologies for developing countries;
(iii) the increase of resources for development, including commitments by developed countries to increase ODA; and,
(iv) effective institutional frameworks at all levels to strengthen the role of governments, and encourage the participation of major groups and other stakeholders.
The G77 and China said that the UNCSD will not renegotiate nor retract agreed principles and outcomes of the major summits on Sustainable Development, including the commitments made in the three conventions, UNFCCC (climate change), CBD (biodiversity) and UNCCD (combating desertification and land degradation).
The Group called for decisions on transfer of technology and capacity building to:
(i) establish an international mechanism to implement concrete actions focused on bridging the technological gap between developed and developing countries and facilitating transfer of technology in sustainable development;
(ii) create an enabling environment that aims at removing all barriers to technology transfer and technology adaptation, consistent and in harmony with the relevant international obligations;
(iii) ensure immediate implementation of the Bali Strategic Plan for Technology Support and Capacity Building;
(iv) stress the need for effective mechanisms, enhanced means, appropriate enabling environments and the removal of obstacles to the scaling up of the development and transfer of technology to developing countries;
(v) address the need for access of developing countries to technologies. Developing countries would also need to have access to the know-how and expertise required for the effective utilization of these technologies to achieve sustainable development;
(vi) address the role of patent protection and intellectual property rights, and examine their impact on the access to and transfer of environmentally sound technology, in particular to developing countries, as well as to exploring the concept of assured access for developing countries to environmentally sound technology in its relation to proprietary rights with a view to developing effective responses to the needs of developing countries;
(vii) address concepts and modalities for assured access to environmentally sound technologies, including state-of-the-art technologies, in particular by developing countries, while providing fair incentives to innovators that promote research and development of new environmentally sound technologies; and,
(viii) bear in mind that recipient countries require technology and strengthened support to help further develop their scientific, technological, professional and related capacities, taking into account existing technologies and capacities.
Two particular themes of global economic and climate challenges, and food security and agricultural development were emphasized by the G77 and China. These challenges threaten the ability of developing countries to achieve the MDGs and for some countries, they also threaten the territorial integrity and their existence and viability as states.
Regarding ‘the way forward,’ the G77 and China identified “Persistent, New and Emerging Issues and a Framework of Action for Implementation of Commitments,” reaffirming that the current major challenge for developing countries is the impacts from the multiple crises, particularly the ongoing economic and financial crisis which is a result of the international financial system. In this context, it reaffirmed 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.
The G77 and China called for urgent and substantial increases in financing to developing countries for sustainable development. It is also essential that financing for the UN system be significantly enhanced for it to operate effectively and fulfill its sustainable development mandate. To this extent, the G77 and China called for the prioritization of sustainable development in the allocation of resources, where needed and in line with the priorities and needs of developing countries. Oversight of these resources is key to ensure that developing countries have steady and predictable access to resources.
China’s intervention focused on upholding the Rio principles, especially the principle of “common but differentiated responsibilities,” which is a crucial factor determining whether consensus can be reached on the outcome document. Any attempt to reopen negotiation on this principle or to distort or deviate from this principle will spoil the cooperative atmosphere of the Conference and will not garner wide support.
On the content of the outcome document, China underscored that while the positive effects of green economy on poverty eradication and economic restructuring is important, the accompanying risks and challenges should also be recognized.
To address the challenges developing countries will face in pursuing green development, three points must be paid attention to: (i) to refrain from using “green economy” as a pretext to attach “green conditions to development aid, or setting new trade barriers to practice “green protectionism;” (ii) making poverty eradication the key indicator in formulating and implementing the policy on green economy; and, (iii) respecting country-specific development levels and capabilities by avoiding uniform criteria and indicators.
China also expressed the importance of including positions from all sides in a comprehensive, balanced and objective manner, deepening the political will of all countries and sending a strong message on revitalizing international cooperation for sustainable development.
It stressed that the outcome document should be particularly clear about means of implementation, such as technology transfer, financial support and capacity building. Only then can Rio+20 really help developing countries address their difficulties and challenges in sustainable development.
The institutional framework, according to China, should meet four requirements: (i) it should fully demonstrate the central and leading role of the UN; (ii) it should help reinforce the function of existing mechanisms such as the ECOSOC and the CSD; (iii) it should encourage the IFIs, the WTO, and multilateral development banks to incorporate the agenda of sustainable development into their planning and programming, and cooperate with relevant UN agencies to maximize effectiveness; and, (iv) it should help increase the voice and decision-making power of developing countries in mechanisms for sustainable development.
India stated that the Rio+20 conference provides a valuable opportunity to bring a sustainable development agenda back to the centre stage of the global development matrix, guided by the Rio principles, in particular the principles of equity and “common but differentiated responsibilities.” There can be no rewiring of the Rio-principles or their dilution, India asserted.
On the substance of the outcome document, India stated that strong defining actions on development challenges should be illustrated, in particular the unsustainable patterns of consumption and production in developed countries need to be rationalized so as to reduce their ecological footprints. “This cannot be a forgotten and relegated to the back-benches issue,” India clarified.
In line with China, India asserted that the green economy should not be used as a pretext for green protectionism, including tariff and non-tariff barriers on exports of developing countries or aid conditionalities. It should also not exacerbate the technological dependence of developing countries on developed countries. The evolution of green economy should be facilitated through a menu of policy options and a toolbox of instruments with ample flexibility and policy space for countries to allow them to make their own choices.
Furthermore, green economy paradigms need to ensure that they will not adversely impact the livelihoods of vulnerable sections of society, like the small and marginal farmers and those employed in small and medium enterprises. Overall, the outcome document should recognize that national circumstances and priorities will define the nature of policies and strategies adopted by each country to green its economy. No one size fits all.
India said that “win-win strategies need to be identified and formulated where greening activities are synergistic with economic growth for poverty eradication.”
The means of implementation are critical. Some examples of these means are: (i) new, additional and predictable financial support; (ii) transfer and sharing of technology, capacity building; and, (iii) a development oriented international environment on trade, intellectual property rights, debt relief, financial mechanisms and global governance in general. All of these are critical for developing countries to pursue sustainable development.
In specific reference to the joint proposal on “Sustainable Development Goals” by Colombia and Guatemala, India said that a target based prescriptive approach on sustainable development should be carefully thought out. Such an approach could undermine the relentless and ongoing efforts being made by developing countries on poverty eradication, MDGs and other internationally agreed development goals. These issues need to be the subject of detailed negotiations among member states with a balanced approach in which developed countries need to walk the talk on action and support.
India identified three crucial obstacles to developing countries in the field of sustainable development: (i) unmet commitments; (ii) inadequate means of implementation; and, (iii) a clear lack of political will on the part of developed countries to put in place an enabling global environment that gives a level playing field to developing countries.
It is critical that issues of core development concern such as poverty eradication, and the financing it requires, food security and sustainable agriculture, universal access to modern energy services, access to clean drinking water, natural resource and land degradation, challenges of urbanization, public health, human resource development and employment generation are addressed in all their manifestations.
With regard to the institutional framework on sustainable development, India supports the strengthening of UNEP through scaled up financial resources, an enhanced mandate and universal membership.
The Commission for Sustainable Development either needs to be reformed comprehensively, or the UN should consider creating a new body such as a ‘Sustainable Development Council’ based on equitable geographical representation reporting directly to the General Assembly.
There is clearly a need for greater representation of developing countries, accountability and transparency in the Bretton Woods Institutions in order to increase their effectiveness and responsiveness to UN-led processes and outcomes. The Global Environment Facility (GEF) has to be strengthened. The quantum of financial contributions to GEF Trust Fund should substantially increase from the present level.
With regard to the structure of the outcome document’s zero draft, India said that a balanced text will take into account the inputs provided by various stakeholders, in particular the member states. India favors a single outcome document, one that renews political commitment and provides for an action plan in an integrated manner.
A strong political reaffirmation for a renewed sustainable development agenda firmly anchored in the Rio principles must be provided in the beginning of the document as a chapeau or introductory part. This would set the stage for an action oriented programme.
Two subsequent sections may begin with certain basic principles which define the global sustainability agenda, in particular the principles of ‘common but differentiated responsibilities (CBDR)’ and equity contained in the Rio Declaration. In addition, ‘what a green economy is not’ also must be clearly delineated.
Pertinent questions such as, how does the green economy and the proposed changes in the institutional framework relate to economic growth, social development, women’s empowerment and sustainable livelihoods have to be clearly brought out in the document. Finally, while discussing the various instruments, tools and policy options for a transition to greener economy, the pros and cons of such mechanisms have to be elucidated so that individual countries are guided to take the right decisions for an appropriate mix of such options in accordance to their national circumstances and priorities.
The Africa Group, represented by the Republic of Tanzania, stated that the three pillars of sustainable development must be integrated and holistic, and that a key lesson learned since the 1992 Rio conference (the Earth Summit) is that where progress was advanced in any one of the pillars, it was often at the expense of the other two pillars. The commitment to development must be comprehensive and balanced.
The Africa Group articulated the green economy as a “tool to achieve sustainable development.” The region recognizes that the transition to green economy offers new opportunities for changes to the world political economy. However, Africa will need substantial financial and technological resources in order to make existing industries more efficient and new technologies as green as possible. International commitments related to sustainable development in Africa must be met.
The current institutional framework on sustainable development falls short and does not adequately represent the constraints and priorities of the African region. Efforts must be taken to transform UNEP according to the characteristics laid out in the African statement.
The Africa Group highlighted the specific theme of agricultural productivity and food security, which includes the improvement of livestock and the strengthening of adaptation and mitigation measures which protect forests, freshwater, fragile ecosystems and biodiversity.
The outcome document must be action-oriented and must have more robust implementation than has been witnessed in past UN conference outcome documents. It must renew political will and resolve to close all outstanding gaps of commitments made in past international agreements and conferences.
The United States proposed a “voluntary compendium of commitments” as an alternative to the Bureau’s proposed Action Plan. The compendium would be an annex to the outcome document, and would include a list of voluntary, non-negotiated commitments and intended actions from governments, stakeholders and partnerships, and would be delivered as part of the overall Rio+20 outcome.
The compendium would be a non-negotiated official meeting outcome. It would represent pledges from actors at all levels to take action to achieve sustainable development. The US asserted that such a voluntary and non-negotiated compendium would “send a clear message to the global community that Rio indeed represents a new approach, one that is broad and inclusive, toward achieving sustainable development.”
The compendium, the US further rationalized, would focus on developing solutions rather than on gaining detailed consensus. It would allow all key stakeholders, including national governments, cities, the private sector, NGOs, scientific communities, and any interested parties, to bring forward their ideas and initiatives to achieve a sustainable future. The commitments could include action at the local, national or global levels.
By not requiring consensus on every item, the compendium, the US asserts, would allow for more bold forward movement, in a way that “reflects the new dynamism often absent from lengthy negotiated texts.”
While the US sees these commitments as voluntarily entered into, the US supports a mechanism for accountability. The commitments would be registered and announced as one part of the official outcome of the meeting, so that media and stakeholders can identify and report on the concrete actions undertaken and delivered.
The European Union was of the view that the outcome document should be in the form of a political declaration setting out a shared vision for change, as well as objectives and actions in one single document. It wanted the political declaration to have three basic sections – an introductory section recalling the objective of the Conference to renew political commitment for sustainable development, assessing the progress to date and the remaining gaps in the implementation of the outcomes of the major summits on sustainable development and addressing new and emerging challenges; a section on green economy in the context of sustainable development and poverty eradication in which it wanted a green economy roadmap with specific goals, objectives and actions at the international level; and a section on institutional framework for sustainable development to improve governance at all levels. It wanted this section to include a call for the establishment of a UN Specialized Agency for the Environment based on UNEP.
“Sustainable development is not a luxury, it is an imperative,” Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said at the launch of the UN campaign for Rio+20 on 22 November featuring a global conversation on the future we want. The campaign aims at engaging people to contribute ideas for new visions of a sustainable future.
“Opportunities like Rio+20 do not come along often,” the Secretary-General further stated. “The Rio+20 conference offers us a unique chance to discuss the challenges which we face and the solutions we can pursue…. It’s a chance to visualize and plan for the future we want.”
The new campaign, Rio+20: The Future We Want, was launched to promote next June’s Rio+20 conference and the need for sustainable development by engaging people in a global conversation on the kind of communities they would like to live in twenty years from now.
The campaign will work through public participation to envision how societies in all parts of the world can build a future that promotes prosperity and improves people’s quality of life without further degrading our planet’s natural environment.
Click to Read the Full Story http://www.un.org/en/development/desa/newsletter/desanews/feature/2011/12/index.html#1740
Yiting Wang, May 2011
Why are Major Groups Important?
This paper introduces the main roles Major Groups (MGs) are playing in the Earth Summit 2012 (Rio+20) process and how they organize themselves. Many governments delegations have cooperated closely with Major Groups in the past because
● Civil society groups have gained increasing influence and leverage in global environmental discussions in the past several decades.
● An effective process to address many complicated environmental social and political problems needs us to take into account the issues, strategies, and challenges MGs face.
Moving forward, I recommend that the U.S. government develop further dialogue and collaborationwith civil society organizations both on issues of common interest and also those issues underrepresented in government positions but heavily advocated for by the MG community, such as social protection measures of workers, women and other marginalized groups. These civil societies groups worldwide have in fact been taking concrete actions to implement sustainable development principles. We can only achieve our goals at Rio by leveraging our respective resources and acknowledging the importance of broad stakeholder involvement.
Background of Major Groups
From Rio 1992, the Agenda 21 recognizes nine MGs of civil society organizations as “partners in sustainable development.” From 1992 to 2002 registered MGs participants increased nearly 3 times. But still no consensus exists on the role of these MGs. MGs themselves have different understanding from the UN organizers and Member States.
Major Group’s Role: An Official Perspective
Today the UN Commission on Sustainable Development (CSD) openly upholds that “broad participation” of civil society extends to “participation in identifying problems, designing and applying solutions, and monitoring results, as well as having access to information on all types of sustainable development issues and activities.” Organizing partners (OP) of each MG are “facilitators” working with and accountable to larger global constituencies, CSD Bureau and Secretariat.
Major Group’s Role: Their Own Perspectives and Experiences
During the interviews I did at the 2nd PrepCom, some experienced members of the MGs gave insights into their own perspectives on the current process and the strategies they use to navigate. I summarized the views as followed:
● MGs with more homogeneous constituents and pre-existing networks function more smoothly than those with diverse identities and affiliations. Both the farmers and work and trade union MGs have similar internal structures centering around an already established international confederation of sub-groups from over 150 countries. Specific decisions on certain issues will reach their consensus before the coordinators bring them up to the UN level.
● The CSD process is thus more useful for some MGs than others. Robynne Anderson, who often delivers statements on behalf of the farmers group, highlights the uniqueness of CSD that does not have the civil society-v.s.-business dichotomy common in many other UN processes. This leaves room for MGs to work better internally.
● Southern governments are collaborating more with MGs to deliver shared messages and activities. The preparatory meetings are therefore good venues to learn government’s agenda for MGs. Ghee Joke Lin from the Third World Network also saw potential of an inside/outside strategic collaboration between governments and NGOs to gain resources that would otherwise be limited to one party.
● Many are still frustrated with the organization of current preparatory process. Uchita de Zoysa, director and founder of Climate Sustainability Platform in Sri Lank, was one of the most outspoken critics. He thought it was much harder to mobilize resources than in Rio 1992. He attributed this difficulty to a lack of awareness of the 2012 Summit and a drain of resources from the Climate Change Convention.
The following sections introduce the major actors and their issues of the nine MGs.
Together the World Business Council for Sustainable Development and the International Chamber of Commerce, two most active OPs, created the Business Action for Sustainable Development (BASD) in preparation for Rio+10 and the “BASD 2012” for Rio +20. Business and Industry has advocated for the
● Need for a clear roadmap and institutional coherence of the major UN agencies and intergovernmental organizations involved in the Rio process;
● Incorporation of knowledge and expertise of business to enlist complex markets.
Children and Youth
The Children and Youth MG under the CSD brings unique voices into the plenary, but also faces challenges in securing resources and legitimacy for effective organization. Through the internet and various forms of social media this group is able to solicit inputs from around the globe despite a loose and resource-poor network. The “Rio+20s” is a major OP for Children and Youth MG. Ben Vanpeperstraete, who has been an active youth organizer in UN climate change regime, created the “Rio+20s” in 2010 as a legal agency for the scattered global youth constituencies to feed into the process. The Children and Youth MG calls for the:
● Creation of jobs, streamlined national and international policies on sustainable development education to help transition to a green economy;
● Trusteeship for future generations in the governance reform to address intergenerational inequality.
The International Federation of Agricultural Producers (IFAP) is the major OP for the Farmers MG. Anderson, who often speaks on behalf of IFAP, explains that she is able to deliver clear messages at the meetings after months of solid consultation among sub-groups from both North and South. Realizing that the current Rio+20 text contains little on agriculture, farmers MG has decided to
● Sharpen their targets to get the recognition of knowledge-based agriculture and revitalization of extension services as important tools to achieve green economies into the outcome text next year.
Not an official OP, the Boston-based NGO Land is Life has been facilitating Indigenous Peoples delegates to the CSD. According to its director, Brian Keane, indigenous peoples organizations still mobilize around the UN process with “the only game in town” logic; yet most of the organizational resources go to organizing on the ground. The MG
● Asks frequently for the guarantee of their participation of all meetings, which they have fought hard for in the past 2 decades since Rio+20;
● Cautions against putting a price on nature in the new green economy;
● Announced to host a parallel conference of Indigenous Peoples at Rio+20 as they did in Rio 1992.
Local Governments for Sustainability based in Germany is the sole OP for local authorities. Local Authorities
● Focuses its issues on urbanization and proposed an additional section on green urban economy in the outcome document of Rio+20;
● Will bring to Rio+20 a “critical evaluation” of Local Agenda 21 processes and progress and proposed next steps.
Major OPs for NGOs include Consumers International and Jan-Gustav Strandenaes from Northern Alliance for Sustainable Development, who also happens to be on the Bureau. NGOs seem to find it hard to organize and coordinate among a diverse group. They address “massive market distortions” by for example
● Eliminating perverse subsidies especially from food and beverages, transportation and the built environment sectors;
● Implementing a socially progressive tax;
● Capturing land value and natural resource rental/usage for public revenue.
Scientific and Technological Community
The International Council for Science and the World Federation of Engineering Organisations, both based in France, are the two OPs under this MG. Their main messages underscore the fundamental importance of “sound science, including research and access to knowledge in the social and economic sciences” and green technologies and innovations.
Women’s MG addresses women’s equality and full participation of civil society. In a position paper later published, it advocates for
● Accesses to social security, family planning and childcare for women;
● Caution against the creation of green jobs in the formal sector that presents threats to women’s livelihoods.
Workers and Trade Unions
International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) consisting of 155 member unions is the OP for this MG. It has similar decision-making structure with the IFAP. A liaison from ITUC commented that “it is odd” that although the UN gives civil society floors to speak, they are not valuing the voices. In general ITUC has focused its energy to
● lobby national governments;
● advocate for a “universal social protection floor” to ensure equity and inclusiveness of the green jobs.
Notes and Bibliography
"DSD: Areas of Work: Major Groups." http://www.un.org/esa/dsd/dsd_aofw_mg/mg_index.shtml (accessed 4/11/2011, 2011).
"DSD: Areas of Work: Major Groups." http://www.un.org/esa/dsd/dsd_aofw_mg/mg_about.shtml (accessed 4/11/2011).
"DSD: Areas of Work: Major Groups - Organizing Partners." http://www.un.org/esa/dsd/dsd_aofw_mg/mg_orgapart.shtml (accessed 4/11/2011).
Fingers, M. "Environmental NGOs and the UNCSD Process." Chap. Part II Section 7, In Environmental NGOs in World Politics: Linking the Local and the Global, edited by T. Princen and M. Finger, 186-216. London: Routledge, 1994.
 Anderson, Robynne. Interview by author. Tape recording. New York, NY. 03/07/11
Joke Lin, Ghee. Interview by author. Tape recording. New York, NY. 03/08/11
Uchita de Zoysa. Interview by author. New York, NY. Tape recording. 03/08/11. He also spoke of the Head of the Office of Conference Secretariat General, Tariq Banuri from Pakistan, who supported his coming to New York. But it was not clear whether he received funding from him personally.
 "BASD: All about BASD." http://basd.free.fr/about/index.html (accessed 4/11/2011).
Business and Industry Major Group. "Statement on closing session" (delivered at the 2nd Preparatory Committee Meeting UN Conference on Sustainable Development). New York, NY, 03/08/11.
Children and Youth Major Group. " Statements on Session 2, 3 and closing session" (delivered at the 2nd Preparatory Committee Meeting UN Conference on Sustainable Development, except statement on session 3 was not delivered but uploaded onto CSD’s website). New York, 03/08/2011.
 Farmers Major Group. "Statement on closing session" (delivered at the 2nd Preparatory Committee Meeting UN Conference on Sustainable Development). New York, 03/08/2011.
 Keane, Brian. Interview by author. Tape recording. New York, NY. 03/08/11
Salz, S. (ICLEI – Local Governments for Sustainability). "Local Authority Statement on Outcomes during the Rio2012 PrepCom II" (delivered at the 2nd Preparatory Committee Meeting UNConference on Sustainable Development). New York, NY, 03/07/11.
 Anderson, Robynne.
 NGO Major Group. "Statement on Session 2: Green Economy in the Context of Sustainable Development and Poverty Eradication" (delivered at the 2nd Preparatory Committee Meeting UNConference on Sustainable Development). New York, NY, 03/07/11.
 Glaser, G. (International Council for Science/ICSU). "Scientific and Technological Community Statement on Session 2." (delivered at the 2nd Preparatory Committee Meeting UN Conferenceon Sustainable Development). New York, NY, 03/07/11.
 ENERGIA, Earth Day Network, Global Forest Coalition, VAM, WOCAN, WEDO and WECF, prepared by. A Gender Perspective on the "Green Economy:" Equitable, Healthy and Decent Jobs and Livelihoods. Women’s Major Group position paper in preparation for the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development 2011
 Rosemberg, Anabella. Interview by author. Tape recording. New York, NY. 03/08/11
Wokers and Trade Unions Major Group. "Statement on closing session" (delivered at the 2nd Preparatory Committee Meeting UN Conference on Sustainable Development). New York, NY, 03/08/11.
Tom Athanasiou, from EcoEquity based in Berkeley, comments on the Occupy Movement as the next climate change negotiation rolls out in Durban, South Africa in late November.
Author introduction: "What it (the paper) does, or tries to do, is show that the essential themes of the Occupy movement -- stark economic inequality chief among them -- are entirely relevant to the problems of the international climate negotiations. It does this by examining a new study of global wealth distribution, and by questioning the now-common view that the China's rise betokens an impending global economic reversal. Further, it argues that the deindustrialization of the US economy, a process that is now quite advanced, is at the root of the US's unhelpful negotiating postures.It is written from a US perspective, but has obvious global implications."
Excerpt: "Complicated? Yes, but one of the amazing things about Occupy is the way it has dissolved the image of complexity as an obstacle to clear thinking and sharp conclusion. The way it has stripped away the camouflage, and made the simplicity of economic division visible. We could use a similar magic within the climate war, where complexity is always the final excuse for paralysis."
Read the full article, click here.
Welcome to our site. Comments are welcome. If you like contribute articles, feel free to contact yiting (wang30y-AT-mtholyoke-DOT-edu). We would love to share your insights and perspectives on related issues with broader audience on campus and beyond.
In June of 1992, tens of thousands of people, including 172 states, over 2,400 representatives of nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), 8,000 delegates and 9,000 members of the press gathered in Rio de Janiero, Brazil for the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development. The Rio Earth Summit, as it is informally known, was the largest environmental conference in history and the largest formal gathering of heads of state. Sustainable development had emerged onto the mainstream global agenda, with resulting documents “The Rio Declaration” and “Agenda 21” outlining principles and an action blueprint for achieving sustainable development. Additional outcomes of the conference included a “Set of Forest Principles,” the Convention on Biological Diversity, and the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). It was a landmark event in the history of environmental protection.
What has happened since then? The state of the environment has not gotten much better. Environmental degradation has actually gotten worse. Biodiversity loss is accelerating. We are now losing species at 1,000 times the natural rate. According to the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), one out of every eight bird species, one out of four mammal species, and one out of three amphibians are threatened with extinction. Half of the world’s forests are now gone. Overfishing has resulted in the decline of 90 percent of the oceans’ large fish species. Atmospheric CO2 levels continue to rise.
These problems do not exist in isolation; there are related social issues. Billions still live in poverty, chronic hunger affects nearly one billion people worldwide, and the gap between the rich and the poor has widened.
The political enthusiasm for tackling environmental and developmental challenges that was on display at Rio in 1992 has eroded over the years. “I could definitely see the growing distrust toward international negotiations,” said Yiting Wang ’12, an Environmental Studies major who has been involved in the international environmental process through programs abroad and in environmental policy.
James Gustave Speth, former dean at the Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies and founder of the World Resources Institute, has called global environmental governance “an experiment that has largely failed.” Despite a proliferation of conferences, negotiations, and treaties over the last 20 years related to environmental matters, commitments to following through on actions have been absent.
Clearly there has been an implementation gap. It is relatively easy for a head of state to agree to abide by a certain environmental regulation, but actually enforcing the policy is another matter. This suggests a lack of effective monitoring strategies. Another reason for the implementation gap is that greater priority tends to be given to pursuing trade and economic interests. “The current economic situation also has a lot to do with the delivery of these promises,” Wang said. Finally, there is an overall lack of political will. The U.S. has not demonstrated much leadership in the international environmental arena, refusing to sign the Convention on Biological Diversity and the Kyoto Protocol. There has been increasing recognition that the global environmental governance system is fragmented and has not been entirely effective.
Reassessing this institutional framework will be one of the major discussions taking place at the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development (UNCSD) in June 2012. The conference, to be held once again in Rio de Janiero, marks the 20th anniversary of the first Rio Earth Summit. The main objective of “Rio+20,” according to the 2012 UNCSD official website, is “to secure renewed political commitment for sustainable development, assess the progress to date and the remaining gaps in the implementation of the outcomes of the major summits on sustainable development, and address new and emerging challenges.” The two major themes of UNCSD are 1) a green economy in the context of sustainable development and poverty eradication, and 2) the institutional framework for sustainable development. The latter theme entails evaluating the current environmental governance organizations and institutions and discussing options for reform. One proposal is to create a “world environment organization,” a new UN super-organization for dealing with environmental matters.
Earlier this month, on Oct. 6, Jacob Scherr, Director of Global Strategy and Advocacy for the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), gave a lecture on Mount Holyoke’s campus called “The Race to Rio+20.” Scherr identified the challenges we are presently faced with. After recapping some of the pressures on the planet, he expressed the notion that humans are pushing up against planetary boundaries. Thus, as Scherr put it, “we are running out of time.” He acknowledged the lack of strong leadership by governments and the prevailing skepticism about the international process. Yet, he did highlight some opportunities presented by Rio+20, such as the potential for social media to reach and engage billions of people like never before. He also outlined a list of “potential deliverables,” or smaller-scale targets that could be discussed at the conference, such as eliminating inefficient incandescent light bulbs and phasing out fossil fuel subsidies.
According to Environmental Studies professor Catherine Corson, “the most important issue that Rio needs to address is consumption in the global North, particularly the United States.” Corson, who specializes in global environmental governance, is currently teaching an Environmental Studies seminar, “Science and Power in Environmental Governance,” that focuses on Rio+20 and the long road that has led to it. She wants students to know about Rio+20, which, she said, “is anticipated to be the decade’s most high profile environmental event.”
Why is Rio+20 so significant? “Like the 1992 Rio summit,” Corson explained, “the ideas, power relations and institutional mechanisms that emerge from it will have a tremendous impact on future international environmental policy and practice, as well as on our lives more generally. Your generation will shape, through events like this and related policies, how we, as a global community, address issues like consumption, waste, environmental degradation and increasing inequality.”
Yiting Wang said she is hopeful for Rio+20 to turn into the Earth Summit of our generation. “It offers some hope and opportunities to review the pitfalls of the past 40 years of international environmental governance, reset the agenda and allow new actors to emerge.” One of these new types of actors is youth. Wang has served as International Youth Coordinator for the China Youth Climate Action Network (CYCAN) and has attended climate change conferences in Copenhagen and Cancun. She has already attended some of the preparatory meetings for Rio+20 and intends to follow through with her participation next year at the actual conference in Rio. “Increasingly, these international negotiations have been a platform for the youth movement to make a presence, solicit resources and expand influence through both direct political action and civic diplomacy,” Wang said. “This is also why I personally still continue to involve myself in the process, despite all other frustrations.”
Anticipation for the Rio+20 conference is already building here on campus. Students who are possibly interested in attending the event should talk to Wang or Corson, as they are looking to organize a “Mount Holyoke delegation. The Miller-Worley Center for the Environment is also sponsoring several lectures as part of its theme on international environmental governance. The next lecture is coming up on November 10 and will feature James Gustave Speth.