Rio+20: Five climate change ideas that didn’t make the Earth Summit outcome

By Tierney Smith and John Parnell

Yesterday we looked at what the Rio+20 outcome document meant for climate change. Today we look at some of the ideas and policies that were hoped and expected to appear in the final text, but dropped off the agenda.

Optimists have said that the weak Rio outcome does at least establish a process on a number of areas, with the hard work now to begin. The ideas that didn’t make the final cut, are presumably dead in the water…

RTCC picks out five of the key proposals that didn’t make it, but deserve more attention.

Ambassador for Future Generations

While the phrase ‘future generations’ is reference multiple times in the Rio+20 outcome document, many of the young people present at the conference felt betrayed by the final document’s removal of the establishment of a High Commissioner for Future Generations.

Laid out in the zero-draft document was an agreement “to further consider the establishment of an Ombudsperson or High Commissioner for Future Generations to promote sustainable development”. By the time the final document was announced, the paragraph had been removed.

Many say this is removal relegates youth to the side-lines on decisions on sustainable development, removing their place at the negotiating table.

Young people at the conference called for an Ambassador for Future Generations to ensure they had a place at the negotiations (© SustainUS/flickr)

Speaking at the conference, Alistair Whitby from World Future Council said: “We believe that this institution at the UN is vital if future generations are going to have a say and a stake in the future. At the moment their rights are being trampled on and we have no way of stopping this and we believe that High Commissioner for Future Generations would give them that voice.”

Definition of what the Green Economy should be

One of the key points for the Rio+20 conference, the idea of the Green Economy has split opinions. While some say the contribution of the private sector and global businesses at the talks showed the action that many governments shied away from, for others the move towards the Green Economy, is just Global Capitalism dressed in another colour.

While the final text goes into some detail of the Green Economy and has some positive ideas, the lack of a clear definition of what this new economy should look like, has left many confused about whether it represents the paradigm shift they had been hoping for.

The text sets out that it should not be one, universal set of rules, and rightly says that it will mean different things to different countries. It does “emphasise that it should contribute to eradicating poverty as well as sustained economic growth, enhancing social inclusion, improving human welfare and creating opportunities for employment and decent work for all, while maintaining the healthy functioning of the Earth’s ecosystems.”

A very weighty statement and one which is backed up by sub-points including the need to respect national sovereignty, again to “promote sustained and inclusive growth”, take into account developing nations and strengthen co-operation. It even promotes technology transfer and acknowledges unsustainable production and consumption behaviour.

But without real information or concrete examples of what this new economy would look like, who would drive it and how it would be financed, many worry that the current economic system will remain, with the transnational corporations holding much of the power – just with ‘greener’ job titles.

Meenakshi Raman from the Third World Network says: “Instead of really looking at the fundamentals of what was driving unsustainable development, what you have happening is a cosmetic attempt atgreening the economy without the transformation that it needed.”

Kyoto Protocol mark II

The final outcome does acknowledge the threat posed by climate change, as well as the growing gap between what countries need to do, what they have pledged to do and even more importantly what they are actually doing.

Countries were urged to reaffirm their commitment under the KP but could the text have gone further? (© theseoduke/Creative Commons)

It also makes reference to the UNFCCC process and to both the Kyoto Protocol and the Durban agreement.

“We urge Parties to the UNFCCC and Parties to the Kyoto Protocol to fully implement their commitment, as well as decisions adopted under those agreements. In this regard, we will build upon the progress achieved including at the most recent COP17/CMP7 in Durban.”

Yet with many believing to this day that the process leading to the Kytoto Protocol was one of the best things to come out of the original Earth Summit, surely the text could have gone much further than this?

While calling on the Parties to live up to their Kyoto Protocol commitments and making a nod towards KP2 and the Durban Platform, surely spelling this out more clearly, urging countries to commit to a second period and urging all nations to reach a new deal within the UNFCCC deadlines, would further hold countries to what they have already pledged and further emphasise the work of the Rio Convention.

No World Environment Organisation

The three Rio Conventions, founded at the original Earth Summit, tackle the inter-connected issues of biodiversity loss (CBD), desertification (CCD) and climate change (UNFCCC).

You might not have realised but the UN Environmental Programme (UNEP) differs in that it is not “a convention”. In layman’s terms, this means it can’t make internationally binding treaties.

The three conventions have numerous crossovers and there were hopes from some that a new beefed up UNEP (hesitantly called the World Environment Organisation by some) would go some way to cutting duplication between them. It was also hoped a new over-arching body, but still free of decade long treaty-making processes, might be able to spark more action on the ground.

The document’s proposed changes for UNEP may boost its resources, but to government’s, it remains toothless.

Critics have argued however, that a WEO, would slow down progress as a tortured constitution talks displaced UNEP’s real work.

No money

Given that the representatives at the high-level segment didn’t actually have any negotiating to do (the draft was accepted by all at face value), many took the opportunity to announce national initiatives.

Campaigners called for an end to trillion dollar fossil fuel subsidies during Rio+20.

Brazil put forward $4.3 billion to promote universal energy access, Japan pledged $3bn in international aid for the Green Economy (see above) and the US promised $2bn in grants and loans to support public-private energy partnerships at home.

The bulk of the headline figure of $513bn worth of pledges, came from the private sector and development banks, a coalition of which announced an investment of $175bn for sustainable transport.

This is all great but public money is needed to elevate the $50bn pledged by private companies at Rio+20, into the trillions of dollars that we are told is necessary.

The outcome document says: “We recognize the importance of mobilizing funding from a variety of sources, public and private, bilateral and multilateral, including innovative sources of finance.”

It does not suggest what these sources could be or establish any financial commitment.

There were high hopes for the reform of fossil fuel subsidies in the Rio text. The subject attracted public support from millions. The outcome document merely “reaffirms existing commitments”.

Ironically, there was a promising development for an “innovative source of finance” during Rio+20, but it happened 5000 miles away in Luxembourg with nine EU countries committing to a financial transaction tax. Popularly known as the Robin Hood Tax, it charges a small percentage on international financial trades, generating huge tax revenues. Many EU countries, including the UK, fear it will make their financial centres uncompetitive.

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