The Earth Summit called ‘Rio+20’ sounded like a turning point in history when I first heard about it last July. It sounded like a sad joke a little bit more than a month ago. Before the Summit officially starts, I’ll try to express both voices debating inside me.
Since I have been to the Rio+20 official launch in Paris a week ago, I don’t know which voice I should listen to: the one who is optimistic and still believes some important measures can be taken in favour of the environment (voice 1) or the disillusioned voice who’s been working on the topic for 6 months and doesn’t have many expectations regarding the outcomes of this Summit (voice n°2).
I have decided to let both voices speak. We can then wait until the end of the Summit to figure out which voice (if any) was right.
So what is Rio+20 all about?
Voice n°1: “Rio+20 is a UN-organized Summit focused on Sustainable Development that will take place at the end of this week in Rio de Janeiro. It’s going to be the biggest international Summit ever, since more than 194 countries will be represented to discuss about a common agenda on Sustainable Development. Many things have evolved in the past 20 years: back in 1992, when the first Earth Summit took place in Rio de Janeiro, many countries were denying the ‘global warming’ issue. Today, negotiators from all countries are discussing about ‘green economy’ and about limiting our impact on the planet. There is consensus that we cannot keep on following the same pace of consumption and model of development”.
Voice n°2: “Are you talking about Rio+20? Did you mean Rio plus 0? Because many say that not much has been done in the last 20 years in terms of sustainable development. Ok, today the UN is talking about the ‘green economy’ but what is behind that? It seems governments and participants in the official conference are trying to make this concept as light as possible because their concerns are elsewhere: the crisis is looming in Europe, many developing countries are starting to thrive and don’t want to hear about slowing things down or going ‘greener’, elections will be held in the U.S., etc. How do you think significant steps can be taken without political endorsement? Mr. Obama, Ms. Merkel, and Mr. Cameron said they wouldn’t attend. That’s a strong message.”
Voice n°1: “Well, they won’t be there but they will surely be represented. And what is special about this event is that not only the powerful have a say in the debate. The UN has put in place a participative method to write the final text (called Draft Zero-’The Future We Want’) and animate the debate: it has invited civil society to make propositions for the Draft Zero document, and invited Major Groups (representing civil society) to participate to the negotiations and hold conferences during the official Summit. Not only politicians that are invited to participate. For the first time in history, civil society has a significant role to play in the official negotiations and debate.”
Voice n°2: “If you hear what civil society says about the ‘participative’ process, it doesn’t seem to satisfy them at all. The Major Groups have complained since January that their voices weren’t listened to. And for several months, members of civil society have been voicing their concerns about the turns of events that could take place in the Rio+20 official Summit. This extract from a letter cosigned by Greenpeace, Oxfam and other big NGOs is pretty eloquent: “The Rio+20 Summit looks set to add almost nothing to global efforts to deliver sustainable development”.
Voice n°1: “I think you cannot only listen to organizations whose role is to emphasize what is wrong about the process, not was is right.”
Voice n°2: “But the General Secretary of the Conference himself recently asked the negotiators to accelerate the process and to “overcome narrow and short-term interests”. At the end of the ‘3 days last chance negotiations’ that took place last week-end, they had only agreed on 38% of the content of the corrected Draft Zero and that they disagreed on fundamental issues. The negotiation process is so far from its initial objective that Brasil has decided to take the leadership. The Brazilian Committee has written a new document from scratch, letting aside all points of disagreements. The European Union has declared that this text “lacks ambition”. What else do you need to be convinced?”
Voice n°1: “I guess your arguments are strong. However, I’d like the turn of events to prove you wrong. Rio+20 has caught a lot of media attention, billions of eyes are focused on the Rio+20 Summit and this attention might have an unexpected impact. More importantly, Rio+20 is going to last 3 days. Not all the problems will be solved then, that’s obvious. We’ll need to wait a while and see if it triggered a positive dynamics”.
For those who can’t wait to wait, the People’s Summit organizers are calling for a day of global struggles today. Let’s see how they will voice their concerns and if those voices reach the official Summit, starting tomorrow.