South Centre holds Forum on Rio+20 and the Future of the Sustainable Development Agenda.
By Anna Bernardo
A South Centre forum on Results of Rio Plus 20 and the Future Sustainable Development Agenda was held on the morning of 6 July 2012 at the United Nations building in Geneva in conjunction with the 29th meeting of the Board of the South Centre.
Speakers on the panel included Board Members of the Centre, Executive Director Martin Khor, and was also honoured by the presence of His Excellency Mr. Roberto Azevêdo, Ambassador of Brazil to the WTO.
The forum was attended by diplomats from Geneva who have shown great interest on the outcomes of the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development (Rio+20) 2012, which took place in Rio de Janeiro on 20-22 June.
The Chair of the Board, H.E. Mr. Benjamin W. Mkapa, former President of the United Republic of Tanzania, welcomed and thanked the participants. He hoped that the forum would throw light on the results of Rio Plus 20 and on the tasks ahead in the follow up after Rio.
Ambassador Azevêdo addressed Brazil’s role in steering the negotiations as host country and President of the summit. He said it was a privilege, and it took courage. With the help of its leadership, a 53-page document, “The Future We Want”, was adopted. Rio+20, although criticized by most of the media and environmental NGOs as a failure, was not completely one, and was able to produce an outcome that is fair and accepted by the developing countries.
Thus, the ambassador also stressed the importance of multilateral negotiations. Emerging countries are being perceived by industrialised countries as a threat. Every single negotiation is an opportunity to renege on commitments. Signs of shift are all over the place.
There is the Doha Development Agenda (DDA). The big players see the DDA as a means to remove developing countries’ policy space. The degree of commitments is so large that the developing countries will have commitments deeper than the industrialised countries. And there was also UNCTAD XIII in Qatar where the game was about going back to the Accra mandate.
The ambassador said that this is a very dangerous frame of mind and scenario. He called on exposing this in every negotiation, what game is being played. The developing countries need to be courageous once again, in the follow up to Rio, and that it is no longer enough to talk about the environment, but that it has to be coupled with economic growth.
Martin Khor analysed the outcomes of the summit and emphasised the importance of its mandated follow up. Commitments from the Rio Principles and Agenda 21 of the Rio summit in 1992 and the Johannesburg Plan of Implementation from Johannesburg in 2002 were reaffirmed, although it was not the same case for technology and finance. While there were no breakthroughs, it directed for talks to continue to find solutions for important issues in the UN in New York within one to two years, including on sustainable development goals, finance and technology, and a new political forum on sustainable development.
Khor added that coordination should be present between diplomats in New York and Geneva, especially in instances such as when, for example, something being negotiated on will affect trade and intellectual property and the knowledge and expertise of diplomats dealing with the WTO or WIPO will come in handy. He also reiterated the significance of multilateral negotiations.
Rubens Ricupero, former UNCTAD Secretary-General, mentioned that a big disadvantage of Rio+20 was that it had around only a few official days for the preparatory process, while Rio 1992 had around about 113 days. He brought up the People’s Summit during Rio+20 and how it raised the consciousness of people. He said that we should be precise on what we propose for the three pillars of sustainable development. Environment should be a precondition for the other two pillars and science should be the guide. It should not just be any kind of economic growth (with social inclusion) but one that takes into account the environment. He pointed out three issues that needed to be addressed: injustice, unemployment and the environment.
Mr. Chen ChuanDong of the Permanent Mission of the People’s Republic of China to the UN in Geneva spoke on behalf of H.E. Mr. Li Zhaoxing, former foreign minister of China and present Chair of the Foreign Affairs Committee of the National People’s Congress. His message was that Rio Plus 20 captured the cooperative spirit of the international community. He also called on developing countries to continue to work in solidarity and be proactive in the negotiations. He mentioned China’s efforts in the international sustainable development process, and China’s Premier Wen Jiabao at the conference announced initiatives to facilitate developing countries’ pursuit of sustainable development. He said that China will work with all parties to ensure the success of the sustainable development process.
Youba Sokona, Director of the African Climate Policy Centre, UNECA, talked about the implications of Climate Change and Rio+20 for Africa. An interesting part of his presentation was regarding reasons for concern, which showed that as the years pass by, there are more and more reasons for concern at each level of temperature rise. He also said that initial cost for combatting climate change is beyond the capacity of the poor, but that each sector has an opportunity. There are 6 prerequisites for an African Climate Resilient Low Carbon Development: African ownership is fundamental; institutional innovation is critical; adequate investment will be crucial; prioritizing investment is essential; policy innovation is vital; and endogenous technology development is important.
Charles Soludo, formerly the Central Bank Governor of Nigeria made a presentation on the EPAs (economic partnership agreements) and described it as a second scramble for Africa. He made a very comprehensive presentation on what are the EPAs, the EU case, elaborated seven reasons to oppose EPAs, the real reason behind them and the road ahead. He called for the rejection of the EPAs: that Africa and its friends should speak now and they should also adopt the AU concept and proposal on an alternative to the EPAs. He also believed in the African common market and he proposed an African Partnership and Development Summit with the US, EU and the BRIC countries.
Professor Deepak Nayyar who teaches Economics at Jawaharlal Nehru University in India first discussed what could be improved with the MDGs (Millennium Development Goals) beyond 2015. The MDGs’ limitations are in its design and conception. There is need for another framework for development post-2015. There are three imperatives: (1) there should be structural flexibility at the national level; (2) there should be a cognition of inequality in any assessment of outcomes; and (3) the new framework must have means not just ends. Strategies to meet development are absent from the MDGs. There is a need to think about it at the national and international level. The global focus of the MDGs on economic growth is too narrow, with a donor-centric world view. There is a need to look at the MDG plus scenario – human rights, climate change, gender, etc but to hasten slowly, and create North-South and South-South partnerships. Affirmative action should be given to poor countries, especially LDCs. He later commented on the parallel relationship between MDGs and SDGs (Sustainable Development Goals).
The Chair then presented conclusions of the forum, saying that as the North renege on their commitments, the South must maintain to have the principles reaffirmed. He also underlined that others should be informed about the implications of the EPAs and the plight of Africa, and he reiterated that the real work post Rio Plus 20 starts now.
The Ambassadors and Officials present made many remarks. They especially supported the idea of coordination between New York and Geneva for full implementation of the outcomes of the Conference.
The South Centre could help with this coordination and mobilizing developing countries. It provided a lot of assistance to the G77 countries during the process leading to the Rio Plus 20, and can continue to take forward the cause of sustainable development.