After weeks of haggling diplomats, from more than 190 countries agreed on a draft text on global development to be approved this week at a United Nations Rio+20 summit in Rio de Janeiro. Environmentalists immediately labelled the agreement as too weak and the WWF said it represented “colossal failure of leadership”.
Rio+20 was supposed to hammer out aspirational, rather than mandatory sustainable development goals across core areas like food security, water and energy. However, the draft text agreed upon by diplomats failed to define those goals or give clear timetables toward setting them. It is “telling that nobody in that room adopting the text was happy. That’s how weak it is,” the European Union’s climate commissioner Connie Hedegaard said on the social network Twitter. The text “has too much ‘take note’ and ‘reaffirm’ and too little ‘decide’ and ‘commit’. (The) big task now for UN nations to follow up” on this, she added.
Ever optimistic the Australian Greens Party said there were signs that the summit in Rio de Janeiro, which Australia’s Labor Prime Minister Julia Gillard will attend from today, could make some progress.
Much more scathing was WWF director-general Jim Leape, who said it was a “colossal failure of leadership and vision from diplomats”. “They should be embarrassed at their inability to find common ground on such a crucial issue,” Mr Leape said. “Now it’s up to world leaders to get serious about sustainable development and save this process. If they approve what’s on the table now without significant changes, they’ve doomed Rio+20 to ridicule.”
Greenpeace international executive director Kumi Naidoo said the summit was heading for “epic failure” and three days of “greenwash”. “We were promised the ‘future we want’ but are now being presented with a ‘common vision’ of a polluter’s charter that will cook the planet, empty the oceans and wreck the rain forests.”
Australia is backing the concept of sustainable development goals (SDGs) replacing the existing millennium development goals to tackle poverty and hunger.
Ms Gillard will also talk up the prospects of jobs in the “green economy”.
Reuters Newsagency says expectations were low for the summit from the start because politicians’ attention is more focused on the euro zone crisis, a presidential election in the United States and turmoil in the Middle East than on the environment.
The first Rio Earth summit in 1992 paved the way for a global treaty on biodiversity, and the 1997 Kyoto Protocol on greenhouse gases, which is due to expire this year.
The Rio+20 title is a nod to the 20 years that have passed since the 1992 summit.
Heads of state and ministers, including Russian President Vladimir Putin, French President Francois Hollande and US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, will meet with diplomats representing other nations from today for three days to discuss the text and possibly make some changes to its wording.
Observers do not expect major amendments.
US special envoy for climate change, Todd Stern, told reporters yesterday he did not expect the document to change much after heads of state meet to discuss it. “We don’t have anything that we are expecting to try to drive into the document that is not there yet,” he said.
Environmental groups criticised the text, saying it omitted or watered down important proposals and challenged heads of state to act urgently to respond to climate change. “This summit could be over before it’s started. World leaders arriving tonight must start afresh. Rio+20 should be a turning point,” said Oxfam spokesman Stephen Hale. “There’s no sign of that here. Almost a billion hungry people deserve better.”
The draft text omitted a clause calling for governments to phase out fossil fuel subsidies, which have nearly tripled since 2009, despite a pledge by G20 countries to eliminate them. Phasing out fossil fuel subsidies by 2020 would reduce annual global energy demand by 5 percent and carbon dioxide emissions by nearly six per cent, according to the International Energy Agency. Oil producing countries, including Venezuela and Canada, blocked inclusion of the clause, despite a huge social media push on Monday to include phase-out language in the text, with over 100,000 tweets on Twitter with the hashtag #endfossilfuelsubsidies.
An eagerly awaited decision on a governance structure for the high seas was also postponed for three years, after the United States, Japan, Canada, Russia and Venezuela opposed strong language to implement it.“There’s no commitment, it’s like telling your girlfriend you promise to decide in three years whether or not to decide, whether or not to get married,” said Susanna Fuller of the High Seas Alliance, a coalition of NGOs.
Reuters says others were slightly more optimistic.“The document represents a positive step forward and while it is not the major breakthrough we had 20 years ago it puts us on the pathway to sustainable development,” Selwyn Hart, diplomat for Barbados, told Reuters. “The formal negotiations might be over but leaders need to focus on the implementation of some of the central issues dealt within the document,” he added.