by Judith Curry
The impact of the 1992 Rio Earth Summit is difficult to overestimate: it provided a primary foundation for the Precautionary Principle and fostered an agreement on the Climate Change Convention (UNFCCC) which in turn led to the Kyoto Protocol. The 20th anniversary of the Earth Summit will be marked by the UN Conference on Sustainable Development in Rio de Janeiro (RIO+20).
From the website of the Conference:
The objective of the Conference 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 Conference will focus on two themes: (a) a green economy in the context of sustainable development and poverty eradication; and (b) the institutional framework for sustainable development.
What can we expect from Rio+20? A slightly scary hint is provided by this summary of a planning meeting held last January, some excerpts:
The 2012 summit is expected to agree on a political document that will guide action on sustainable development policy for decades to come and give birth to a World Environment Organisation. Contributions to the summit’s discussions were submitted by UN member states, major stakeholders and international oganizations ahead of the meeting. Among the wildest ideas are plans to introduce personal carbon quotas and birth control as means of reducing global consumption.
From a post last March at Grist:
At a recent preparatory meeting in New York, the agenda for this next Earth Summit became clear. The leaders will issue a “focused political document” tackling the transition to a global “green economy” and reform of the international institutions responsible for sustainable development. This second “reform” strand could feasibly restructure everything ranging from the U.N. Environmental Program (UNEP) and the U.N. Development Program to the 500 different multilateral environmental treaties and agreements currently in place. These cover toxic chemicals, ocean conservation, biodiversity, desertification, climate change, ozone depletion, forest protection, and more. Given the rising trends of global temperature, hunger, water scarcity, and biodiversity loss, the existing mishmash of eco-governance is clearly failing to deliver. RIO+20 is a precious chance for decision-makers to take stock of where the world went wrong in the last 20 years and plan intelligently for the next 20. Hopefully RIO+20 will deliver a jolt of political will to the global environmental agenda, as well as a smart plan to get the planet back on track.
Or at least that’s the theory. And now we come to the bad news: Far from cooking up a plan to save the Earth, what may come out of the summit could instead be a deal to surrender the living world to a small cabal of bankers and engineers — one that will dump the promises of the first Rio summit along the way. Tensions are already rising between northern countries and southern countries over the poorly defined concept of a global “Green Economy” that will be the centerpiece of the summit.
Of relevance to food security, I spotted this in a recent post at Huffington Post:
Via Campesina — an independent international peasant movement dedicated to the principles of food sovereignty, comprised of more than 150 million farmers and producers — is already preparing its arsenal. The group and its allies are hoping to come together in force at Rio+20 — which will include discussions of food security and poverty alleviation — next summer to intervene, voicing their opposition to the development community’s track record of land grabs, environmental degradation, and displacement of subsistence and small farmers.
As much as the actions of the development community, it is their paradigm that troubles Via Campesina. In the movement’s eyes, “green economy” is a contradiction in terms. The entire concept of food conglomerates goes against the tenets of the Via Campesina movement, which prioritizes responsible local stewardship of land and waterways, as well as communities’ ability to cultivate and sell culturally appropriate and environmentally sustainable foodstuffs as they see fit. As we have watched food systems the world over go from diversified and decentralized to concentrated, homogenous and industrial, “peasants” (as Via Campesina members choose to identify themselves) have been systematically removed from the land and waterways from which they derive their livelihoods. Unless these patterns are reversed, Via Campesina argues, “development” programs will only continue to widen the economic divide — lining the pockets of the rich and exacerbating the oppression of and scarcity of resources available to the poor.
Pardee Center Task Force Report
In the midst of the raw politics that one might expect to dominate the Rio+20 Conference, the Pardee Center Task Force Report Beyond Rio+20 prepared by Boston University provides some perspectives from academics. Five recommendations emerged from this report:
One. Think boldly and move incrementally. There is a need, instead, for what some participants called a strategy of “radi- cal incrementalism”—recognizing and strengthening those elements within the existing institutional architecture that work, identifying the strategic direction of change, and implementing measured and pragmatic shifts that can begin moving the system in that direction. Progressively evaluating the implementa- tion and progress of such measures and carefully adding to them to bring about the desired shifts is an important component of this process. One example of this would be to break the deadlock that often arises when we search for a single “perfect” solution by the adoption of a “portfolio approach” that uses a combina- tion of initiatives to raise a variety of resources including monetary resources, knowledge resources, capacity development, public support, and awareness- raising for effective global action on forests.
Two. Take economic policy seriously. The most obvious case for a shift towards a green economy is in macro- economic policy instruments relating to structures and principles for international trade and finance issues. For example, the role of trade in resources—espe- cially in energy-related resources and also including the security implications of resource trade—is central to a green economy. Any shift in this area will require carefully crafted incentives to align international markets simultane- ously towards environmental and resource goals. At the micro-economic level, the institutional challenge is to create individual incentives (including negative ones) to realign consumption and production decisions that can have significant environmental and economic ramifications.
Three. Recognize what is working and what is not working. There is no need to re-invent the wheel. There are already a number of public and private sector initiatives and partnerships that seek to promote a transition to a green economy world. At the same time, current organizations, policies, and practices must be subject to critical evaluation and changed if they stand in the way of the realiza- tion of a green economy. . . The desire to fundamentally redesign things, to create new institutions without first thinking about what will happen to old ones, and to simply assume that the problems that have plagued institutions in the past will somehow disappear in the future remains as prevalent as it is misguided.
Four. Make implementation the focus. Such a focus involves at least two important changes. First, it will require better incorporating public, private, and civil society actors who are closer to implementation, including at the national and sub-national levels. This will require multilevel governance from major intergov- ernmental forums down to town halls and households. The subsidiarity principle should guide policy and management efforts, dealing with each issue at the lowest, most appropriate level to bring decision-making as close as possible to each citizen. Second, implementation requires evaluation, monitoring, and accountability. At each level, accountability issues are crucial to ensure change and implementation. This includes thinking hard and carefully about what kind of accountability mechanisms are needed and how they may be established. To this end, a host of scientific, economic, and political information needs to be generated and shared in an open and transparent manner.
Five. The state remains central but non-state actors have to be better accommodated. A focus on green economic issues highlights the importance of markets and consumers to both ecology and politics. However, governments remain—and will remain—central to this enterprise. There is a tendency (often by those outside of governments) to downplay the importance of states; there is also a tendency (often amongst those within governments) to push the much of the responsibility for action and change on to non-state institutions. Both tenden- cies should be rejected. . . Just as the state has to learn how to create a space where markets and citizens can spur institutional innovation at a planetary scale, it also has to retain and assert its role as rule-setter and enforcer. This is already evident in the area of cli- mate change and the creation of carbon markets—markets that can neither oper- ate nor be created independent of state action—and will become increasingly important in the management and greening of natural resource supply chains. As these market instruments may become defined more and more by national security concerns, the importance of the state will increase—not diminish—in the evolving institutional needs of the planet.
Five +1. Put equity at the center. A green economy and any institutions devised for it must make their core focus the well-being of people—of all people, everywhere—across present and future gener- ations. That essential idea puts the notion of equity—intra- as well as inter-generational equity—smack at the center of the green economy enterprise.
NRDC’s proposal for potential deliverables
A central goal of the 2012 Earth Summit should be to generate specific “deliverables”. Each of these “deliverables” should consist of: (1) specific, short-term commitments by countries, communities, corporations, and civil society groups; (2) commitments to work together where appropriate, including sharing technical assistance and coordinating actions; and (3) provisions for monitoring and reporting to ensure that the commitments are delivered on the ground.
The NRDC has proposed a list of such actions, in the following categories: broad policies to support a green economy, enhanced governance, climate and energy, oceans, public health, and water. Of particular relevance here are those for Climate and Energy:
CLIMATE AND ENERGY
While the climate negotiations will continue, governments, companies, and civil society groups should come to Rio prepared to take tangible steps towards greater deployment of low-carbon energy technologies; improved energy and water efficiency; reduced deforestation emissions; reduced black carbon emissions; and the stimulation of low-carbon economies, such as:
1. Develop and enforce best practice and minimum performance energy and water standards for appliances and equipment and ensure an ongoing process to develop all cost effective standards by 2015
2. Phase out inefficient light bulbs through the establishment of minimum energy efficiency standards that reduce energy use of new bulbs by at least 65%
3. Deploy renewable energy by countries undertaking specific commitments and programs to speed up the deployment of clean energy throughout the world
4. Promote clean and efficient vehicles that will cut greenhouse gas emissions from new vehicles by 30% by 2020 and by 50% by 2030, including policies, programs and standards adopted by individual countries that address sales and use of new, and where appropriate, imported and/or used vehicles
5. Stimulate a market for clean cook stoves and invest in the efficient production of biomass fuels, with the goal of having clean and efficient stoves in 100 million homes by 2020 and thereby minimizing incidence of respiratory illnesses; deforestation; and destruction of local habitats
6. Replace polluting, inefficient, expensive, dangerous and unhealthy kerosene-based lighting with cleaner alternatives, such as solar lanterns.
7. Phase down HFCs by governments adopting new commitments covering these super greenhouse gases under the Montreal Protocol and by companies agreeing to phase down their use in products that they produce, use, or sell
8. Reduce deforestation emissions by key corporations committing to avoiding purchasing products that cause deforestation, such as soy or cattle from deforested lands in the Brazilian Amazon, palm oil from deforested agricultural land in Indonesia, or illegal wood and wood products throughout the world
9. Undertake large-scale, environmentally and socially responsible reforestation efforts
10. Strengthen and increase the use of green building technologies and standards by working with the new GLOBE Alliance
11. Phase out lending by public and private financial institutions for energy projects with high GHG emissions
12. Commit to systematically evaluating, and where cost-effective, applying ecosystem-based approaches to adaptation (e.g., rehabilitating mangroves may be more cost-effective against storm surge than building a sea wall).
13. Create and enforce standards to reduce environmental risks associated with natural gas development, including the use of “fracking” to access natural gas.
JC comments: this compilation provides a range of perspectives on what we might expect from Rio+20. The diversity of interests and raw politics has the potential for Rio+20 to go the same way as the Copenhagen COP 15 in December 2009. The challenge is to define an appropriate role for international treaties and programs while preserving national interests in economic development. There is the potential for some scary ideas and policies to emerge from this, as well as for some sensible actions such as many of the action items proposed by the NRDC.