June 22, 2012
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL- Global leaders on Friday wrap up a United Nations development summit with little to show but a lackluster agreement, as critics scorned governments for showing no urgency to tackle climate change as well as food and water scarcity.
Nearly 100 heads of state and government gathered over the past three days in efforts to establish so-called “sustainable development goals,” a U.N. drive built around economic growth, the environment, and social inclusion.
The agreement, seen by Reuters, was little changed from a draft text on Tuesday apart from grammatical tweaks.
Some of the main areas it covered are outlined below.
SUSTAINABLE DEVELOPMENT GOALS (SDGs)
It was hoped that Rio+20 would hammer out goals across core areas like food security, water and energy.
But expectations were low that it would produce a defined set of mandatory measures with timeliness because politicians are more focused on the global financial crisis and unrest in the Middle East.
The agreement proposed launching a process to agree on sustainable development goals, or SDGs, which will likely build on and overlap with a current round of objectives known as the millennium development goals, which U.N. members agreed to pursue at least through 2015.
“We resolve to establish an inclusive and transparent inter-governmental process on SDGs that is open to all stakeholders with a view to developing global sustainable development goals to be agreed by the United Nations General Assembly (in September),” it said.
The goals should also be coherent with and integrated into the U.N. Development Agenda after 2015, the agreement said.
A 30-member working group will decide on a work plan and present a proposal for SDGs to the U.N. general assembly in September 2013.
FOSSIL FUEL SUBSIDIES
It was also hoped that Rio+20 could firm up a commitment for all countries to eliminate subsidies for fossil fuels.
Phasing out fossil fuel subsidies by 2020 would reduce annual global energy demand by 5 percent and carbon dioxide emissions by nearly 6 percent, according to the International Energy Agency.
In 2009, G20 leaders agreed to do this in principle but no timelines have been set. A G20 meeting in Mexico, which ended on Tuesday, also failed to firm up the idea.
The Rio+20 text reaffirmed previous commitments by countries to “phase out harmful and inefficient fossil fuel subsidies that encourage wasteful consumption.”
But it stopped short of beefing up the voluntary commitment with timetables or more details, which disappointed some business and environmental groups.
The text committed to “take action to reduce the incidence and impacts of such pollution on marine ecosystems, including through the effective implementation of relevant conventions adopted in the framework of the International Maritime Organization.”
It also proposed that countries take action by 2025 to achieve “significant reductions” in marine debris to prevent harm to the marine environment, and committed to implement measures to prevent the introduction of alien invasive marine species and manage their adverse environmental impacts.
It also reiterated a need to work further on preventing ocean acidification.
However, an eagerly awaited decision on a governance structure for the high seas was put off for a few years.
Countries such as the United States, Canada, Russia and Venezuela opposed strong language to implement it, observers said.
The agreement called for a new intergovernmental process to produce a report that evaluates how much money is needed for sustainable development, and what new and existing instruments can be used to raise more funds.
The process will be led by a group of 30 experts, which will conclude its work by 2014.
Although some developing countries had called for the creation of a $30 billion sustainable development fund, the proposal did not make it into the text. Instead, the text “recognize(d) the need for significant mobilization of resources from a variety of sources.”
On financial aid to developing countries, the agreement urged rich countries to make “concrete efforts” toward delivering a previously agreed target of 0.7 percent of gross national product of aid to developing countries by 2015.
U.N. ENVIRONMENT PROGRAM (UNEP)
Another outcome of the summit concerned strengthening UNEP – an international institution that coordinates U.N. environmental activities – to a U.N. agency with power equal to other U.N. bodies like the World Health Organization.
The agreement proposed that a U.N. general meeting in September adopt a resolution “strengthening and upgrading” UNEP. It proposed giving UNEP “secure, stable, adequate and increased financial resources” from the United Nations’ budget and voluntary contributions to help it fulfill its role.
However, some countries, such as the United States, are opposed to strengthening UNEP’s role.
One of the major themes of the conference was the concept of a “green economy,” or improving human well-being and social equity while reducing environmental risks, which could be a common roadmap for sustainable development.
The agreement affirmed that each country could have its own path toward achieving a “green economy.” The text said it could provide options for policy making but should not be a “rigid set of rules.”
Another topic of the summit was ensuring that corporate and government accounting reflects environmental profit and loss.
The text recognized the need for “broader measures of progress to complement GDP” to better inform policy decisions. It asked the U.N. Statistical Commission to launch a program of work to build on existing initiatives.