As the debates start to heat up on the issues that surround the upcoming United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development (UNCSD), IBON International has also redoubled its efforts to revisit and reiterate the principles that must underlie the concept of sustainable development.
On January 24, more than 70 participants from various civil society organizations (CSOs) and social movements participated in the “Global Civil Society Workshop on the Rio+20 Zero Draft and Rights for Sustainability” in New York City.
At the event, held at the Church Center for the United Nations, Paul Quintos of IBON International presented a critique of the Zero Draft of the Outcome Document for the UNCSD to be held in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil this coming June.
Quintos raised four major points on the Rio+20 outcome document’s zero draft:
First, the document does not address the gravity and urgency of the economic, social and ecological crises gripping the world today. Green Economy (GE) is not even defined clearly but is rather defined in terms of what it should contribute to poverty eradication, food security, access to modern energy services, among other things, and also in terms of principles that underlie it, like the Rio principles [para 25]. It also lists what it should not do, like the creation of new trade barriers [para 31].
But questions like what exactly is a green economy; when can one say an economy is green; and how it is to be achieved are all, are left unanswered. Instead, each country is left to develop their own GE strategies [para 38] and define their own voluntary national commitments and actions [para 41]. While this allows policy space and flexibility, it also leaves the room wide open for business as usual and false solutions to the structural crisis of the dominant development model in the world.
Second, the zero draft does not have a clear and convincing explanation for what has gone wrong over the last 20 years. Its renewal of political commitment seems almost perfunctory. There is no explicit recognition of the problem of widening inequalities and skewed distribution of resources. It offers nothing on ownership and control, particularly of land, seeds, forests, and other productive resources. More importantly, it doesn't provide a critique of the roles played by existing institutions and actors in creating and exacerbating these problems.
Third, with no attempt at a deeper critique of the underlying drivers of unsustainable development and underdevelopment, the zero draft repeats many prescriptions that have caused or contributed to poverty, inequity and ecological destruction. Paragraph 118 of the document reaffirms the role of the private sector in promoting sustainable development, and appeals to businesses and industries to show leadership in advancing the Green Economy. But it reverts back to the old approach of voluntary frameworks for businesses and industries, which have proven inadequate in the past decades.
Lastly, there are some positive things in the draft which, while clearly inadequate and non-binding, nevertheless offer tiny windows for pushing the people’s agenda. These include paragraph 17 on public participation in decision-making; paragraph 31 on policy space for developing countries; paragraph 42, which identifies means of implementation support for developing countries; paragraph 57 on the establishment of an Ombudsperson or High Commissioner for Future Generations; paragraph 64 on the right to food; paragraph 67 on the right to water; and paragraph 111 on alternative measures of well being.
In terms of strengthening the rights-based framework for sustainable development, Quintos suggested that CSOs focus on several sub-themes or sets of rights that are vital for social, economic and ecological sustainability:
Quintos then explained that the Rights for Sustainability (R4S) Initiative is a platform for advocacy that aims to promote a rights-based approach to sustainable development as a way of ensuring that inter- and intra-generational equity and justice are central concerns in the reform agenda in Rio+20 and beyond. This is also one way to counter the market-oriented, corporate-led green economy agenda that currently dominates policy-making circles.
To do this, Quintos enjoined CSOs to use the Rio process to demand clear mandates and commitments for public officials to take action to fulfill the above rights and provide conditions for rights claimants to hold duty bearers accountable, including governments, intergovernmental organizations, donors, international financial institutions, transnational corporations, international NGOs, and other actors.
Quintos added that the R4S Initiative can be one way of reaching out to more groups and encouraging them to engage in the Rio process. As a platform for lobbying, it should also feed into the Major Groups processes and at the same time facilitate CSO engagement with governments at the national and global levels.
In concluding, Quintos called on more “champions” for R4S to promote its aims and the people’s agenda.
The main objectives of the workshop were to gather civil society representatives from various major groups and stakeholders to examine the content of the Zero Draft of the outcome document for Rio+20, and (2) to strategize how to influence the outcome of the negotiations in favor of a rights-based approach to sustainability. It further aimed to analyze to what extent key CSO asks on human rights, equity and justice are reflected in the draft and to bring civil society voices from the South to engage in the official Rio+20 process.
Other panel presenters were Yvonne Yanez of Oilwatch Ecuador and Juan Hoffmaister of Third World Network – Costa Rica. Yanez spoke on the new paradigms in sustainability and the Sumak Kawsay proposal, while Hoffmaister presented a general mapping of the key issues in the current zero draft.
This CSO-led workshop was organized by IBON International in cooperation with the Asia Pacific Research Network (APRN), Centre for Environment and Development (CED), and People's Coalition for Food Sovereignty (PCFS) with the support of Diakonia - Asia Regional office, Both ENDS and the World Council of Churches (WCC).
The workshop was held back-to-back with the UN Division for Economic and Social Affairs (DESA) training session for members of the Major Groups in connection with the Jan. 25-27 Informal Consultation on the Rio+20 Zero Draft.
The Rights for Sustainability campaign was also launched in another civil society workshop in Porto Alegre, Brazil on January 25 as part of the Forum Social Tematico 2012.