From Durban to Doha: the Rio+20 conference - milestone or dead end?
Decision makers were expected to put a halt to the unsustainable paths we’re engaged in, and to support the sustainable solutions that are needed most urgently. They failed to do so.
The expectations for the Rio+20 conference consisted of mixed feelings; between resignation towards what could be expected from such a broad high-level conference in a time of multiple crises, and the hope that decision makers would still have the courage to seize this opportunity to make change happen, towards the real Future we want and we need. Civil society organizations, social movements, grassroots organizations, youth groups… have been pushing for this conference to be the one where systemic changes would happen, as its agenda was no less than green economy in the context of sustainable development, poverty eradication and the institutional framework for sustainable development, thus encompassing some 7 major issues to be addressed. The key tasks we have been advocating for as CIDSE, together with our partners and allies were indeed for decision makers to have the political strength to address the roots of the structural crises we are facing on food, energy, climate, natural resources, inequality between men and women, finance and the economy. Tackling these crises is crucial as they are undermining the ability of the most vulnerable to develop and when positive trends in fighting poverty are being contradicted by persisting inequalities. To implement effectively new policies, we were asking for a sustainable development framework that would address inter-linked challenges, and contribute to a new, strong and single overarching framework to follow the Millennium Development Goals after the 2015 deadline.
On climate change, a stronger ambition was needed after the near failure of Durban, especially in the context of increasing levels of CO2 emissions, of the assessments of the gigaton gap of emissions between the current political commitments and the science-based needs to avoid the worst climate scenarios, and of the latest findings from the IPCC on the links between climate change and extreme events and disasters. The conference was the occasion to agree on binding commitments towards low carbon development, based on energy efficiency, renewable energy and clean and safe energy, as well as to acknowledge the unsatisfactory realization of the climate commitments and to push for more ambitious ones. It was also a time to support the development of models that are not only green but fair, by recognizing the finiteness of natural resources, by reorienting wasteful consumption patterns towards sustainable ones, and by removing harmful subsidies such as fossil fuel ones.
Decision makers were expected to put a halt to the unsustainable paths we’re engaged in, and to support the sustainable solutions that are needed most urgently. They failed to do so. The outcome document is pretty weak, understating the importance of a lot of issues, and with very few decisions on the table.
As far as climate change is concerned, the outcome document only acknowledges that climate change is an unprecedented challenge and a matter of concern, which is almost an affront to those who are already experiencing its impacts. The Rio parties ended up calling on the UNFCCC and the parties to the Kyoto Protocol to “fully implement their commitments”. This is not enough: these commitments put us on a +3°C temperature rise, when we know that for some countries the survival threshold is a 1,5°C increase. What is needed for the most vulnerable is more ambition and greater urgency in doing so. Rio+20 didn’t deliver this ambition.
Still it’s no time for despair. It has been repeated by many NGOs, the problem we are facing is not due to the failure of multilateralism as such, it’s due to the lack of political will to be ambitious in this context, the courage to be able to put national and short term corporate interests aside, and to address the real roots of inequalities, hunger, unsustainability, climate crisis… and to agree on the decisions that are really needed for a future that will allow coming generations to live sustainably, allow the most vulnerable to live in dignity, and measure what really matters, beyond monetary indicators.
On the climate front, Rio+20 did deliver a few elements to build on, such as the acknowledgment that adaptation measures is an emergency, the recognition of the need for climate finance for adaptation and mitigation actions in developing countries, and the identification of innovative financing mechanisms as one of the promising sources of climate finance. We will make sure that these infant steps are being followed by stronger commitments in the next COP due to take place in Doha by the end of this year.
Policy officer for Climate justice, CIDSE