Rio+20 Strives for Consensus in Brazil

By Ben Tavener, Senior Contributing Reporter

RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – With the start of the UN’s biggest-ever event to promote sustainable development now clear on the horizon, the race is on for members to redouble efforts and agree on an agenda for the Rio+20 Conference. Countries will have five more days to agree on the so-called Outcome Document at meetings starting on May 29th in New York.

The UN’s biggest ever international event on sustainable development, Rio+20, is here,

The UN’s biggest ever international event on sustainable development, Rio+20, is here.

The UN hopes Brazil’s unique position as the sixth largest world economy with growing political influence – which itself promotes clean energy while continuing to fight to lift millions of out extreme poverty – will help unite countries with polarized positions on a positive agenda with achievable goals.

Brazil’s Foreign Minister Antônio Patriota says that the challenge for the conference will be reaching a consensus that does not accentuate differences, while “reconciling a multiplicity of interests” with goals directed at all countries. But this will have to be coupled with allaying poorer countries’ concerns that steps to promote sustainable development will stall their economic growth.

As the extra time for negotiations was announced, Rio+20 Secretary-General Sha Zukang said member countries should be aiming to “arrive in Rio with at least ninety percent of the text ready” with “the most difficult ten percent negotiated in Rio with the highest political support.”

Praising Brazil’s contribution so far, the UN spokesperson for Rio+20, Pragati Pascale – in an interview with The Rio Times – said that the measure of success for the event would be how much action and change it inspires towards sustainable development over the next twenty years – and that although governments must do their part, businesses and civil societies must follow suit:

“We cannot stay on the same path. If we want growth that includes everyone, long-term economic prosperity and energy security, well-being for people and a healthy environment, we need to move towards sustainability,” Pascale explains, adding that “green” economies need to move beyond measurements such as GDP, so that real progress can be gauged.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon meets Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff in September 2011 in NYC, Brazil News

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, here with President Rousseff in 2011 in New York, is urging the "right decisions to be made and implemented on the ground," photo by Roberto Stuckert Filho/PR.

In terms of specific goals for the events, the UN wants to see definitive policy on increasing the use of renewable energy sources, while protecting our oceans and their biodiversity, and launching a program to reduce waste globally.

For some though, including Jeffrey Hollender, a leading authority on corporate responsibility, sustainability and social equity, this year’s event lacks the potential of 1992′s Rio Earth Summit.

Hollender explains, “In 1992, more than a hundred world leaders showed up for the Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro. The event was highlighted by the signing of two groundbreaking treaties on climate change and biodiversity and declarations about creating a green and equitable world.”

“The following two decades have been a huge disappointment with the U.S. consistently failing to live up to its commitments. George W. Bush effectively broke the climate treaty signed by his father, refusing to sign up to the Kyoto Protocol.” continues Hollender.

“As we approach the Rio+20 the world is facing a climate crisis and the agenda for the meetings fails to deal with other critical issues such as the rights of poor people to manage their own land and their forests. We need to do better and I’m not optimistic.”

With U.S. President Barack Obama still not having confirmed his attendance at Rio+20, and the UK and German leaders set to be absent, there are calls for concern; environmental organizations have written to the President Obama pleading with him to come.

The absences could, however, give the BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China, South Africa) members of emerging economies – whose presidents and prime ministers have all confirmed their presence – a powerful global platform and chance to lead on decision-marking.