By Sarah de Sainte Croix, Senior Contributing Reporter
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – Last weekend, the Tropical Hotel in the Amazonian capital Manaus hosted the World Sustainability Forum. The upcoming Rio+20 UN Conference for Sustainable Development was a hot topic on the agenda, and speakers emphasized the importance of setting concrete sustainability goals at the Rio+20.
Speaking in front of journalists in Manaus on Thursday, Brice Lalonde, French Ambassador and Executive Secretary for the Rio +20, sent a warning to delegates preparing to come to the event in June: “Do not come to Rio if you have no commitments to make.”
Lalonde spoke of developing a “compendium of commitments” out of the Rio+20, saying, “I hope that the final declaration of the conference is followed by an annex containing a plan of action.”
Concerns have been raised by environmentalists and scientists that without clear, concrete and achievable goals, the Rio+20 might follow what many see as the historic pattern for these kind of global environmental conferences, and turn out to be little more than ‘hot air’.
Twenty years ago, at the inaugural UN Climate Change Conference in Rio, the “Earth Summit,” a series of global conventions and action plans were agreed upon, including Agenda 21, the Rio Declaration on Environment and Development and The Forest Principles.
Later on, in 2000, the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) were created to deal with poverty reduction. However, critics complain that few of the goals have been achieved on a any significant global scale because the targets contained within these proposals were largely aspirational, global and non-legally binding.
Charles Kenny, a development economist working in Washington DC, blogs, “If there are no binding, country-level targets, a […] goal is just ink on paper.”
The latest round of negotiations concerning the outcome document for the Rio +20 concluded in New York on Tuesday and the debate about goals was at the forefront.
The UN released a statement saying, “A process to launch a set of sustainable development goals has been a priority in preliminary negotiations. The proposed goals, which would need further finalization, would act as a series of benchmarks for countries to follow and achieve a range of targeted outcomes to advance sustainable development within a specific time period.”
According to the UN, member States and other stakeholders are considering launching a set of Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) that “focus and energize renewed political commitment for sustainable development.”
However, as “benchmarks” these goals would be aspirational, rather than mandatory, leaving critics unsatisfied.
Haroldo Mattos de Lemos, the president of the Brazilian Committee for the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP), spoke of his frustration, saying the draft documents contained only “intentions” and that the Rio +20 would represent a “lost opportunity” if the issue is not rectified.
“For a sustainable future, we need actions that are bold and transformative at all levels, and these steps in negotiating ahead of Rio+20 are vital to ensuring that we get results and commitments at Rio+20 for the benefit of everyone and our planet,” the United Nations Rio+20 Secretary-General, Sha Zukang, said.