Rio+20 Negotiators Reach Agreement On Document for Political Leaders at Summit

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By Murray Griffin  

RIO DE JANEIRO--A plenary session of Rio+20 negotiators June 19 endorsed by consensus a document that they say will pave the way for new sustainable development goals and lead to a strengthening of the United Nations' capacity to deal with global environmental concerns.

The document will be presented to political leaders, who begin three days of discussions June 20.

Environmental groups have greeted the outcome with dismay and urged leaders to ensure they deliver a far more robust deal.

WWF spokesman Lars Gustavsson told BNA the meetings so far had been a “diplomatic circus that has arrived at a document that commits to really nothing more than more U.N. process.”

“We now need world leaders to come in and rescue the process,” he said.

Similarly, Greenpeace International Executive Director Kumi Naidoo described the document endorsed by negotiators as “an epic failure.”

The European Union in its official statement was low-key about the outcome, welcoming it “although a number of ambitions were not fully achieved.”

European Commissioner for Climate Action Connie Hedegaard was more blunt, making it clear that many delegates had hoped for stronger commitments. The outcome was “disappointing,” she said in a Twitter message soon after the close of the plenary. It was “telling that nobody in the room adopting the text was happy,” she said. “That's how weak it is. And they all knew.”

However, U.S. Special Envoy for Climate Change Todd Stern, the chief U.S. negotiator, doused speculation that leaders would revisit the document before formally endorsing it, although he acknowledged it was possible for them to do so.

“I believe this document is done,” he said.

World Leaders to Attend.

U.N. officials expect 193 nations to be represented at Rio+20, officially called the U.N. Conference on Sustainable Development, which comes 20 years after the 1992 Earth Summit, also held here. The United Nations expects more than 100 heads of state and government will attend the conference, which ends June 22.

Chinese President Hu Jintao, Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, Russian President Vladimir Putin, and French President Francois Hollande are expected, although U.S. President Barack Obama will not come. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton heads the U.S. delegation.

Stern, speaking at a news briefing after the close of the plenary, said the Brazilian government, which holds the presidency of the conference, has “no plan or intention to let the document open up.”

Given the compromises all parties had to make in the course of the negotiations, any attempt to do so could lead to the package unraveling, he said.

Stern described the result as “a negotiated document with a lot of different views from a lot of different players, so quite obviously it isn't everything to everybody.”

“Certainly some things could have been improved, but I think it is a good, strong step forward,” he said.

Strengthening UNEP.

Significant components of the package include “some important things institutionally, including significantly strengthening UNEP [the U.N. Environment Program] in the U.N. system; also establishing a new high-level forum on sustainable development in the U.N. in New York,” Stern said.

The new high-level forum will replace the U.N. Commission on Sustainable Development, which is widely regarded as ineffective.

The final text provides few specifics on two issues that have been described as core themes of the summit--preparing sustainable development goals and encouraging nations to move to a “green economy.”

Some negotiating blocks, including the European Union, had pushed for specifying some of the themes for a new set of sustainable development goals (SDGs). However, the final document simply sets out a U.N. process for establishing them.

Brazilian officials told a June 19 news conference that while the document does not specify themes for the SDGs, they were likely to be drawn from the “thematic areas” described in Part V of the text, under the heading of “a framework for action and follow-up.”

The SDGs, which unlike the existing Millennium Development Goals will apply to all nations, should be “action-oriented, concise and easy to communicate,” the document says.

'Green Economy' Proves Contentious.

The concept of the “green economy” proved controversial in the talks and the document avoids being prescriptive about how nations can transition toward it.

The final text refers to “strengthening” UNEP, proposing structural changes and measures to provide it with “stable, adequate and increased financial resources.” The changes will be decided at the 67th meeting of the U.N. General Assembly later this year.

The document does include a reference to the 1992 Rio Declaration on Environment and Development and its 27 principles, including “common but differentiated responsibilities.”

The phrase has become increasingly controversial, largely because of how it has been interpreted in climate change negotiations. Stern, the U.S. official, warned at a preconference briefing June 15 that it should not be used to justify building a “firewall” between developed and developing countries on the nature of their commitments.

Instrument for Action.

Maria Luiza Ribeiro Viotti, Brazil's ambassador to the United Nations, told the June 19 news conference now was not the time for legislation and treaties but rather for new instruments that would lead to action. The final document had delivered that, she said.

The Brazilian government on the weekend tried to break the logjam that had slowed progress on the proposed outcome document for the conference, putting together a new streamlined draft.

Brazil took the 81-page draft that negotiators had been wrestling with at the final preparatory meeting and on June 16 presented delegates with a 50-page version that the Brazilians hoped would prove less divisive.

The Brazilian document was further modified before delegates approved it for submission to the conference.

By Murray Griffin
Contributing to this story was Michael Kepp

The text agreed to by the Rio+20 negotiators is available at

More information on Rio+20 is available at

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