A Programme Manager of the Action Group on Erosion, Technology and Concentration (ETC Group) based in Davao City, southern Philippines
Conducted in-depth research and analysis and published work on various issues in agriculture, plant genetic resources and agricultural biodiversity in developing countries, particularly in Southeast Asia. ETC Group is an international NGO headquartered in Ottawa with offices in North Carolina, Mexico City, Davao City and Addis Ababa. Earned a Bachelors’ degree in Development Studies (cum laude) and completed a Master’s degree in Community Development from the University of the Philippines.
Erosion, Technology and Concentration (ETC Group)
Searching for a Way to Bridge the Gap between Developed & Developing Countries?: Rio+20
A Programme Manager of the Action Group on Erosion, Technology and Concentration (ETC Group)
What is going on in the process for Rio+20 ?
Over the past two years, the ETC Group has been closely following the preparatory processes, negotiations and discussions around the UN Conference on Sustainable Development (UNCSD), more popularly known as “Rio+20”. Unlike its predecessor from two decades ago, Rio+20 has had quite a short preparatory process and definitely much less financial support, thus there have been much more limited inputs from national and local levels into the regional and global processes. Highly notable too is the much weaker engagement from civil society, largely because there were very few resources to support participation of non-state actors such as funds, logistical and secretariat assistance. Undeniably, enthusiasm among governments and engagement of civil society in the Rio+20 process are severely lacking compared to the situation in 1992.
One explanation for this is the convergence of crises - economic, financial, fuel, food and climate - that the world is currently facing. These crises pose serious threats to any prospect of achieving sustainable development, but should have also provided the urgency for a UN Conference on Sustainable Development more than ever. After two decades of forging multilateral agreements on sustainable development, trade and the environment since the first Rio, the international community seems to have lost its appetite for more negotiations or for further commitment to sustainable development that has now become a dream even harder to reach than ever before. After all, very little of what was committed since 1992 has been delivered, the state of the environment has never been so miserable, and the gap between the haves and the have-nots has never been so unbridgeable. Donor countries are also facing the worst-so-far challenges to their economic and financial stability. This means that, at this point, it is not a priority to make further commitments to provide financial and technological support to developing countries in a politically-binding document.
Those of us who have followed the Rio+20 process over the past two years have witnessed how painfully slow it has been, and many have asked what kind of political document will be finally adopted in June. However, an explanation can be found by closely scrutinising what is at stake and looking at the broad gamut of highly divisive issues on a whole range of thematic areas that have been debated for many years in different parts of the UN and which ended up in the draft Rio+20 outcome document. There are also “new” and equally divisive issues at the forefront of the debate, namely “green economy” and “the institutional issues in sustainable development” that are not entirely new since they embody the rift among countries that have persisted through the decades. At the heart of the debates around these issues is the persistent challenge on how the three closely interlinked dimensions of sustainable development translate into local, national and global realities.
The ETC Group also monitors and aims to influence other multilateral processes where many of the issues related to technologies and their potential and actual impacts on communities, biodiversity and environment are discussed and decided on. Among the intergovernmental processes and forums that we follow are those that deal with food and agriculture, biodiversity, climate change and other relevant environmental agreements where new and emerging technologies come up. For more than three decades, the ETC Group (formerly called Rural Advancement Foundation International or RAFI) has closely monitored the discussions and negotiations on plant genetic resources, agricultural biodiversity, food security and agriculture at the Food and Agriculture Organization and other relevant forums. In recent years, we have set our sights on processes where synthetic biology, nanotechnology and geoengineering (such as ocean fertilisation) are tackled at the multilateral level.
In this landscape, we have set our ambitions for Rio+20 at a realistic level. We have zoomed in on issues related to new and emerging technologies that pose serious threats to the people and the planet. We have set our aims for Rio+20 in concrete operational terms by calling for the establishment of mechanisms for technology assessment at the multilateral level; strengthening the capacities of communities, governments and international institutions to assess the potential impacts of new and emerging technologies; further reaffirm and strengthen the moratorium on ocean fertilisation; and a call for a global ban on geoengineering.
It is from this clear lens that we engage at Rio+20 and address the issues on the agenda in this process.
Obstacles to Green Economy Talk
--What is the problem with the current talks on Green Economy and how can we solve the problem?
Green economy is a concept that has no clear definition, thus it could mean anything to anybody. This is a fundamental problem underlying the ongoing debate on green economy in the context of the Rio+20 negotiations. It is understandably difficult to agree on how to achieve a goal (which the green economy is, to some) or undertake a process (which it is, to others) that has not been universally defined or operationalised.
The lack of a clear definition has become so contentious because there is so much distrust and suspicion on the motives behind the introduction of this concept. Such reaction is to be expected in any top-down introduction of concepts or approaches that are intended to shape global development path. Governments, especially in developing countries, are concerned that here is another prescription for development that will be imposed on them by donor-countries and multilateral institutions. In the case of green economy, many developing countries have expressed their wariness that it will impose a new set of global standards and potential barriers to trade that will further impede their access to the international market, further squeeze their shrinking share in economic resources and bury the poor even deeper in poverty. These suspicions and concerns are not without basis, as the experiences of developing countries have demonstrated over the recent decades, regarding conditionalities to loans and development assistance, global standards and new trade rules hidden behind environmental and social justifications.
A key concern on the green economy concept surrounds the claim that it represents a new paradigm for development. It is very important to remind ourselves that the UN General Assembly Resolution on Rio+20 has clearly set out that green economy will be discussed as a theme at Rio+20 in the context of sustainable development and poverty eradication. It is not an end itself, but a means to achieve these twin objectives. How can there be sustainable development in a world characterised by highly inequitable distribution of wealth and where only a handful of corporations in developed countries control global economy? It is not clear even from those who are advocating for green economy how this is going to be achieved to attain equity that lies at the heart of sustainable development and poverty eradication. Another sore point in the debate around this theme at Rio+20 is the trend towards the financialisation of nature. This has become clear in many schemes on the valuation of ecosystems and biodiversity, and schemes on market-based mechanisms to conserve the environment and address climate change which are promoted under the green economy. All these have led critics of the concept to ask if the so-called new paradigm that the green economy claims to represent is actually the old “greed economy” paradigm hiding behind a green label.
Voice from Developing Countries
--When the world talks about "Green Economy" these days, what is the voice from developing countries?
There is actually very little voice from developing countries heard in green economy discussions around the Rio+20 process in the past two years. This is because the concept did not evolve from the experiences and realities of developing countries, but mainly from developed countries. While it was the multiple global crises in finance, fuel, food and climate at the end of the previous decade that provided the rationale for the development of the concept, it was the national policies of big developed countries in response to the crises that served as the models for the concept. There is clearly no ownership of the concept of green economy among developing countries and some of them are worried that this type of imposed policy prescription will further limit their development space.
From the debates on green economy in the Rio+20 negotiations, there is clear assertion among developing countries to respect their right to define their own development pathways instead of following top-down prescriptions that are laid out in “road maps” and “goals” which they are pressured to accept at the multilateral level. In the negotiations so far, the farthest that developing countries have accepted on green economy is to acknowledge it as one of the means to achieve sustainable development, thus there is no single road map to reach the goal of sustainable development. Developing countries have also strongly called for the delivery of commitments made by developed countries in 1992 in order to support the eradication of poverty and achievement of sustainable development.
|EU negotiates with India on the final day
at COP17, Durban
Photo by K.Tamura (IGES)
--What do you expect as an outcome from the Rio+20 Summit?
At the very minimum, we expect and are fighting for a strong reaffirmation of the principles adopted in Rio in 1992 which are fundamental to achieving sustainable development, as well as concrete and collective resolve to deliver the political commitments agreed by the international community 20 years ago. For one, we expect to see the operationalisation of the principle of common but differentiated responsibilities (CBDR) that involves the delivery of commitments of developed countries to provide financial and technological support to developing countries to help the latter to achieve sustainable development, which to us is key in eradicating poverty.
We are alarmed by the systematic move by some developed countries to undermine key Rio principles, namely the CBDR, Polluter-Pays-Principle and the Precautionary Principle. We have seen this in the climate change negotiations, as well as in the biodiversity negotiations. At Rio+20, the move not just to undermine, but to throw these principles into the dustbin of history has become very clear and open. Every specific reference made by developing countries to these principles in the draft outcome document has been consistently bracketed for deletion by some developed countries in the negotiations. The flimsy assurance to reaffirm the principles adopted in Rio in 1992 in general without any specific reference to any of them is not at all reassuring in view of the move to undermine those key principles in other multilateral forums.
I am personally not optimistic about any meaningful agreement on the green economy theme, as can be gleaned from the current state of the outcome document. I do not believe that the fundamental differences on the concept, its motivations and purpose can be bridged in the last leg of negotiations in Rio. To me, the most that we can expect under that theme is a general agreement on the means to achieve sustainable development respecting the capacities and realities of every country, but not through a single route such as the green economy.
It seems more likely that there will be agreements reached in adopting a set of sustainable development goals (SDGs), but we cannot expect those to be laid out in detail at Rio+20. Countries will probably just decide to define a process to agree on those goals within a certain period of time, taking into account the timeline for the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) and how this new and broader set of internationally-agreed goals will relate to the existing ones. Unlike the MDGs which were defined by a group of UN experts and politically adopted by heads of states, the SDGs will have the political advantage of being developed by countries and non-state actors in a transparent process. That will probably be presented as the highlight of Rio+20. It is not very ambitious, and not entirely new either since there are thematic goals that were already adopted in Johannesburg in 2002, most of which have not been achieved and in fact, forgotten.
On the issues that we are closely following and for which we have set realistically achievable targets, we expect that there will be agreements on the technology-related issues in the final outcome document that will be adopted at Rio+20 next week, specifically:
- To strengthen the capacity of communities, countries and regional and international institutions to assess the potential impacts of new and emerging technologies on the environment, human health, livelihoods and cultures;
- To reaffirm the moratorium on ocean fertilisation adopted in the Convention on Biodiversity in 2008 and affirmed by Parties in 2010; and hopefully,
- To have a political declaration calling for a ban on geoengineering
--Thank you very much.