rio+20 towards and beyond
Observations of the UNCSD 2nd Intersessional Meeting
(15-16 December 2011, New York)
Mixed feelings on expectations for Rio+20:
Could Rio+20 become a new precedent of sustainable development multilateralism?
The Second Intersessional Meeting of UN Conference on Sustainable Development (UNCSD: Rio+20), was held on 15-16 December, 2011, in New York. With only six months left until Rio+20, did the meeting come out with any clues for the outcome document?

The meeting opened with UNCSD Secretary-General Sha Zukang’s remarks to urge participants to approach these discussions in a positive spirit of collaboration and for the international community to work together constructively if we are to build “the future we want.” The participants shared highlights of the compilation of submissions1 from States, UN bodies, intergovernmental organisations and Major Groups, and discussed the development, format and structure of a “zero draft” of the Outcome Document, which is expected to be ready in mid-January 2012. Certainly, the recent climate change conference in Durban has enlarged a sense of optimism about multilateral collective action, not only in the area of climate change, but also for the sustainable development arena, yet feelings about this iimeeting’s outcome have been mixed. Let’s look at what happened.

Programme Management Office
Meeting results: what are prospects for a zero-draft of an outcome document of Rio+20?
Regarding the format and structure of the outcome document, there was general agreement that the document should be a focused and concise political declaration with a set of agreed actions. Many called for these actions to promote multi-stakeholder participation, specify timeframes and means of implementation, but various views on whether the document to be negotiated or voluntary, attached as annexes or included in the existing document. I've heard general feelings from some delegates that the result fell short of their expectations, and the most predictable outcome could be a voluntary, political declaration with annexes attached.

On the two themes of the Conference, Green Economy in the context of Sustainable Development and Poverty Eradication and Institutional Framework for Sustainable Development (IFSD), there were broad agreement that transition to a green economy is a means to achieve sustainable development and not a one-size-fits-all approach, and that all three dimensions of sustainable development (economy, society and environment) need to be addressed with a strengthened IFSD with better coordination at all levels. It remains to be seen whether various proposals on each theme will be included into a political declaration or in annex, but I’ve sensed a general atmosphere here and there that the latter is more likely.

On the other hand, there has been a growing momentum for the development of Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), a proposal made originally by Columbia, currently with the support of Guatemala and Peru, to address all three dimensions of sustainable development to be universally applicable including both developed and developing countries, unlike the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) which mainly targets developing countries. There is also general support for developing measures (i.e. indicators) of sustainable development beyond GDP. However, views on the conventional principle of “common but differentiated responsibilities (CBDR)” are starting to change as several countries stressed CBDR “with respective capabilities” to be a key principle of SDGs and progress towards MDGs should not be blocked by a new SDG process. In this regard, I believe that identifying “common goals” at a global level and targets with “differentiated responsibilities” at a national level as well as the link between SDGs and MDGs could be the key points for discussion towards Rio+20. The questions is, to what extent could Rio+20 agree on the definition, scope, and roadmap for SDGs?

Another discussion point at Rio+20 is the new and emerging issues. Brazil informed about eight issues to be discussed during four days thematic meetings right before Rio+20, which include; food security and poverty eradication, sustainable cities, energy, innovation, water, oceans, economies in sustainable development, decent jobs and migration. Many countries also mentioned the “10 Year Framework of Programmes on Sustainable Consumption and Production (SCP)” to be adopted at Rio+20, while a few countries noted the importance of the UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon’s “Sustainable Energy for All Initiative.” These two could be additional deliverables at Rio+20 as there was no clear opposition to them in addition to the list of new and emerging issues to be outlined in the outcome document.

The Bureau will review the results of this meeting on the week of 19 Dec. and decide the format and structure of the zero-draft, which is to be available by mid-January 2012.

The way forward
The meeting did not have a zero-draft in hand which meant that the content of discussions was soon exhausted as it turned out that there was a lack of speakers during the meeting. However this has at least pointed to the possibility of a zero-draft of the outcome document as a political declaration with annexes attached and deliverables such as SDGs. So far, the prospect of the outcome document of Rio+20 is not really clear as the expectations for Rio+20 have not really been as high as they were 20 years ago. Can we hope that Rio+20 will become a new precedent for sustainable development multilateralism backed by the COP17 outcome or will it turn out to be a just another UN Conference? Official negotiations will begin from the end of January 20122 and continue up to Rio+20 in June. We must keep a positive outlook on this. Several member states have stressed that the success of the Conference should not be evaluated only by the outcome document, but also by the active engagement of civil society. Yes, I agree. What we can get out of Rio+20 depends on making timely contributions to the process with our clear vision, collective voice and positive actions.
1. All member states, relevant United Nations system organizations, and relevant stakeholders was invited to provide inputs to UNDESA (Rio+20 Secretariat) in writing by 1 November 2011, for inclusion in a compilation text to be presented by the Bureau to member States and other stakeholders for their comments and further guidance at the this second Intersessional Meeting. This compilation document is to serve as basis for the preparation of a zero-draft of the outcome document, to be presented for consideration by member States and other stakeholders by January 2012.
2. Initial discussions on the zero draft of the outcome document begin on 25-27 January 2012.

*** The contents of this commentary are the opinions of the author(s) and do not reflect the views of IGES.

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