Beyond Rio+20: NGO key focus areas
Wael Hmaidan, Director, Climate Action Network – International (CAN-I)
In light of short-term politics and traditional benchmarks, Rio+20 could easily be described as a lost opportunity. Despite over one hundred Heads of State attending the conference, no new political will was created and the Outcome Document itself was agreed upon before they even arrived. Barely any new commitments are included in ‘The Future We Want’ and, unlike 1992, no treaties were signed nor any major new agencies or funds created. Instead of agreeing on actual numbers and targets, new processes were established to agree on numbers and targets at a later stage. In other words, what Rio+20 mainly did is kick the ball a few years further down the line.
In the aftermath of Rio+20, it is important for us as civil society to follow the various processes coming out of the Conference, most notably the development of post-2015 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The SDGs process has already begun and the time is therefore now for us to start engaging. At the UNGA this September, an open-ended Working Group on SDGs will begin its work, starting with the setting out of their terms of reference, which is to be based on recommendations from the UN Secretary-General. The next 3 to 6 months are therefore crucial in influencing the set-up of that process. Beyond this, the next high profile event to take place will be the MDG review Summit (high level event of the UNGA) in New York on 23rd September 2013. Finally, an end Summit in 2015 is currently planned for the signing of the SDGs.
However, the SDGs are not the only important process coming out of Rio. Also to be launched is a negotiation process to establish a high level political forum on sustainable development. This forum was a compromise following the inability of states to reach an agreement on a new Sustainable Development Council, but it is hoped by some that this forum could still lead to the formation of a body with a similarly strong mandate. This forum will provide high level political guidance and possibly determine the agenda of the UN-led sustainable development process. Civil society must therefore follow these discussions closely.
Ban Ki-moon’s Sustainable Energy for All (SE4ALL) initiative was only noted in the Outcome Document and thus weaked. Nevertheless, SE4ALL is being used as a prototype and could feed into the development of other SDGs as part of the post-2015 development framework. SE4ALL is based on three goals: universal access, energy efficiency, and renewable energy. The metrics for this initiative are very weak and based on what politicians will action.
Also relevant to the energy issue is the removal of fossil fuel subsidies, which was one of the key demands of civil society. The final text on fossil fuel subsidies is not inspirational or ambitious. Nevertheless, it is the first time in a UN context where phasing out fossil fuel subsidies is mentioned. The momentum created within civil society must continue, building upon several global initiatives on this issue already underway. For example, several countries, including Denmark, New Zealand, Norway, Luxembourg, Ethiopia and Costa Rica, have formed a fossil fuel subsidy reform group, which will be expanded in the coming six months. The group will create strategies and plans for how to phase out fossil fuel subsidies with the aim of presenting them at the UNFCCC COP 18 in Doha, Qatar.
Other elements of the Rio+20 Outcome Document that civil society should keep an eye on include:
The adoption of the 10-Year Framework of Programmes on Sustainable Consumption and Production, which is an agreed paper that needs to be implemented. This element is being led by UNEP and civil society has not been especially involved so far.
The agreement on corporate sustainability reporting.
Going beyond GDP to measure well-being, which is due to be reviewed by the UN Statistical Commission but with no clear timeline.
In addition to working on the different elements of the Rio outcomes, NGOs should also rethink their approach and explore how they can become more effective. For example, one key area that civil society can improve in is the link between the environment and development movements. At the moment, there is a divide between the two at a government, UN, and NGO level, and it is essential that this relationship is strengthened and not weakened further.
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