Though the leaders present at the summit agreed that poverty should be given the highest priority to achieve sustainable development, the phrase “green economy” as mentioned in draft-zero of the declaration continued to remain the bone of contention between the developed world and the developing countries.
The continuing ambiguity and lack of any meaningful solution on how developed nations proposed to fund green technologies and programmes of emerging and poor countries was a major disappointment at the Rio+20 UN Earth Summit, where the two main leaders of the rich nations, US President Barack Obama and German Chancellor Angela Merkel, were conspicuous by their absence.
Held exactly 20 years after the 10-day-long first historic summit to save the planet, it had a mixed outcome producing a document which recognised the problems but fell short on a focused programme of action. Many activists are disappointed but negotiators fought hard to strike a middle path to reconcile contradictory, and often opposite, stands of the developed and developing countries. The outcome seeks to restore political commitments. If they are transparently held, it is likely that earth’s ecological balance could be saved while reducing poverty.
Though the leaders present at the summit agreed that poverty should be given the highest priority to achieve sustainable development, the phrase “green economy” as mentioned in draft-zero of the declaration continued to remain the bone of contention between the developed world and the developing countries represented by G-77 +China. The developing countries are rightly concerned that the green economy would replace “sustainable development” as the key paradigm in the environment-development nexus, with the loss of Rio 92 consensus on the three pillars and the international commitments on finance and technology.
Under the garb of “green economy”, unilateral measures and trade barriers are being sought to be introduced which are being opposed by G-77 countries, including India whose Environment Minister Jayanthi Natarajan said: “Green economy has to be bottoms-up and democratised. Otherwise it will be no more than green-wash. Cost of green development can’t be made unaffordable for the poor.”
One significant success of the summit has been the restoration of the centrality of the principle of Common But Differentiated Responsibilities in the environmental discourse which was one of the cardinal principle agreed at Rio-1992 which had brought equity in the centre of the obligations to save the world.
Another major outcome is the paradigm shift from roads to public transport when the world’s biggest development banks pledged a $175-billion to promote buses, trains and cycle lanes. The eight largest multilateral development banks announced in Rio that they will invest these funds—the biggest sum committed at the conferences so far—over the next 10 years to transport systems that help to reduce greenhouse gases, improve access for the urban poor and reduce road accidents.
Alarmed at the state of the planet as revealed by scientists, two kings, presidents and prime ministers had agreed to put signatures on a legally binding convention on bio-diversity, a climate-change agreement that led to Kyoto protocol, a 6,000-page blueprint for action, a six-page paper which linked poverty to environmental degradation, initiative for forests, and new principles to guide world development.
What was achieved at Rio and strategised at Kyoto was diluted over the years. The developed world was not keen to put the action as demanded by the Kyoto protocol on ground. Washington has refused to follow the Kyoto protocol, fearing its citizens would never agree to reduce their consumption levels resulting in lower standards of living.
The global economic meltdown triggered by the US subprime problem, the Eurozone crisis and the emergence of China and India along with Russia, Brazil and South Africa has changed the global balance of power and that is why Rio+20 has been able to craft out a document in the spirit of give and take. The agreed text of the document can best be called a compromise in the backdrop of the global economic slowdown and the Eurozone crisis which prevented many European leaders to participate in the summit.
Misra is a senior fellow at New Delhi-based think tank Observer