Expectations low for Rio+20 summit
Wed, 20 Jun 2012 2:21p.m.
As Brazil welcomes nearly 120 heads of state and government for a summit on global development this week, the mood could not be more different than it was two decades ago, when global leaders gathered here for the landmark Earth Summit.
Back then, once-arcane concerns about climate change and deforestation had finally grabbed the world's attention. It led to a global treaty on biodiversity and decisions that cleared the way for the Kyoto agreement on greenhouse gases.
Now, however, the minds of global leaders are elsewhere.
Instead of clean energy, food, the oceans and other topics scheduled for debate at Rio+20, political focus is attuned to a teetering Europe, turmoil in the Middle East and a presidential campaign in the United States.
Although more than 50,000 visitors are expected in Rio de Janeiro by the end of the three-day event, few concrete results are expected from the summit.
At best, officials could agree on clarity for proposed "sustainable development goals" - a loose tripod of economic, environmental and social objectives that proponents believe could help guide global development.
Earlier this week, negotiations were still underway for a final declaration that heads of state will review and debate later in the week.
The text, which was supposed to have been approved in an earlier conference in New York, failed to receive approval due to some controversial points.
Brazilian ambassador and chief negotiator, Luiz Alberto Figueiredo, said it was clear that the deal would give the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) more power.
"This is the text that Brazil proposed. Therefore this is a text that will give us the possibility of taking UNEP to a new level," he said.
But the prospects are so dim that Figueiredo admitted that the summit risked being "held hostage" by other priorities.
Many of the officials attending the summit will likely be focused on matters discussed this week at the Group of 20 meeting in Mexico, where leaders of the world's major economies are debating the global economic downturn.
Greenpeace political director, Daniel Mittler, said negotiators were taking out all key points from the final document.
"Any progress that you hear about in press conferences is about progress to water down the text to avoid commitment. In reality governments are here to do nothing and to commit to nothing," he said.
When established, the goals are expected to build upon a current round of objectives, known as the millennium goals, which UN members agreed to pursue at least through 2015. Those objectives include eradicating hunger and extreme poverty, improving access to education and reducing child mortality.
But Mittler said there was no political commitment to carry out these goals.
"1992 was not as wonderful as many now believe. But it is sadly true that compared to 1992, what is on the table now in 2012 here at Rio+20 is much less and is a disgrace to our leaders," he said.
UN negotiations are slow-moving processes because it requires finding common ground among 193 member countries and bridging huge gulfs in priorities between the developed world and emerging markets.
The sustainable development goals, while still being defined, are built around three vague issues that mean different things to different countries: economic development, social inclusion and the environment.
3 News / Reuters
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