The road from Rio: non-state actors as drivers of sustainable development?13 July 2012
“It’s not easy to get outcomes and consensus at global summits. The European Commission did a good job at protecting the interests of the EU in Rio,” said Staffan Nilsson, president of the European Economic and Social Committee.
“The European Economic and Social Committee (EESC) was very actively involved in the run-up to Rio, enhancing civil society’s contribution and helping it to push the EU to achieve an ambitious outcome,” Nilsson argued.
“We have mixed feelings about the outcome. It’s good that we have arrangements to build on. We need to cooperate with outside civil society too,” he said.
The EESC president said the following regarding the Rio summit’s outcome:
· “A clear political signal was not there.
· A clear commitment to sustainable development was there, but lacked urgency.
· There was no green economy roadmap, but the green economy was present. Business must play its role.
· A commitment to the Millennium Development Goals was underlined. Women will play a crucial role and they must be empowered. We criticised the deletion from the text of their reproductive rights.
· We saw social protection addressed to some degree.
· There was broad recognition of civil society’s role, despite the lack of concrete or binding institutional mechanisms.
· Developed countries committed themselves to reducing resource use, but we need to see implementation.
· A ten-year sustainable consumption and production plan was adopted.
· Sustainable development goals were in the text, but are yet to be defined.
· The role of business was recognised – especially the importance of sustainable reporting. The consumer movement can play a role in ensuring that nice words become reality.
· Preparatory work on governance proposals will start this autumn.
· The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) will be upgraded.”
“There was a lot of negative press afterwards, but there was so much going on in Rio that the business world actually came away feeling quite positive,” said Lena Perenius, executive director of the European Chemical Industry Council (Cefic).
“The document lacked targets and a timeline, but it laid the ground for sustainability. Every country accepted it, and the document was passed unanimously by over 120 heads of state. But some countries had to compromise on issues that were close to their heart,” the Cefic boss said.
“Business is a primary investor and solution provider of sustainable development, especially in Europe. We call on the Commission to create a policy environment that makes the EU as attractive as possible for business investment,” Perenius said.
“We’ve been sceptical about the Millennium Development Goals because they only address developing countries, and not the other contributors to their predicament,” said Bernd Nilles, secretary-general of CIDSE, an international alliance of Catholic development agencies from Europe and North America.
“We wanted a paradigm shift to address the root causes of their situation, but that’s not easy to achieve,” Nilles admitted.
“The sustainable development goals are a success. We wanted a process towards achieving them, rather than targets. We didn’t want to repeat the mistakes of the Millennium Development Goals,” he explained.
“We need a new development paradigm. We’re questioning development paths that are solely based on GDP growth without acknowledging resource scarcity and poverty,” Nilles said.
“Policies that are solely based on GDP growth are a main cause of the environmental problems seen today,” he argued, adding: “Recognising Mother Earth may seem strange to Western governments, but it doesn’t to indigenous communities.”
“Brazilian negotiators said that the days when the EU could dictate the outcome of international summits were over. The EU left Rio frustrated, but some of that frustration has since dissipated,” said Hans Stielstra, a Deputy Head of Unit at DG Environment in the European Commission.
“We went there seeking agreement on key goals and targets for the green economy, for example resource efficiency, energy and water use. Not only did we want these commitments, but we also wanted a way to monitor them and a role for civil society in doing so,” Stielstra said.
“[Environment Commissioner Janez] Potočnik said afterwards that the glass was now half-full rather than half-empty. He expressed his commitment to a substantial follow-up. We all worked very hard for 18 months ahead of Rio to get a text, but it’s what we make of it that counts,” he said.
“We think we have recognition from a number of countries that the green economy plays a key role in sustainable development. To a large extent, we got our targets in. There is no concrete timeframe, but the issues have been recognised,” the Commission official said.