Far from agreement:
Rich nations backtrack as UN Rio Summit nears
With only days to go before the start of the UN Conference on
Sustainable Development in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, the countries are
still far from agreeing on what to say in a summit declaration or plan
The final meeting to prepare for the Conference in UN headquarters in
New York recently made some progress to narrow the gaps, but it was not
Only 70 paragraphs out of 329 in the latest draft declaration have
been agreed on. There are differing views in the rest, which have to be
They have a few days to do so before the political leaders meet on
20-23 June for what is dubbed as the Rio+20 summit, so-called because it
is marking the twentieth anniversary of the historic Earth Summit of
1992, also held in Rio.
Answer sought for waste collection and recycling - a growing
More than a hundred heads of state or governments are expected to
attend Rio+20, making it the most important international conference
It will be held amidst a global financial crisis, growing
unemployment, and worsening environmental problems, including increasing
water scarcity and floods, biodiversity loss, food insecurity and
These are all part of the crisis in sustainable development and its
three dimensions - economic, social and environment.
Unfortunately, the summit comes at a time when developed and
developing countries seem less and less able to reach a common
understanding on key issues and principles.
The North-South divide has been visible in the negotiations at the
World Trade Organisation, in the Climate Change Convention and most
recently at the UN Conference on Trade and Development. The same divide
also exists in the Rio+20 negotiations, the latest round of which ended
on June 2.
Big differences have emerged on the three new issues being addressed
by the Conference - the concept of the green economy, how to define
sustainable development goals, and what new institutional framework to
create to house future activities on sustainable development.
But what is even more worrying is that the developed countries are
attempting to remove or dilute the principles agreed to in Rio 20 years
ago, and to backtrack on the commitments they had made to assist
developing countries through finance and technology transfer in order to
implement sustainable development.
Thus, the North-South divide is not only over specific issues but is
also at the deep level of the fundamentals that lie at the foundations
of international cooperation of the past many decades. These include the
principle of Common But Differentiated Responsibilities (CBDR), and the
commitments on technology transfer and finance.
The CBDR was one of the Rio Principles adopted in 1992. It was agreed
that all countries have a common responsibility to protect the
environment, but also differentiated responsibilities because the rich
countries should play the leading role, due to their greater
contribution to the environmental crisis and their higher economic
This basic principle is under attack. In the recent negotiations, the
United States has made it clear it cannot accept CBDR. Wherever the term
is mentioned, the US wants it deleted.
Almost all developed countries use the excuse that no single Rio
principle should be singled out and a general reference to the set of
Rio principles should suffice.
This is causing great concern to the developing countries, grouped in
the G77 and China. For them, the clear reaffirmation of the CBDR
principle in particular and the Rio principles in general is the most
important point that Rio+20 must proclaim. Otherwise, it would be a
great retreat from the original Rio.
The second serious problem is the developed countries' back-tracking
on their commitment to transfer technology to developing countries.
In the section on technology transfer in the draft declaration, the
US, the European Union, Canada and Australia do not even want any
reference to technology transfer in the title itself.
The original title in the text by the Co-Chairs of the meeting is
"Technology development and transfer." The US, supported by Canada and
Australia, want to delete the word "transfer" and instead change the
title to "Technology development, innovation and science".
The EU also wants a new title: "Research, Innovation and Technology
This is the clearest indication of an intention to kill the concept,
let alone the commitment to, Technology Transfer.
Wherever the words "technology transfer" appears, there is an attempt
by the US (supported by Canada) to put in the words "voluntary transfer
on mutually agreed terms and conditions".
This is backtracking from the previous commitment by developed
countries. In the 1992 Rio Summit and in the Johannesburg Summit in 2002
and in other fora, the developed countries had agreed not only to
technology transfer without restricting the term, but also to technology
transfer on "concessional and preferential terms", or to "fair and most
In one part of the original text calling for enhanced access by
developing countries for environmentally sound technologies, one
developed country even proposed changing the meaning to enhanced market
access to developing countries' markets for the developed countries'
The major developed countries also want to delete entire paragraphs
that call for a balanced treatment of intellectual property rights. For
example, the Co-Chairs proposed that the impact of patents on developing
countries' access to technology be examined, but this was rejected by
almost all developed countries.
On the issue of financial assistance to developing countries, the
developed countries are resisting the concept of new and additional
funds, or any concrete figures or mechanisms. For example, the Co-Chairs
proposed that "We recognise the crucial importance of increases in the
provision of finance for sustainable development". But Canada, the US
and New Zealand wanted to delete "increases in the provision."
The draft also urges developed countries to make additional concrete
efforts towards the target of providing aid equivalent to 0.7% of their
GNP, which had been in the original Rio action plan. But Canada and the
US want to delete this, as they said they have never agreed to this
There is an attempt to significantly water down the role of public
finance in financial transfers to developing countries and shift this to
private financing or even to South-South financing.
The G77 and China proposed that developed countries provide new
funding for sustainable development in developing countries exceeding
US$30 billion a year in 2013-17 and US$100 billion a year from 2018
onwards, and to set up a sustainable development fund.
In fact this is not a new idea, as the UN secretariat back in 1992
had estimated that developed countries should provide $100 billion a
year to developing countries to implement the proposed sustainable
However, in the recent discussions, several developed countries
objected to the mention of concrete funding figures and to the idea of a
There is an air of despondency among developing country delegates,
due to the trend in the recent negotiations. As one delegate put it, the
developing countries are being asked to take on more obligations through
the concepts of the green economy and sustainable development goals, but
there are no new funds to assist them, and there is a backtracking on
the technology transfer commitment.However, there are still some
negotiating days ahead, and there is a slim chance that there may be a
change of heart at Rio itself.
- Third World Network Features