RIO 2012: Preparation for a European Position

16 May 2011 | News story

On 4th May, 2011 the European Parliament Intergroup on Climate Change, Biodiversity and Sustainable Development held a meeting on Rio 2012: Preparation for a European position for the Summit on Sustainable Development. The meeting was chaired by MEP Jo Leinen, Chair of the Committee on the Environment, Public Health and Food Safety of the European Parliament (EP).

Kurt Vandenberghe, Head of Cabinet of Commissioner Janez Potocnik, DG Environment, European Commission (EC) opened the discussions. Mr Vandenberghe explained that the Commission is currently preparing a communication on Rio (due June/ July). He outlined the differences that have occurred over the last 20 years since the previous summit in Rio – the end of the economic crisis, the effect of borrowing beyond our needs, new emerging economies etc. And also the achievements which include: people earning more, improvement in access to education, health care, clean water etc. But there are still challenges, one sixth of the world is under nourished, the millennium development goals have still not been reached and there has been increased environmental degradation. The world is still faced with one huge challenge – how do we live and prosper together within the earth’s physical restraints. Can a green economy be the answer to this challenge?

Green growth has certainly garnered increased attention, OECD, UNEP etc. are working on it even the G20 has turned its attention to aspects of it. But green growth has to take into account both environment and poverty and not just jobs and growth. We have to turn environmental challenges into economic opportunities, use businesses to help protect the environment. Valuing natural capital is at the heart of green growth, resources are not for free. Green growth provides opportunities for all countries of the world; it’s not a hindrance to developing countries and should not be seen as such.  Green growth and Rio 2012 have an environmental dimension but they need all sectors to be involved to be successful. And that is why the Environment Commissioner is working with all the Commissions on this and with Heads of States and businesses so that environmental constraints can be turned into economic opportunities.

Christophe Bouvier, presented UNEP’s position and contribution for Rio 2012, he emphasized the importance of this transformative moment that demands political will from all the actors involved. In this regard, he pointed out that the keyword for Rio 2012 is “feasibility”, implying that the level of ambition for the proposed objectives should meet a real vision.  UNEP wishes to put on the agenda topics converging towards the achievement of a green economy, the most important goal, in the context of international sustainable development.  Nevertheless, emerging issues should also be taken into consideration in the Rio 2012 outcomes.

The international framework for sustainable development was brought into discussion in the international environment governance debate.  Consensus within the United Nations already exists, in the sense that they recognize the need for transformational reform and the construction of a new model of governance on the basis of what already exists. Referring to actors involved in environmental governance, Mr. Bouvier called for a common position of the EU and its Member States and the United Nations in “this battle”.

David Osborn, Rapporteur’s Expert for the European Economic and Social Committee (EESC) and President of Stakeholder Forum stressed that EESC was strongly engaged in Rio 2012. He highlighted that summits are not just about showcasing but they are also about learning from others. Rio 2012 will re-enforce the call for effective sustainability strategies, however the EU strategy has been flagging recently. He asked the EU to include the strategies revival as part of its preparation plans for Rio 2012. He noted that there is a consensus - we cannot keep going in the same way, a transformational change is needed, and we have to build on what we already have.

He noted that key principles need to be brought together to help guide the Rio process. We need open discussion and debate with access for the general public. The sustainability message is spreading but we need to re-enforce it through renewable energy, sustainable transport and a sustainable built environment etc. We have to shift the debate out of the environmental sphere into the economic sphere, the EC and the EP have to reach out to all of their colleagues – and most importantly sustainable development has to be the topic of the future for the international power brokers.

Marc Pallemaerts, Senior fellow, Institute for European Environmental Policy (IEEP), expressed his views that not much has changed between each of the Green Summit Debates. Buzz words and phrases have remained the same with little actual achievement. In Johannesburg in 2002, the EU had a relatively high level of ambition but other key players did not. The Rio Acqui was somehow saved but it did not really re-invigorate sustainable development. In this context the omens are not good, and considerable extra work is needed, and the EU needs to show more leadership. 

Suspicion is being expressed that the concept of a “green economy” is less than was committed to previously. It is problematic that it is being presented as a new concept. Patterns of consumption remain unsustainable and this trend has not changed and yet we have a tendency to keep reducing the agenda. For example we have a narrow EU environmental agenda that mainly focuses on resource efficiency and climate change. Also the EU’s track record is not convincing to the rest of the world when you look at certain policies such as fisheries, common agricultural policy etc. Further work is needed if we want to show true leadership and remain credible.

Marc also highlighted the importance of making a clear unambiguous commitment to the Kyoto Protocol in Durban in December 2010 - how can we expect Rio to be successful if the Climate Change negotiations in Durban are not. We also need to look at our internal policies and revive the EU sustainability strategy and show that we are making serious efforts to reduce our ecological foot print, along with allocating the proper resources in the next EU budget.

Constanza Martinez, Senior Policy Officer, IUCN reported that bearing in mind that 2012 is a year of opportunities for IUCN, the Rio 2012 Conference will be treated in a strategic manner. The World Water Forum, held in March 2012 will offer the Rio Conference the opportunity to tackle water issues as well. Also the outcomes of Rio 2012 will be very important for the upcoming IUCN World Congress, to be held in September 2012. The strengths of IUCN consist of its unique position that allows it to remind national governments that biodiversity and the environment are important in policy making. Although negotiations for the institutional framework for sustainable development are stuck, IUCN is very active in the debate about global biodiversity governance.

For Rio 2012, IUCN aims to showcase examples of good models of governance, such as ENPI-FLEG in Europe and to reinforce the idea that progress can be achieved with a rights based approach and appropriate access to information. In terms of expectations, Rio 2012 is an opportunity for governments to show that intergovernmental approaches are still relevant. All the possible measures and plans related to governance already exist; therefore the main question is how to put them into practice. Reflecting on this issue, IUCN notes the need for agreements on institutional frameworks and on a green economy and invites further reflection on the progressively more effective action of civil society, compared to governments.