No agreement, some hope as Rio+20 starts

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, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

The largest international gathering of them all got underway in Rio de Janeiro this Wednesday June 13 with no agreement on how the world could be made more liveable and sustainable at the same time. Delegates from 193 countries are still divided over key issues – development financing, capacity building especially in least developed countries, technology transfer, the “green” economy and the framework of action to implement all these ideas.

But as the first lot of 50,000-odd politicians, officials, NGO representatives and media descended on this fabled city on Brazil’s Atlantic coast and jammed up the streets, Sha Zukang, head of the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development (UNCSD), was confident that the differences would be resolved. The last preparatory committee meeting of officials started on Wednesday, and by Friday they are supposed to finalise a declaration on “the future we want”. There was agreement on only 20% of the declaration and many developing countries still have deep fears that it may place new obstacles on their paths to development. But the fact that this summit is “not focused on treaties but on action”, as Sha put it, may help resolve the differences.

The negotiations have been going on at the UN headquarters for months and have got nowhere. Sha more or less acknowledged that by saying “the negotiations in New York have been challenging. Now we must drastically accelerate the pace of negotiations” before heads of government and other ministers reach Rio for the summit finale June 20-22. On Wednesday, the government representatives split into five thematic groups in an effort to resolve the differences in smaller meetings. 

Luis Alberto Machado, chief negotiator from host country Brazil, said that Rio+20 was fundamentally different from the original Earth Summit because “what we need now is implementation, not new laws.” The 1992 summit in this same city led to three conventions – to fight climate change, to preserve biodiversity and to halt desertification.  There has been much argument over them in the last 20 years, and Machado felt the time now was to implement those treaties rather than negotiate any international agreement afresh.