Green economy: the square ball that negotiators struggle to roll

by Adrian Fernandez Jauregui

There is frustration and irritation revisiting, once more, the hallways and negotiating rooms of the UN Commission on Sustainable Development (CSD). Despite the commonly used rhetoric about “moving forward” and “streamlining the text”, progress is slow and the outcome is uncertain.

In Working Group I negotiations (section three and five of the zero draft), the discussion on the Green economy is where disagreements between delegations are most fierce. In this section, crucial points for most countries are being negotiated and every one pulls in their own direction while trying to aim some low blows at anyone who opposes. What is more interesting is that there doesn’t seem to be a clear alliance. At least for now, we aren’t seeing the usual North vs South dichotomy. Some of the most contentious issues are the Green Economy roadmap; also related with commitments, deadlines, targets and goals; and technology transfer, information sharing, and economic assistance.

When the EU pushes for a road-map (the number one point for the EU), the G77 is not hesitant to bracket and delete any mention of the so called road-map. The EU idea of a green economy road-map is a set of commonly accepted guidelines that would be used to achieve commonly agreed goals. In theory this road-map should direct national and international policies, and create regulations that work for a green economy. Ironically enough, the green economy is not clearly defined but some important elements of it would be the phasing out of subsidies, especially those that are harmful to the environment (e.g. tuna fisheries and gasoline), the use of financial mechanisms to leverage natural services, and the main-streaming of green technology (energy and resource efficient, and not carbon intensive). The G77 is not a fan of this road-map for a number of reasons.

One of the most fundamental reasons is that the idea of commonly agreed targets and goals with the combination of specific commitments resembles too closely the infamous structural reforms that took place (and to a certain extent still do) in the vast majority of developing countries, imposed as a condition of foreign aid. The sovereign right of states to decide how they carry on their sustainable development programs is paramount to the G77. For them there is no one roadmap, but as Rene Orellana, head of the delegation of Bolivia, said “if necessary, there must be as many roadmaps as there are countries”

Another issue is that, in the eyes of the G77, the Earth Summit is not about transitioning to a Green Economy, it’s about Sustainable Development. Although those two might overlap, if there is a conversation about road-map it shouldn’t be towards the green economy, but towards sustainable development!

While the US, Canada, the Republic of Korea and New Zealand seem to share a common position with the G77 about committing to specific actions, deadlines, targets and goals, their reasons are diametrically opposed. From the perspective of those developed countries, anyone who rejects the idea of committing to the European road-map represents more expenses in the form of Official Development Assistance (ODA). These developed countries plus Norway, Japan and Australia among others see the green economy as an opportunity to guarantee access to new markets (green markets) for technology and information that enhance resource and energy efficiency. It is their priority to make sure that the document highlights the importance of intellectual property rights regulations and that transferring such property is determined in a bilateral basis (sold at the highest price that the market permits).

Many European countries are keen on the idea having the private sector play a greater role and share more responsibilities (whenever it is profitable) with the public sector. They are also major champions of protecting the markets of green technology and information. For the EU delegation, the way to achieve sustainability is to make it profitable. Once green technology (solar and wind energy, and more efficient and low carbon intensive ways of production) becomes more profitable than the alternative (carbon intensive sources of energy, and industries that use them) …. Thus, when the discussion is about markets and the role of the private sector they all join forces against the G77, criticizing their “unwillingness to achieve an agreement” and their insistence on “blocking the process”.

The perception of the G77 is slightly different. They wonder: now that we have more dynamic economies using technology that the industrialized world has used for decades you want to regulate and ban these technologies, so that you can sell us your new technology? There are a number of reasons to doubt of the intentions of those who preach the need to shift to more sustainable ways of production, but refuse to talk about more sustainable ways of consumption; the underlying problem.

After two weeks of negotiation the hyper inflated text has barely been reduced to nearly one hundred pages (of the no more than 20 pages they initially hoped to materialize). There is only two days left and the final outcome is not in sight. The question for us following the negotiations is: how are they going to reconcile their opposing positions?

The Green Economy Will Inspire All Nations with Positive Light?

By Julian Velez

The EU again steps forward to propose the idea of a roadmap for the Green Economy. They are testing the waters, looking at the reactions of the different groups in order to come up with a proposal of how that roadmap should look like. Their position on how to implement this roadmap is quite visible. Their roadmap plan demonstrates their lack of inclusion of the developing world, especially vulnerable countries: The Least Developed Countries, Small Island Developing States and the African countries have been explicitly suggested for deletion throughout the text. In the EU’s vision there is no space for mention of specific country blocks because they want a general document that doesn’t go into any specificities. They want a green economy that is vague and generic, that doesn’t reflect any of the critical points for the developing world.

They called for the deletion of the right to development under the green economy, which is a key principle for G77 (representing 132 developing countries). The right to development is a concept stemming from the view that the poorest countries of the world don’t have the means to attain sustainable development by themselves, and therefore should be provided with support and means to fulfill sustainable development. The EU called for the deletion of this because in their perspective it doesn’t relate to the green economy and because it shines a negative light on the concept of green economy… maybe they just want to avoid providing any national funding. Furthermore, they suggested the deletion of the recognition of the Rio principle of Common But Differentiated Responsibilities for sustainable consumption and production patterns. As far as I know Haitian and Ethiopian people have a very different lifestyle and levels of consumption than people in France or Germany. Not to mention  levels and differences in production.The EU says that they want a green economy roadmap with deadlines, specific goals, objectives and concrete actions at the international level in a specific number of cross-cutting thematic areas. They are pushing for a focused political document that will inspire nation states to renew their political commitments. It looks as though they are trying to avoid any language that reflects specifics for actual implementation.

But they do want an explicit mention of the green economy in their terms through the involvement of the private investment, domestic resources, International Financial Institutions and South-South cooperation. The EU has no intention of stepping forward for the creation of an that furthers the principle of equity. There is a call for creating a text with positive lighting that would inspire and bring about political will from the Heads of State, but this positive light mentioned by the EU doesn’t seem to inspire and shine upon the developing nations. All nations should take ambitious steps to achieve sustainable development both at the national and the international level, but this doesn’t mean that the developed world is exempt from their responsibility to support with means of implementation. Without commitments from the developed world the roadmap towards a green economy in the context of sustainable development and poverty eradication seems quite bleak for the developing world, and  the principle of equity would not be properly addressed in the future of our economy.Do we want a text that inspires ambitious action form all nations? Or do we want an outcome that inspires another 20 years of inaction?

The Complexities of a Human Rights-Based Approach

by Lara Shirley

1. The demand for a human rights-based approach

In various side-events and negotiations, the concept of a human rights-based approach has come up several times, especially with regard to indigenous peoples, food security, and water.

This is essentially to ensure justice and effectiveness in the agreements that come out of these negotiations, and is particularly relevant within the context of sustainable development. Human rights are essential for reinforcing the social pillar, which can otherwise get lost between the economic and environmental pillars, as they are more easily measurable and less ignorable, although the economic more so.

There was an open letter written by 22 human rights UN experts calling for the document to contain human rights standards in their development goals in order to be successful. For goals to be effectively achieved, there needs to be accountability: for accountability, there needs to be standards, and human rights can be used as those standards.

2. The excuses against a human rights-based approach

Within the UN, human rights are (technically) non-negotiable: they are its cornerstone and one of the initial motives for its creation. Because of this, giving something ‘rights’ in UN carries a lot of weight and often responsibility as well.

Since a human rights-based approach is to help those who don’t already have rights, those that do have them dislike it because they are benefiting from the current situation. Thus, this proposal is unwelcome for most developed countries (excepting the occasional insertion from the Holy See and Liechtenstein).

Developed countries lamely hide behind a few pretenses to avoid acknowledging this. One of the most common excuses is that because the concept of ‘rights’ is apparently vague, the parties discussing it feel uncomfortable committing to something that they don’t know the definition of, and so they replace it with heavily weakened synonyms: ‘universal access’, ‘non-discriminatory access’, or even a paltry ‘commitment to’.

The US is exceptionally adept at dodging the human rights bullet, and during the food security negotiations even stated that a human rights-based approach is irrelevant to a document on sustainable development, because it is being discussed elsewhere.

However, it must be noted that the G77 is not the greatest advocate for human rights either. While they do push for rights to water and food, indigenous rights remain underrepresented. Some developing countries – China being the most obvious example – see human rights as another form of imperialism from the global North, as another excuse to inhibit economic development and impose culture. One issue being wrangled over in negotiations today was development in developing countries – a right that can be hindered by human rights.

3.  The moral implications of the framework of a human rights-based approach

What made the strongest impression on me – during all the events, but especially the indigenous peoples’ side-event – was this juxtaposition between indigenous representatives earnestly speaking about respect for and protection of their cultures, and their use of a distinctly Western non-indigenous negotiating tool: the UN Charter of Human Rights. Their aims become somewhat diluted because they are defined by these channels formed by a completely foreign mentality. In order to take action at such a high level, in this kind of organization and interacting with certain kinds of people, it is necessary to slot yourself into a bureaucratic shape in order to be comprehended and perhaps even listened to.

Unfortunately, by doing this you lose meaning: perhaps not technical meaning, but underlying significance. This links into the previous paragraph of China’s tussle between human and development rights: rights seem to morph into a mere trade-off, and human rights become just another negotiating tool to be manipulated back and forth instead a symbolic and unifying message.

This is not to say I am criticizing the indigenous people for going through this system, because they want results and the UN has the potential to give them that. Crechin Gordon, a policy analyst at the Indian Law Resource Center, spoke at the indigenous people’s side event and explained that a human rights-based approach is key. When socioenvironmental impacts are discussed, responsibility is invoked on actors to mitigate those impacts. When human rights are discussed, you invoke a duty to not violate those rights in the first place. With their acknowledgement, their violation has at least a chance of being prevented.

Human rights are another convoluted terrain fraught with implications and are far more difficult to navigate then they first appear. However, unlike many UN constituents, human rights actually have the potential to be politically maneuvered by major groups to make a change for the better. More power to them.

Jean-Pierre Thebault and France/EU at Side Events


By Bogdan Zymka (Drawing by Ana Puhac)

Side events at the Informal-Informals in New York provide insight into what civil society is up to while the formal informal negotiations go on inside the ECOSOC conference room. Major Groups and NGOs are hosting discussions outside of the negotiations in order to open dialogue with civil society for input into the importance of their messages directly from the constituencies they represent at the informal-informals. It feels like the only enthusiasm for using Rio+20 as a platform for real change is coming from these side events, largely organized by progressive groups.

Member states are aware of the possibility of influence in these Major Group discussions and big names in the negotiations are making their presence apparent in the message being taken away from the side events. A notable presence in side events such as The Role of Major Groups/Civil Society in the Future IFSD and Key Messages of Indigenous People for Rio+20 has been Jean-Pierre Thebault, the Ambassador for the Environment from France representing the position of the EU and France.

Thebault’s involvement in the side events feels strategic and reminiscent of the classic lobbyist. His manor is polite; he waits until the end of the discussion to engage in dialogue. His stance is similar in most events. In The Role of Major Groups/Civil Society in the Future IFSD he affirmed that France has always been a proponent of direct involvement for Major Groups in the decision making process and that they are doing everything they can to influence the EU’s position in order to put forth text that puts power into the hands of the people that governments represent. His message ended with that it was originally former French Minister to the Environment and Green Party leader Brice Lalonde, that proposed that the negotiating space be comprised of fifty percent Member States and fifty percent Civil Society and Major Groups. Thebault pushed for access to documents and speaking time at events such as informal-informals, a process which civil society can only observe. The room ate up the statement, happy with a body such as the EU being on board, but unaware of the consequences from letting lobbying bodies like theirs push the conversation without criticizing their position.

Thebault was again present in the Key Messages of Indigenous People for Rio+20 with largely the same rhetoric. However, the EU’s agenda of painting themselves as the heroes of the process while still making an effort to water down policies was poorly hidden.

Indigenous Peoples have the ears of the member states that represent them. They are an effectively organized group that has made large gains in influencing policies they are a part of. During the end of the discussion is where Thebault’s argument faltered. The discussion had agreed that the next step to action is to pressure large groups like G77 and the EU, and that they need to push with urgency. Thebault followed the consensus by reaffirming that the Major Groups need to push for access with urgency or “else you’ll be planning for Rio +30.” There was a follow-up question and Thebault’s response was contradictory but predictable. He stressed that Major Groups, especially Indigenous Peoples, should only push for access and not full integration and participation in the decision making process, as a small step to begin the process of integration.

Hasn’t it already been twenty years? These types of small steps have gotten us only marginally closer to integration, with member states continuing their influence while the Major Groups’ voices remain completely devoid of any real decision-making ability or influence. The time to push is now; we have the possibility for interventions but Major Groups sit by and can only observe as the tyrannical dismantling of the future we really want takes place.

The outcome of Rio must be a concrete start to implementation of the equitable idea of Sustainable Development. It’s been twenty years too long. Thebault is correct, if we don’t push now and push hard, we are only planning for Rio +30 but we must be careful of pushing a diluted agenda. This is our future that is being picked apart, we must have a voice in its outcome and we’ve waited long enough for substance.