Wednesday, May 25, 2011

On the Road to Rio+20

The failure to adopt an agreement on thematic issue policy recommendations of CSD 19 casts a shadow on the expectations for Rio+20. However, the tentative adoption of the 10YFP does provide some necessary momentum for Rio+20, a follow up to the Rio Earth Summit Rio+20 (June 2012) has a two-fold agenda:

1) To develop a green economy in the context of sustainable development and poverty eradication (GESDPE).

GESDPE seeks a harmonious marriage between the environment and the economy.  In the short-term, GESDPE aims to find win-win strategies to build early confidence.  In the long-term, it strives to support strategies such as green growth, which “emphasizes environmentally sustainable economic progress to foster low-carbon, socially inclusive development.” 

Structural changes in economic governing institutions and technological advancements are necessary compliments for effective implementation of GESDPE.  While earlier discussions have focused on reconciling trade-offs between the seemingly disparate agendas of economic growth and environmental wellbeing, in recent years the focus has shifted to recognizing the overlaps.  Economic growth alone will not guarantee improved human wellbeing nor bolster the ability of nations to deal with environmental stresses on their own. GESDPE encompasses global issues ranging from climate change to biodiversity loss to the disruption of the nitrogen cycle.

2) To develop the institutional framework for sustainable development (IFSD).

IFSD aims to integrate the three pillars of sustainable development (economic, social, environmental) into policy and implementation at all levels. This integration means that sustainable development be a consideration in developing legal frameworks and shape the way that policies are carried out day-to-day.

IFSD will require guidance from the scientific community for monitoring, accountability, and knowledge sharing.  Doing so will not only eliminate overlap and duplication of efforts, but also bridge the gap between policymaking institutions and those responsible for implementation.  The success of IFSD will rest in enhanced participation, especially of traditionally marginalized groups. Strengthening governmental capacity for sustainable development through proper establishment and enforcement of regulatory and incentive frameworks will also be a requisite for success.

As the world looks to Rio+20, we all look for stronger international cooperation and active participation for sustainable development.  We have great expectations, for “if not us, then who? If not now, then when?”



Sunday, May 22, 2011

Finalizing the Ten-Year Framework of Programmes on Sustainable Consumption and Production

After a nearly 12-hour negotiation session, government delegates tentatively adopted a six-page Ten-Year Framework of Programmes on Sustainable Consumption and Production (10YFP on SCP) at 5:15 am Friday morning (5/13). The negotiations took place between twenty people sitting in small conference room, with six groups dictating the negotiations (G77, US, EU, Australia, Canada and Switzerland). With the 10YFP nearly finalized, it is worth looking back at how the critical issues raised in last week’s post were addressed.

  1. Organizational structure: UNEP has been asked “to serve, within its current mandate, as the 10YFP secretariat.” In this role they will facilitate meetings and prepare reports on the 10YFP, including bienneial reports to CSD. If UNEP’s provision of complementary food at CSD side events is any indication of their performance managing the 10YFP, the outlook for SCP is good.
  2. Financing: The 10YFP “invites UNEP to establish a trust fund for SCP programmes to mobilize voluntary contributions from multiple sources, including public/donor contributions, the private sector and other sources including foundations.” The bulk of SCP financing, however, will depend on existing resources.
  3. Means of implementation: SCP programmes have 11 criteria, namely that programmes “be based on lifecycle approaches, including resource efficiency and sustainable use of resources, and related methodologies, including science-based and traditional knowledge based approaches, cradle-to-cradle, and the 3Rs, as appropriate.”
  4. Indicators: None! Based on this morning’s ministerial dialogue on “moving towards sustainable development: expectations from Rio+20,” this will continue to be a sticking point at Rio+20.

Agriculture…did not make the illustrative list of five programmes. Need for a strong push at Rio.



Wednesday, May 11, 2011

"Beyond the Tipping Point"

Wednesday morning marked the start of the High-Level Segment of CSD-19, with high-level government ministers taking over the CSD negotiations. The morning session began with keynote speakers, including a speech (~minute 26) from Dr. Jeffrey Sachs, Director of the Earth Institute at Columbia University. Dr. Sachs said we have passed beyond the ecological tipping point we have anticipated for decades. He said we are in a “global ethics crisis,” with governments unable or unwilling to address environmental crises or to address the “juggernaut” that is the global pace of resource consumption. While he criticized the United States for inaction and “going backwards, scrambling for resources,” he commended Europe as the only region that has made progress toward a sustainable economy.

To shift to a sustainable world, he envisions a four-part strategy:

(1) Creating a technological road map: Current technologies will not suffice for our future energy challenges. The US oil lobby, however, prevents any negotiation on sustainable energy solutions.

(2) A global carbon levy: Developing countries need assistance to adapt to climate change and we need to fund more research and development relevant to sustainable consumption and production (SCP). Both have been promised by developed countries to developing countries, however these commitments have not been fulfilled.

(3) Regional cooperation: Global solutions are limited as it is difficult to reach consensus on many aspects of SCP. We can look to Europe as a model as they are building the regional scale infrastructure necessary for SCP.

(4) A global knowledge network: Our global challenges are too complex to leave to lobbyists and politicians. A network needs to exist where leading scientists can have access to global negotiations and share their know-how.

After over a week of tedious negotiations and prepared government statements, Dr. Sachs’s candid evaluation of our environmental crises and criticism of government inaction were welcomed with prolonged applause and a standing ovation from more than a few in the audience. But when, if ever, and how will his vision for sustainability be implemented? If we have learned anything from the CSD negotiations, it is that consensus is often elusive in international negotiations. Perhaps regional cooperation will prove to be the more effective forum for decisive action for sustainable development.



The Agri-Food Task Force on Sustainable Consumption and Production

Tuesday’s side event, “Delivering a Programme on Sustainable Food Systems,” was an update from the Agri-Food Task Force on Sustainable Consumption and Production (SCP). The goal of the Agri-Food Task Force is to set the agenda in CSD for sustainable agriculture as well as focus efforts on promoting concrete programs for agriculture within the 10-year Framework on SCP. Although today we have enough food to “feed everyone easily, we still have a problem with it,” according to Ms. Aida Tunovic of the Netherlands Ministry of Environment and Infrastructure. Ms. Tunovic suggested we need to focus on cross-ministerial cooperation on projects (including ministries of health), make sustainable agriculture a top priority of governments (as have some European countries), and reflect the true cost of food in the price. Mr. Luis Flores, a representative from Consumers International, also pointed out that many parts of the food system are currently not part of regulatory framework, notably street markets, although they play an important role in the food system in terms of employment and consumption.

As mentioned in Friday’s post, agriculture has a minimal presence in the negotiating text on SCP. However, the work of the Agri-Food Task Force prior to this year’s CSD negotiations more or less ensures an agriculture program on SCP regardless of the negotiation outcomes. One potential tangible benefit from agriculture’s inclusion would be the opportunity for linkages between agriculture and other SCP programmes, and, as noted by Ms. Tunovic, linkages and cross-ministerial cooperation provide opportunities for significant progress on sustainable development.



Monday, May 9, 2011

"Towards Green Economy and Poverty Reduction"

Friday’s side event, “Vision for Rio+20: Global Consensus for System Change towards Green Economy and Poverty Reduction,” discussed Green Economy, one of two themes for next year’s CSD. The speaker was Rae Kwon Chung, Division Chief of the Environment and Development Division United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (UNESCAP).

Mr. Chung contrasted the current “Brown Economy,” in which we do not pay for ecosystem services, with the vision for a “Green Economy.” He argues the Brown Economy cannot continue because it leads to global climate change and higher oil and food prices. These outcomes have a disproportionate effect on the poor; resolving these problems creates a win-win synergy between poverty reduction and the Green Economy. In spite of this, many less developed countries resist sustainable development as conditions on their development rather than embrace it as a method to reduce vulnerabilities for the poor.

“Roadmap for Green Growth” is an upcoming UNESCAP report outlining how to transition toward a Green Economy. Mr. Chung shared the five main points of the report: shifting emphasis from quantity to quality of economic growth; internalizing ecosystem services in market prices; investing in sustainable infrastructure; greening the economy through tax reform; and creating incentives for low carbon economies. Such initiatives could close the Green Economy “price gap” by internalizing the costs of environmental externalities and the “time gap” for achieving “green growth” by investing in the Green Economy today, but perhaps the most pertinent question for Rio+20 is how to close the political gap preventing governments from adopting these policies in the first place. Mr. Chung said the UNESCAP report contains case studies of countries shifting to a Green Economy; such concrete examples of success may be a first step in closing the political gap.