Press Conference on Civil Society Reaction to Rio+20 Negotiations

4 May 2012

Press Conference on Civil Society Reaction to Rio+20 Negotiations

4 May 2012
Press Conference
Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York

Press Conference on Civil Society Reaction to Rio+20 Negotiations

With roughly seven weeks left before the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development (Rio+20), civil society activists expressed both frustration and expectations today at a Headquarters press conference, urging Member States to accelerate and energize negotiations.

“We are utterly frustrated and disappointed” at the little energy being put by Governments into “painfully slow” negotiations, said Neth Dano, of the ETC Group (Action on Erosion, Technology and Concentration), referring to the 23 April-4 May round of intercessional meetings, as well as the previous round in March.  Contrary to the enthusiasm many non-governmental organizations had poured into the process, Governments had not mustered the energy needed towards a successful Rio+20 outcome, she said.

Ms. Dano said civil society had put many strategic proposals on the table, such as inclusion of farmers in decision-making and ways to assess new technologies.  Some of the proposals had been discussed, but still needed agreements, while many of them might not even be discussed, owing to the slow pace of debate.  Expressing hope for a concrete result coming out of the 20 to 22 June Conference in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, she stressed the need for an agreement on a post-Rio+20 follow-up mechanism to ensure implementation of the outcome.

Today’s press conference was moderated by Michael Strauss, of Earth Media, who was joined by Susanne Salz of ICLEI (Local Governments for Sustainability); Grace Balawag, of Tebtebba (Indigenous Peoples’ International Centre for Policy Research and education), Philippines; and Jouni Nissinen, of the Finnish Association for Nature Conservation and European Environmental Bureau. 

“If the United Nations is to remain as valuable to the world as it was when it was founded, we need to take some steps potentially to go from the United Nations towards United Actors,” Ms. Salz said, whose organization, she explained, was working to mainstream sustainable cities in the Rio+20 negotiations.  More than half of the world’s population lived in cities, and that figure was growing.  Over the next 40 years, the trend required as much urban-capacity building as had been done over the past 4,000 years, she added.

Stressing that cities were the hub of the economy and produced 80 per cent of gross domestic product (GDP) in the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) countries, she said “whether we get sustainable cities right or not will determine whether we are going to get sustainable development right”.  So far, sustainable cities were drawing attention and being discussed in the context of the Rio+20 draft outcome document.

Ms. Balawag noted a paragraph in the draft document concerning the importance of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People in the context of sustainable development.  Overall, she felt the outcome text should integrate a holistic approach, which should include, among others, issues related to human rights and ecosystems.  On the issue of framing the green economy, indigenous people recommended that Rio+20 support and promote diverse local economies, as opposed to a single green economy.  Emphasizing the need to incorporate indigenous people’s perspective into sustainable development, she described how their cultures had supplied social materials and spiritual strength and had helped them survive multiple crises, including the financial crisis. 

In the Rio+20 debate, there was still a huge divide between developing and developed nations on the United Nations Secretary-General’s “Future We Want”, she said.  Indigenous people faced challenges, such as a day-to-day struggle against the mining industry, and the further plunder of indigenous land, territories and resources, she said, blaming the market-based mechanism and commercialism practiced by many developed countries.

Mr. Nissinen said old and new super-Powers had consumed an unsustainable amount of resources.  That had led to higher prices, which in turn made mine projects profitable and had resulted in the opening of new mines in Finland.  Those mines had caused environmental destruction.  The issue of mining had been missing from the initial draft outcome text, but was now an emerging issue on the agenda.  On the contrary, references to harmful fossil fuel subsidies — which eroded wetland in his country — were at risk of losing their place in the final document as negotiators bracketed them in the text, he said.  The financial crisis had prompted Governments to pull back, but when things were bad, it was the time to work together, he added.

In the question and answer session, Mr. Nissinen said New Zealand, the United States and European Union were among parties expressing reservations about including harmful fossil fuel subsidies in the final text.

* *** *

For information media • not an official record
For information media. Not an official record.