Green Economy Coalition gives Rio 2012 text a Grade B-

Good effort, but really must try harder

Joshua Sortino 5581

Twenty years on from the first summit on sustainable development, this week the UNCSD Bureau released their first negotiating draft for Rio 2012.  They have called the draft ‘the future we want’.  They say that it aims towards a ‘prosperous, secure and sustainable future for our people and our planet’. They express their ‘determination to pursue the green economy in the context of sustainable development and poverty eradication’. So, given the momentous challenges that face our societies and the planet, does the document live up to these ideals?  Is this a blueprint for a better future? Is that future tangible, possible and near? 

From a distance, the document ticks many of the right boxes.  It pulls together a range of different strands and proposals into a single piece ranging from finance and poverty alleviation to ecosystem preservation and climate change. It picks up on a large number of issues and proposals that we, and our partners, have been promoting over the last six months here at the Green Economy Coalition. But, while all the right elements of the composition are present, the picture as a whole is blurry. The document lacks urgency, it lacks courage, it lacks conviction.  The ‘future we want’ is painted in watercolours with hazy edges and indistinct areas, it is not a bold oil painting that shows us the pathway towards a more resilient, secure and just world.

“This kind of global meeting only happens once a decade. This text needs to be as bold, visionary and urgent as the moment demands. This is one step forward. There are three more to go: This plan needs to be financed; have clearer responsibilities; and it needs to have a much more urgent timescale.”

Oliver Greenfield, Green Economy Coalition

We have benchmarked the first negotiating draft against our own vision for a green economy; a resilient economy that brings a better quality of life for all within one planet limits. In short, we have taken a red pen to the text and graded their plan for change.  Our initial reaction is as follows, but we would really welcome everyone's input:

1. Measuring what matters: Grade B+

The draft tackles the issue of measurement in pretty comprehensive terms.  It propose to launch an inclusive process to devise Sustainable Development Goals by 2015; it recognises the limitations of GDP as a metric for change and calls on the Secretary General to move forward on it;  it also pushes for all listed and private sector companies to integrate sustainability information into their reporting cycles.  These are all big steps in the right direction.  What is very obviously absent is the notion of ‘environmental limits’ or ‘planetary boundaries’ which should underpin each of these different metric propositions. There is also need for much greater clarity, and indeed thought, on how these different metrics interrelate and impact one another.  So, our big question back to the UNCSD Bureau is: How can we integrate these proposed initiatives of corporate, national and global metrics so we start measuring what matters in a coherent way?

2. Driving investment towards people and the planet: Grade C-

Mention is made to ‘innovative instruments of finance’ for building green economies and reference is made to public procurement, fiscal reform, the removal of subsidies that undermine sustainable development, all of which the  Coalition has been promoting. It calls for International Financial Institutions to ‘review their programmatic strategies to ensure the provision of better support to developing countries for the implementation of sustainable development’.  This is all encouraging stuff.  However, the text steps rather delicately around the question not only of how much the transition is going to cost, but how we are going to leverage additional funds. From our past experience of Rio 1992 we know that governments alone will not be able to pay for the transition so we need to think a lot more creatively about how to leverage additional finance.  So, the question we would like to see tackled in the next draft is:  How are we going to kick-start the finance of a green and fair economy in order to create long term investor confidence?

3. Investing in people: B-

We really welcome the focus on job creation opportunities and social inclusion in the zero text. It stresses the need for investment in public works for the restoration of national capital, sustainable land and water production systems, sustainable forest management and new markets linked to renewable energy.  We are also pleased that our support for a social protection floor for all citizens has gained some ground and that there is an explicit focus on social well-being. Finally, we are also glad to see the strong recognition of participation and engagement across all communities and sectors.  However, while the draft is keen to emphasise the need for a green economy to deliver poverty alleviation, there are few concrete proposals focused explicitly on the underlying causes of poverty rather than merely the symptoms. So, the big question needs to be asked again: How can we ensure that the poorest benefit from and are supported through the transition to a green economy?

“ The zero draft text is a good start, but there is a long way to go until governments agree a consensus text in Rio in June. By then many of the ambitious ideas set out here may have been struck out by negotiators, or perhaps bold concepts will be added. There is much to play for over the next five months if we are to achieve a summit outcome which matches the scale of our current challenges and collective aspirations for a fairer, more sustainable way of life. ”

Camilla Toulmin, IIED
4. Restoring natural capital: Grade B-

We see a resolve to value the wealth that natural capital brings our economies and our societies in the text. It stresses the importance of the marine and ocean resources and calls on governments to maintain or restore depleted fish stocks. It also calls for a ‘Non-Legally Binding Instrument on all Types of Forests’ and recognises the contribution of land to poverty eradication and food security. However, it doesn’t make reference to stopping deforestation or the role of existing mechanisms such as REDD+ for finance.  So, for us, we would like to return to the core question: How will a green economy improve the management of our natural world?

5. Transforming high impact sectors and services: B

We really welcome the support shown for Sustainable Energy for All initiative launched by the Secretary General, with the goals of providing universal access to a basic minimum level of modern energy services for both consumption and production uses by 2030.  We’re also glad to see a call for the renewal of the 10-year framework on sustainable consumption and production. The draft also proposes that business and industry develop green economy roadmaps for their respective sectors, with concrete goals and benchmarks of progress. By comparison, cities, agriculture and transport feature too infrequently across the draft. However, what is overtly missing are the signals and framework required to kick-start this transition across all high-impact sectors and services.  So, we would pose the following question: How can governments grow and support green industries and markets?

We commend the UNCSD Bureau for their work so far (see here for our Coalition member IIED's response).  We now challenge governments to answer these big questions in the next draft and to create specific commitments on measurement, on finance, on natural system management, on investing in people, and how they will support green economic sectors. We challenge them to use bold and vibrant colours and to paint pathway of transition that inspires us all to action. Let us move from a Grade B to a Plan A.

How would you grade the draft? Let us know your thoughts.