Rio+20: Will it help save the planet? “The time for change is now!”
Morocco World News
Antibes, France, June 22, 2012
From June 20–22, 2012 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, heads of state, UN agencies, and global stakeholders are convening for the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development (UNCSD), commonly known as “Rio+20.” The Rio+20 summit is a follow-up to the landmark 1992 Earth summit in Brazil, at which international treaties to tackle climate change and conserve the Earth’s diversity of plants, animals, and other life forms were agreed.
The world is at a crossroads: the convergence of global economic meltdown and unchecked global warming is driving action in the streets, from the Arab Spring to the Occupy Movement. We must seize this momentum and use Rio+20 to force a paradigm shift. Environmental and economic justices are intrinsically linked. Market-based strategies that commodify all of nature have increased inequality and failed to reduce emissions or protect ecosystems. In addition, some civil society organizations are considering the “green economy” concept as a Trojan horse for further destruction of nature! Building a global consensus on sustainability is becoming increasingly difficult as a result of economic crises in the world, mainly in EU, and a US political climate that is increasingly hostile to action on climate change. In this context, there is no doubt about how much the economic crisis is affecting the goal of sustainable development, as each country seeks to protect its own interests and forget a bit about common interests and commitments, and unfortunately there are some countries that make this goal of a green growth or development as a way to revive protectionism.
In fact, the climate of economic crisis, recession in Europe, stagnation in the US, a slowdown in the Asian giants affects and influences the whole world.
It is estimated that by 2020, two thirds of the world’s population will live in areas affected by severe water stress. Demand is projected to grow to 40% above currently accessible supplies, and climate change promises to throw a wrench into these dynamics by altering patterns of rainfall and seasonal flooding that communities have been accustomed to for generations.
But the Rio +20 summit has a different goal: to achieve a development model that is sustainable. This means harmonizing three key elements: 1) economic growth, 2) social justice and 3) safeguard and protection of nature. A key objective of the talks of the current days is to interlink “three pillars”: economy, society and environment. This has alarmed many conservationists who say the environment should be given higher priority because it is the base without which it is impossible to build either an economy or a society.
To achieve these three goals, we require among others: resources, international cooperation, technology transfer, more powerful international organizations, etc. With the impact of our ecological footprint in mind, we must protect our natural resources while providing socio-economic benefits and allowing for sustainable development.
The aspirations that emerged from Rio have not been matched by commensurate actions, with the dangerous consequence that sustainability is now more distant than ever. It is obvious the complexity of the situation in a multi-stakeholder world with different, sometimes opposing, interests. Nonetheless, current trajectories must be reversed immediately.
Tuesday, June 19, last plenary session before the arrival of heads of state, ministers adopted a final text for the RIO+20 summit. Brazil, host country, took the leadership with a forced march, while blockages continue for 6 months. This resulted in a consensus text said [balanced], but leaves a bitter taste in many countries whose aspirations have not been transcribed. As for civil society, it will bounce back to not abandon the idea of developing new ways for “the future we want.”
It is a pity that world leaders such as Barack Obama and David Cameron are absent from the summit currently taking place in Brazil. The financial and economic problems that some countries face don’t make it easier for them to agree on things that they would have agreed to before 2008. While the first Earth summit was driven by optimism and idealism to save the planet, negotiators at the Rio+20 gathering appear to have appealed instead to baser human instincts: self-survival and profit. One of the key tools mentioned in the draft document is the promotion of a “green economy”, which aims to create jobs and profits through low-carbon, resource-saving businesses. There are also moves to put an economic value on environmental services provided by nature, and to incorporate environmental factors alongside GDP as a measure of national well-being.
On the EU side, and on the margins of Rio+20 summit in Rio de Janeiro; the European Economic and Social Committee (EESC) stressed the absolute need to put in place genuine mechanisms for dialogue and democratic participation in the transition process to a green economy and sustainable societies. “What the EU has brought to Rio from Brussels is the way in which we in the European Union integrate dialogue with our social partners and civil society into our decision-making process” said European Commission president José Manuel Barroso at the opening of the event. “Platforms that bring stakeholders together, like the EESC, have a crucial role to play in engaging civil society in dialogue, both inside and outside Europe. They can also provide the basis for sustainable development observatories that enjoy broad ownership,” he added. “One of our main messages is that the EU and all other international stakeholders must effectively involve social partners and other civil society structures in the Rio+20 follow-up that is designed to secure the transition towards a new green economic order.
The road from Rio is as important as the road to Rio has been up to now”, said Staffan Nilsson, EESC president and leader of the EESC delegation at Rio+20 summit. There was broad agreement during the debate that governments set the frame for a change towards sustainable development and a green economy. However, governments alone will not achieve what they have agreed upon without the commitment of businesses, industry, workers’ organizations and all other civil society stakeholders. Platforms for dialogue and participation such as economic and social councils and councils for sustainable development at national and regional level have proved to be effective and must continue to rise to the challenges ahead.
On the Arab side, the transition to a green economy in Arab countries should take into consideration the challenges, available opportunities, as well as the socio-economic and environmental reality in the region in order to develop a regional vision that is in line with and complementary to regional specificities and priorities, and reiterates renewed commitment to sustainable development principles. As such, the Arab region will gain a stronger position and speaks in one voice in this Rio+20 summit. Since early 2011, the Arab region has been experiencing decisive and highly significant political shifts that reflect the yearning of Arab populations for decent life and for consolidated institutional action based on transparency and good governance. Those shifts are expected to have different– either positive or negative – repercussions on sustainable development in general and on transition to a green economy in particular.
It is necessary to closely monitor those changes and assess their potential impact on the management of natural resources in the region, and particularly on (available) oil resources and (scarce) water resources. On the positive side, Arab countries will not need to start from scratch as they can build on multiple success stories of green infrastructure development projects and initiatives to move towards a green economy. The challenge lies in expanding and upgrading programs and projects to achieve national and global benefits. One of these success stories is the extended use of solar energy in Morocco: a solar power plant was inaugurated in May 2010, the first of its kind in Africa and the Arab world. The plant is expected to generate an annual rate of 3538 gigawatts per hour and to cover around 13 per cent of Morocco’s power needs.
Egypt has developed a leading experience in using wind energy in the Arab region. In 2008-2009, hydroelectric power generation and wind energy reached 11.3 per cent and 0.7 per cent respectively, while combined power generation reached 11.9 per cent and 1.8 per cent respectively. The combined power generated by wind farms rose from 430 megawatts to 550 megawatts (August 2010). The Higher Council of Energy approved the strategy of the Ministry of Electricity to increase the renewable energy share of total electrical production to 20 per cent by 2020 (including 12 per cent from wind energy). The combined energy capacity should not be less than 7200 megawatts of which 66 per cent will be procured with the participation of the private sector.
Among the Arab positioning vis-à-vis this RIO+20 summit: Algeria reaffirmed Rio principles and called to explore the reasons behind the delayed implementation of sustainable development goals. It hoped that the summit would reach a clear agenda with clear funding and follow-up mechanisms. Morocco stressed that the green economy should have social, commercial, technical and financial dimensions. Tunisia said that the latest revolution in the country reflected the importance attached by the youth to decent employment and social justice. It also called upon Rio summit to promote global justice and decent work.
From Science and Youth side, and as member of the Global Young Academy (GYA) and General Secretary of Arab World Association of Young Scientists (ArabWAYS), I believe that scientists, and science, are fundamental to realizing the goals of sustainability. All scientists, whether academic, government, or industry-based, must actively engage with civil society and decision-makers to convey the urgency of the global challenges that lay before us. By mobilizing scientific knowledge we will also help communities understand how their choices may hinder or accelerate progress toward sustainable development goals. On the other hand, obstacles to initiating this dialogue must be overcome within the scientific community itself.
Public engagement must be valued, and not seen as something best left to others. Moreover, we must foster scientific literacy in the broadest sense. The goal here is to ensure that citizens have the tools to engage in societal debate and make informed choices regarding the future of their communities. We will work to transform scientific education from rote-learning to inquiry-based problem solving, at all levels from kindergarten through post-secondary education. An inquiry-based approach will illustrate how scientific discoveries are made and how past evidence catalyzes them. More transparency will build both public trust in scientific information and capacity to weigh evidence supporting competing positions in the transition to sustainable development.
From water actors side, and as an expert working in water issues among EMWIS (Euro-Mediterranean Information System on know-how in the Water sector), I can say that there is a certain satisfaction, despite the shortcomings of the general plan of the Rio Declaration 20 which are to be adopted on Friday June 22. As known, water is at the foundation of sustainable development as it is the common denominator of all global challenges: energy, food, health, peace and security and poverty eradication. As such, the preparations for Rio+20 have highlighted seven areas which need priority attention. These include decent jobs, energy, sustainable cities, food security and sustainable agriculture, oceans, disaster readiness and water.
There is a specific chapter on Water and Sanitation, as well as food security and energy. It has not been an easy job for the negotiators. Too many issues. Too many contentious topics. Some have been debated up to the last minute (including in the chapter on Water). However, there are some spotlights to be mentioned:
-The recognition of the contribution of “water and sanitation within the three dimensions of sustainable development” and of the “importance of integrating water in sustainable development” makes that Water is a good candidate for a Sustainable Development Goal and that it is no longer viewed as a purely Environmental issue.
-The stressing of the need to adopt measures to significantly reduce water pollution and increase water quality, significantly improve wastewater treatment.
That said, there is a real problem in what is not in the text! Nothing on cross-border cooperation (except for wastewater!) Nor the management basins. This is the result of a staggering decline of “national sovereignty”, the only solution found by the negotiators to resolve their differences. Hence, there is a strong affirmation of “national sovereignty”; which is the way that was found by negotiators to solve their inability to agree on some issues. It is very surprising to see that this concept has appeared as indispensable in a very simple text on water! Water is undervalued everywhere in the world but water sovereignty is not. The collateral damages are on transboundary co-operation and river basin management, which have disappeared from the global landscape. Obviously, basin management is an issue for countries that depend on a common watershed and consider their “national sovereignty” as not negotiable. We can wonder whether this repeated affirmation of a political concept that was decided in the XVIIth century (Westphalia Treaty – 1648) is still fully adapted to our XXIst century and our globalised world in which we all depend from other countries.
The two hottest water-related topics in international negotiations on water are these transboundary issues and the right to water and sanitation. Up to now they were separate issues. Unfortunately, in Rio+20 they have become interlinked.
The good news: Water is quoted in many other thematic parts of the text: Food security and nutrition and sustainable agriculture, Sustainable cities and human settlements, Health and population, Biodiversity, Desertification, land degradation and drought, Mountains. However, there is also bad news: no mention of Water in the chapter on Energy.
The principle to adopt global Sustainable Development Goals before 2015 (with progress assessed by targets and indicators) is one of the major outcomes of the Conference.
Energy seems to be one of the few areas for which a decision for action has already been made with a target of 1.4 bn people to get access to sustainable modern energy services (no timeframe decided).
Overall, the main outcome of the Conference is that the contribution of Water to all 3 dimensions of Sustainable Development is confirmed formally which, between other consequences, makes that Water cannot be restricted to its Environmental component. The next global step is the building of a useful “transformational” Sustainable Development Goal on Water.
I think personally, that despite many disappointments expressed by several international organisations vis-à-vis this summit outputs or discussions, it remains an important step forward towards progressing and committing to saving our planet. That said, more efforts and pressure must be exercised at the political level to make commitments real in the expected timeline.
World leaders at Rio must acknowledge the critical importance of working together and building partnerships to make progress towards sustainable, equitable management of our water resources across a diverse array of sectors, stakeholders, geographies and times. We cannot afford another international conference with no actionable outcome. Time and water are running out!
The world cannot spend another twenty years in further discussions about the path toward sustainability. Progress toward a sustainable future must accelerate, and it must be both inclusive and enduring. Despite all the challenges, we can still believe in creating a prosperous future that provides food, water and energy for the 9 or 10 billion people who will be sharing the planet in 2050.
Hence, Rio+40 must be a celebration of progress, and a turning point for future generations and for the planet. The time for action, commensurate with the immediacy and diversity of sustainability challenges, is right now.
Dr. Jauad El Kharraz has been Information Manager of the EMWIS Technical Unit since early 2004. He has a BSc in Fluid Mechanics from the faculty of Sciences of Tetuan (Morocco, 1998), an MSc and PhD in Remote Sensing Sciences from the University of Valencia, (Spain, 2001-2003), and a master degree in enterprises management & strategy at the CERAM European School of Business (Sophia Antipolis, France). He has also had experience working on several European research projects funded by different entities (European Commission/EuropeAid, European Space agency/ESA, CSIC/Spain, etc), such as: Watermed, Siflex, Daisex, etc. Member of the organizing committee of the international symposiums: RAQRS’I and RAQRS’II. Co-leader of the water panel at the WANA Forum, etc.
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