Emerging trends from Rio+20
July 9, 2012
The absence of uniformly agreed key performance indicators (KPIs), to monitor progress in an encompassing way, was an inevitable outcome of the divide among the main groups of countries. Mention of the issue of conservation and sustainable use of the oceans, though not as strong as desired, can also be considered a plus.In a bold move, the Brazilian host presented and pressed for the approval of a condensed version of the original manuscript – plentiful in brackets and indecisions — which alarmingly lingered on. He couldn’t disguise a deep relief when Secretary Ban Ki Moon conclusively approved the final document. Though initially a shock for most delegations, the Brazilian proposal slowly gained recognition as something — if far from ideal — very close to what was feasible, if one wanted the Conference to end with a joint declaration.Perhaps more important than screening the text itself is to point out some broad trends that emerged from this renewed effort for a global solution to the climate & sustainability issue:
There is increasing questioning whether this kind of encompassing, multilateral forum is, at present, the right venue to advance such matters. National, regional or collective (not necessarily involving neighbouring countries) attempts seem to be needed, trying or consolidating approaches that could eventually be applied to the global community as a whole. Different networking mechanisms — such as the FSinsight platform — will probably gain even more relevance, as ‘awareness awaking’ focuses and creators of opportunities for furthering debate on specific points. An increase in local and plurilateral initiatives may be expected;
In spite of the general disagreement on KPIs, a rebirth of the (not very new) discussion on widening the scope of the currently available measures of growth, particularly in terms of adapting the GDP to incorporate some kind of environmental accounting, received top and widespread attention. This will continue to gain momentum, and efforts in this direction — probably considering a combination of different indicators, and their clever matching at different geographical levels — seem a must.
Civil society voices
On other issues, like green taxation and environmentally nefarious subsidies, it was also evident that a more comprehensive approach, coupled with physical and engineering considerations of the impacts of individual measures, is still lacking. This nuances the role of certain NGOs which, although relevant, often post rhetoric with fairly narrow objectives. A well-orchestrated combination of the civil society voices with the technical constraints and available economic tools was absent.
The question of changing consumption patterns, more elaborate and present in certain areas of the EU, cannot be dissociated from the quest for minimum living conditions and poverty/inequality alleviation. This may sound as a cliché, but still is a complex matter, with no effective solution without a profound change in cultural and behavioural practices. Again, it seems that more analysis — and better perception and acceptance of country and cultural specificities — is needed before a broadly defined consensus could be achieved at a higher negotiating level.
Disturbing absence of sustainable finance
The last, ironic note is that very little, or nearly nothing was mentioned about sustainable finance and its role in a sustainable development path. A side event, outside Riocentro (the official Rio+20 venue) stood out as one of the sole noticeable efforts in this line. In it, the Brazilian Central Bank announced general guidelines for sustainable finance practices to be enforced on Brazilian banks. Two amongst the largest ones, Itaú and (the Spanish) Santander, are already implementing similar measures, vying for international recognition. The Brazilian Federation of Banks (FEBRABAN) has also started to be vocal in this area. Considering the opportunities offered by Rio+20, with the presence of accredited representatives of 191 UN member states, many with experience in the area of sustainable finance, the absence of more space for these issues is both disturbing and disappointing. FSinsight has a long and winding road to tread.
Rio +20 website