Recap of Negotiations on the Rio+20 Outcome, Including for Oceans, Coasts, and SIDS

On March 19-23, 2012, the first round of ‘informal-informal’ negotiations on the zero draft of the outcome document of Rio+20 took place at the UN Headquarters in New York. Ambassador Sha Zukang, Secretary General of Rio+20, presented the new draft text, which contains all of the proposed amendments to the zero draft text from States. In his opening remarks, he noted the enormity of the task ahead, and reminded the participants that the General Assembly’s mandate is to come to agreement on a focused political document and that Rio+20 is intended to be a conference of implementation. The outcome must close some of the existing implementation gaps, address new and emerging challenges, and mobilize the political will to address them effectively. Though the document is being reviewed as separate chapters, he reminded the representatives that the outcome document is intended to be a coherent whole.

He proceeded to note points of convergence of ideas under the two themes of the conference: the green economy and the institutional framework for sustainable development. In the green economy, three points of convergence are emerging; it should be viewed as inclusive and equitable, it should respect country ownership and different levels of development priorities, and it should avoid protectionism and aid conditionalities. He noted that the task at hand is to address these risks associated with the green economy, while recognizing the inherent opportunities.

In the discussion on the institutional framework for sustainable development (IFSD), there is consensus on the fact that the IFSD should: integrate the three pillars of sustainable development, enhance review and reporting of implementation, and address new and emerging challenges, although there is no clear convergence on how the new framework will achieve these, apart from agreement on the need to strengthen UNEP. Another emerging idea is the possible development of aspirational goals and targets, covering a range of issues–food security, energy, water, land degradation, sustainable livelihoods, disaster risk reduction, oceans, and sustainable urban planning. These could result in a set of sustainable development goals (SDGs), or at a minimum, Rio+20 could launch the process leading to these goals and define their core principles.

As delegates began the negotiation process, it was noted that the text had expanded substantially following inclusion of the amendments to the zero draft. On the first day of the ‘informal-informal’ negotiations, the Title and Preamble were discussed. Initial discussions on the green economy made it clear that the definition of the green economy and the elements it should entail are still being developed, and that compromise may be difficult in this area. On the second day, the section on IFSD was introduced. Again, consensus was lacking in this thematic area, and some of the discussions were set aside. The third day focused on Section V: Framework for Action and Follow-up. Delegates made suggestions regarding the content of this section, including whether action and implementation should be divided into separate sections, as well as whether this section should include action-oriented items with clear targets and timelines, and whether the specific commitments should be laid out in a separate compendium of commitments. Many delegates noted concern at the slow progress that the process was making.

Discussions on Section V centered around specific issue areas including: green jobs and social inclusion, oceans and seas, natural disasters, climate change, forests and biodiversity, land degradation and desertification, mountains, chemicals and wastes, sustainable consumption and production, education, gender equality, the private sector, sustainable innovation and investment, correct price signals, and mining. Again, delegates expressed concern for the slow pace of discussion, as well as the burgeoning number of proposed paragraphs in some sections that reflects the divergence of opinions and priorities in some issue areas.

Discussions on the sections on Oceans, Seas, and SIDS, covered issues related to oceans and climate, marine protected areas, governance of marine areas beyond national jurisdiction, and ratification and implementation of major ocean-related conventions, with delegations disagreeing on some key issues. Many delegations highlighted the need for a stronger and more focused statement on the important issues associated with oceans and climate change, including sea-level rise, ocean acidification, and extreme weather events. Delegations also stressed the need to push for the further ratification and implementation of the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) and the UN Fish Stocks Agreement. There was also strong support to highlight the need for the further establishment of marine protected area (MPAs) in the context of the CBD Aichi Biodiversity Target, which calls for the protection of at least 10% of marine areas by 2020. There was also much discussion on the need for strong text on addressing illegal, unregulated, and unreported (IUU) fishing, destructive fishing practices, and harmful subsidies. Despite agreement on many areas, there was contentious debate on text calling for the negotiation of a new UNCLOS Implementation Agreement for Marine Areas Beyond National Jurisdiction. The EU, the G-77 and China, and a number of other delegations strongly supported this text, while the US, Japan, Canada opposed text calling for a new agreement.

As the UNCSD Third Intersessional Meeting arrived the following week on March 26-27, 2012, it was clear that there remained much work to be done on the text itself. The co-chairs, therefore, decided to continue informal “paragraph by paragraph” negotiations on the text, rather than hold a formal intersessional meeting as originally planned. As negotiations continued, some were concerned that the text was becoming potentially unmanageable and that discussions on many of the more pressing and controversial issues were tabled.

As well, there were concerns from civil society that the Rio spirit of inclusion and transparency was not being upheld in the Rio+20 negotiations. At meetings with the Major Groups and the Rio+20 Bureau, civil society representatives noted, with great concern, that non-governmental organizations are unable to make statements during the plenary negotiations, and also that the Major Group’s formal amendments to the Rio+20 zero draft text were not included in the negotiating text. Significant concerns were being raised by civil society organizations on the glaring lack of attention on human rights issues in the Rio+20 text. Major Groups were also concerned with the on-the-ground arrangements for the Rio+20 Conference, with limited travel support being made available for NGOs and large blocks of hotel rooms being reserved for large government delegations. The Rio+20 Bureau and the Brazilian government articulated commitments to address these issues and support the access and participation of civil society in the negotiations, including the announcement of an online system for voting on priorities to be included in the Rio+20 process that would provide input into the high-level ministerial segment.

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