There is a world of technical subtlety that separates the diplomatic language from that of our day to day. But, in essence, the difference is not that big. If we recognize our problems and state the need for change, there are two possible outcomes: an epiphany that will trigger specific actions towards a new life or a fleeting moment of consciousness that will be diluted in the inertia of old habits, without major consequences.
When countries say something similar, the bifurcation is the same. It could change everything or nothing. It depends on what comes next. This duality helps to explain, at the same time, the disappointment and the need to grab the lemons that are spread by the official declaration and make the best lemonade out of them.
Of course, after twenty years of the Rio-92, and after two years of negotiations aimed at the new Earth Summit, the mere confirmation of challenges is unsatisfactory. The 283 paragraphs of the document The Future We Want offer intentions when they should have to deal with actions, float in generics when it was about time to decide for the specifics.
But as the energy of thousands of non-state actors who met in Rio de Janeiro cannot and will not be wasted, it is essential to understand the processes going on from the decisions taken at the conference. One can assume that a consensus statement from 188 countries will always have a significant political value. Any practical results depend on the level of monitoring of civil society’s organizations on the promised measures.
Next, we selected ten points from which actions can be taken, together with a summary and an indication of the corresponding paragraphs in the official text. Some of these processes should be started as early as 2012.
The need for developing indicators broader than the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) recognized. Countries requested the Statistical Commission of the United Nations to initiate a work program on the subject, in consultation with other organizations within and outside the UN system and based on existing initiatives. (Paragraph 38)
A 30-member Intergovernmental Committee should be formed with participation of international institutions and other relevant stakeholders. The committee will examine the demands of financing for sustainable development, the different sources of existing resources and their effectiveness. Until 2014, it should submit proposals for measures of improvement to the UN General Assembly. (Paragraphs 255-257)
The focus is on sustainability reports. States encouraged the private sector together with civil society and stakeholders to develop models for dissemination of information on corporate sustainability, based on best practices and existing initiatives. The "lemon", in this case, is an indication that the process should be held "with the support of the UN System". (Paragraph 47)
High-level Political Forum for Sustainable Development
States decided for the creation of an intergovernmental political forum to replace, within the United Nations, the currently weakened Commission for Sustainable Development, created after ECO92. The deadline for installation is September 2013, at the 68th UN General Assembly. The new forum should monitor implementation of commitments, produce reports and promote debates, among other duties. It is recommended that civil society participation in the new institution be enlarged, although only in an advisory capacity. (Paragraphs 84-86)
Strengthening of the UNEP
Strengthening of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) will be defined in practical terms by a General Assembly resolution, starting this year. Among the main directions for the future resolution are the increase of financial stability, the expansion of the regional presence of UNEP and the pursuit of civil society engagement. It was also determined that UNEP Executive Council will have universal membership. Today, only 52 countries are members. (Paragraph 88)
Countries recognized the need for intergenerational dialogue and to further consider the best interests of future generations in the decisions regarding sustainable development. In this sense, States invited the Secretary General to produce a report on the subject, opening a door to deepening this issue in the multilateral system. (Paragraphs 50 and 86)
Production and consumption
The declaration adopted as reference the 10-Year Framework of Programs (10YFP) on sustainable consumption and production, also known as the Marrakech Process. The process was originated in Rio +10, in Johannesburg (2002), but was locked in the Commission on Sustainable Development since 2011. Participating countries of Rio +20 invited the UN General Assembly to designate, in September 2012, a Member State to operationalize it. (Paragraph 226)
Objectives of Sustainable Development (ODS)
A working group should be set up in September 2012 to define the ODS in a manner consistent with the Millennium Development Goals, aimed at the validation and implementation in 2015. The intergovernmental process should be open to all interested parties. (Paragraph 248)
Access to information and justice system
Nations committed themselves to improving forms of participation in the multilateral system, recognizing the importance of civil society’s access to information and justice system. (Paragraphs 42-44)
Registration and monitoring of voluntary commitments
The UN Secretary-General was invited to complies the voluntary commitments announced by countries during Rio +20 on a platform on the Internet, to promote monitoring and continuity. (Paragraph 283)
A major oversight
Without minimizing the importance of issues such as reproductive rights for all women and global governance, it is necessary to highlight a serious omission, which permeates the entire text: the total absence of the concept of natural boundaries.
It is as if, in view of the signatories, technology and eco-efficiency could solve everything. This inconsequential position serves the purpose of avoiding the thorny issue of redistribution of resources across the globe. Pretending not to see that there are limits to the planet’s bio-capacity makes it easier for government representatives gathered in Rio+20 to propose an act that fits the status quo, but is actually impractical. This is the discussion that has not been made and which, sooner or later, the global leaders will have to be faced with.