130 Heads of state from all over the world converged on Rio, including the French, Russian and Chinese prime ministers. But conspicuously absent were US President Barack Obama, UK Prime Minister David Cameron and Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany.
Gro Harlem Brundtland, “Mother of Sustainability” and advisor to UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, expressed her disappointment:
“The absences are not good and they don’t look good. One explanation is the terrible difficulties in Europe. The Europeans would normally feel like they should be here,” she told the Guardian. “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.”
Member states announced Tuesday that they had agreed upon a draft of an outcome statement, after months of painstaking negotiations. “We think the text contains a lot of action, and if this action is implemented, and if follow-up measures are taken, it will indeed make a tremendous difference in generating positive global change,” Rio 20’s Secretary-General, Sha Zukang, said in a statement.
The document, entitled “The Future We Want,” calls for the establishment of sustainable development goals, mobilization of financing for sustainable development initiatives, and the inclusion of women, indigenous groups, and NGOs on the agenda, among other action points. It’s now up to the Member States to formally adopt the stated outcomes and commit to enacting policies by the end of the summit on Friday.
In particular, a back room deal quashed the inclusion of international oversight of threatened ecosystems of the oceans from the agreement. “What I have seen at this summit has utterly appalled me,” Alex Rogers, scientific director of the International Programme on the State of the Ocean, told National Scientist magazine.
“The agreement is fine, but global agreements aren’t going to solve anything…The solutions will only come through the enlightened self-interest of countries, companies and individuals.” Conservation International head Peter Seligmann told Reuters.
However, environmental NGOs largely felt the wording of the statement was too weak. “The text as it stands is completely out of touch with reality,” said Wael Hmaidan of Climate Action Network in a statement delivered on behalf of the UN Major Group of NGOs during the summit’s opening plenary.
NGOs and civil society groups have been circulating a petition protesting the call for elimination of the phrase “with full participation of civil society” from the first paragraph of the statement. It currently reads: “…with full participation of civil society, renew our commitment to sustainable development, and to ensure the promotion of economically, socially and environmentally sustainable future for our planet and for present and future generations.”
In his statement at the opening plenary, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said of the summit: “Let us not waste this opportunity. The world is watching to see if words will translate into action, as we know they must.”