North-South divide over Rio+20 outcome document

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The Rio+20 Summit in June is only a few months away, but many issues remain unresolved. This article gives a detailed account of the major issues where deep divisions are evident, mainly along North-South lines.
The first round of the informal negotiations on the zero draft outcome document for the UN Conference on Sustainable Development (Rio+20) held in New York on 19-27 March saw a clear divide among developing and developed countries on several key areas.
These included the green economy, the institutional framework for sustainable development, the sustainable development goals and the means of implementation.
Developed countries were also opposed to proposals by the Group of 77 and China (G77) in referring specifically to the Rio principle 7 of “common but differentiated responsibilities” (CBDR) in several parts of the outcome document, as they did not want this to be singled out and given particular emphasis, preferring a general reference to all the Rio principles in the beginning of the outcome document.
(The Rio Declaration on Environment and Development adopted at the 1992 UN summit is the internationally agreed set of principles for sustainable development, and was the outcome of intense negotiations.)
In response to this, the G77 reiterated that while it supported all the Rio principles, there was an appropriate place and context for the reference to the CBDR principle in specific parts of the draft outcome document.
The 206-page compilation text of the document that now includes proposals and amendments by Member States is comprised of five chapters viz. (1) preamble/stage setting; (2) renewing political commitment (3) green economy in the context of sustainable development and poverty eradication (4) institutional framework for sustainable development (IFSD) (5) framework for action and follow-up including Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and means of implementation (finance, access to and transfer of technology, capacity building).
Below is an analysis of some of the key areas of the divide among the Member States.
(1)  Green Economy in the context of sustainable development and poverty eradication
On the “Green Economy in the context of sustainable development and poverty eradication”, the G77 proposed the insertion of several introductory paragraphs saying that these are necessary to address the context for the green economy.
The G77 wanted a reaffirmation “…that market-based growth strategies are insufficient by themselves to ensure equitable economic growth and to solve the problem of widespread poverty, to provide adequate health care, education, full employment and decent work for all and to reduce inequality and promote social development and inclusion.”
The US, Canada, Japan and New Zealand in response wanted a positive tone expressed instead of having a negative start to the chapter.
The G77 proposals also called for reforms in global economic governance, including in the financial system and architecture and the need to continue to work towards a new international economic order.
These proposals were opposed by developed countries (the US, Canada, Japan, the European Union and New Zealand) who called for its deletion. The US said that these issues were “off topic” and that there was need to “maintain focus on sustainable development”, a sentiment shared by the other developed countries.
The detailed proposal of the G77 in this regard is as follows:  “We reaffirm that the current major challenge for developing countries is the impact from the multiple crises affecting the world today, particularly the ongoing economic and financial crisis, as a result of the deficiency of the international financial system.”
In this context, the G77 wanted a reaffirmation of “the urgent need to address the lack of proper regulation and monitoring of the financial sector, the overall lack of transparency and financial integrity, excessive risk taking, overleveraging and unsustainable patterns of consumption and production in developed countries. These economic repercussions have also aggravated poverty, social exclusion, increased unequal distribution of income and wealth, and undermined efforts to implement sustainable development. In this regard we call for deepening the reform of the global financial system and architecture in order to give more voice to developing countries. Recognizing the vital role played by the major United Nations Conferences and Summits in the economic social and related fields in shaping a broad development vision, we also reaffirm the need to continue working towards a new international economic order based on the principles of equity, sovereign equality, interdependence, common interest, cooperation and solidarity among all States.”
A further proposal by G77 is as follows: “We are convinced that sustained and widespread prosperity will require major reforms in global economic governance, including the reform of the global financial system and architecture, along with the renewed commitment to sustainable development to balance material wealth improvements with the protection of the natural resources and ecosystems and to ensure equity and justice.” 
The G77 also proposed that “sustainable development must remain our overarching goal.” It further proposed that member states “…view green economy in the context of sustainable development and poverty eradication as one of the tools to achieving sustainable development. In this regard, we emphasize the need for each State to assess and consider related opportunities, challenges and risks as well as the means of implementation needed. It should foster integration of the three pillars of sustainable development and not be a rigid set of rules, but provide options for policy making.”
The G77 further proposed that “Green economy policies in the context of sustainable development and poverty eradication should be developed with respect to the right to development of each country while allowing for the eradication of poverty and hunger, the achievement of social equity while reducing inequalities, and reducing environmental degradation with a view to reestablish harmony with nature. At the same time, it is vital to promote sustainable development models in order to encourage changing the unsustainable consumption and production patterns. These efforts should be supported by an effective international cooperation through technology transfer, capacity building and financial resources on favourable terms, in accordance with the commitments made at the major United Nations Conferences and Summits on sustainable development.”
The US and Japan wanted the “right to development” bracketed while the EU, New Zealand, Switzerland, US and Canada called for deletion of the last sentence in the above paragraph relating to international cooperation on technology transfer, capacity building and financial resources.
Another G77 proposal to address the challenges faced by developing countries in the adoption of green economy policies was also opposed by the EU, Japan, US, Switzerland and New Zealand.
The proposal by the G77 was as follows: “We acknowledge that developing countries are facing great challenges in eradicating poverty and achieving sustainable development. The adoption of green economy policies may result in risks, challenges and additional costs to the economies of developing countries. Such challenges and risks should be duly considered by countries in accordance with their priorities and at their own pace. In this regard, developing countries’ efforts should be supported by adequate means of implementation by developed countries, including new and additional financial, technical and technological assistance, such as the transfer of environmentally-sound and state of the art technology, as well as capacity building.”
The G77 also made further proposals “…to recognise and respect the existence of different approaches, visions, models, policies and tools, sovereignly decided by each country, in order to achieve sustainable development and poverty eradication in an integrated manner including the three pillars.”
It wanted to emphasize “that green economy in the context of sustainable development and poverty eradication should be in strict accordance with national objectives, social, economic, and environmental development policies and the attainment of internationally agreed sustainable development commitments, including the MDGs (Millennium Development Goals).”
It also called for the “need to foster better understanding of the social, environmental and economic implications and impacts of green economy and for international support and cooperation, including of the UN system, to facilitate the achievement of sustainable development, through different nationally defined visions, models, policies, tools and approaches, including green economy, while recognizing that no one-size-fits-all solution to sustainable development.”
On the issue of what the green economy policies must not do, the G77 wanted such polices not to: (a) create trade barriers or any form of protectionism, unilateral measures or other border trade measures, consistent with principle 12 of the Rio Declaration on environment and development; (b) generate conditionalities in the areas of financing, ODA (overseas development assistance) and other forms of international cooperation ; (c) widen technology gaps or exacerbate technological dependence of developing countries on developed countries; (d) restrict the policy space for developing countries to pursue their own paths to sustainable development, inter alia by imposing additional mandatory and/or legally binding commitments on developing countries; (e) endanger the development of indigenous people and local communities, their cultural heritage and traditional knowledge, including those of minor ethnic groups; (f) increase inequality and endanger the development and advancement of women, youth, children and disabled people; (g) represent a pretext for developed countries to renege on past commitments; (h) limit the livelihoods of small and subsistence farmers, fishermen and those working in small and medium enterprises and (i) restrict productive activities in developing countries that are key for eradicating poverty.
Developed countries in general were not in favour of several of the proposals above and wanted their deletion.
The EU also proposed the establishment of “a global green economy roadmap, with deadlines for specific goals, objectives and concrete actions at the international level in a specific number of crosscutting and thematic areas.” This proposal was not agreed to by Canada, the US, and New Zealand.
(2) Institutional framework for sustainable development (IFSD)
For the G77, the strengthening and reform of the institutional framework is viewed as “not an end in itself but a means to achieve sustainable development, and should lead to the balanced integration of the three dimensions and mainstreaming of sustainable development, without putting any additional burden on developing countries or posing an obstacle to their development prospects and respecting their national priorities and policy space.”
The G77 also recognized “that coordination and cooperation among the Multilateral Environmental Agreements, as well as effective leadership are needed in order to, inter alia, address policy fragmentation, and avoid overlapping and duplication. We resolve to promote synergies according to their mandate and to streamline the work of MEAs, as appropriate, in order to increase efficiency and effectiveness in their activities.”
It also believed that the IFSD should have two overall functions: implementation of sustainable development and integration of the three pillars of sustainable development (social, environmental, economic).
The G77 reserved its position on the various options proposed for institutional reform.
On the proposal for the transformation of the Commission on Sustainable Development Council (CSD) to a Sustainable Development Council (SDC), Japan, Russia and Mexico did not support this proposal while the EU said that it had not finalised its position on the issue. Liechtenstein and the Republic of Korea supported the proposal for an SDC.
While supporting the SDC, Switzerland proposed that the Council “develop a peer review mechanism that would encourage states, in a constructive spirit, to explain their policies, to share experiences and lessons learned, and to fulfil their commitments.”
The EU supported the proposal to “…establish a UN specialized agency for the environment based on UNEP with a revised and strengthened mandate, supported by stable, adequate and predictable financial contributions and operating on an equal footing with other UN specialized agencies. This agency, based in Nairobi, would cooperate closely with the UN system and other specialized agencies. This proposal was opposed by US, Canada, Japan, and the Russian Federation who wanted this deleted.
The EU, Ukraine, Liechtenstein, and the Republic of Korea also supported the proposal for this Agency to “…be the designated Agency of the UN system on environmental issues and have clear policy advice and guidance functions as well as authority on assessment and early warning on the global environment. It will build strong links between science, policy and decision-making to support evidence-based and coherent decision-making inside and outside the UN.” The US, Japan, Russian Federation and Canada called for a deletion of this proposal.
The G77 also called for the reform of the “international financial system, including through an ambitious and expeditious reform of the Bretton Woods institutions, particularly their governance structures, based on the full and fair representation of developing countries, in order to address the democratic deficit in those institutions and improve their legitimacy; and …support developing countries in the implementation of activities for sustainable development including through the provision of resources, without conditionalities.”
A related proposal by the G77 was for the “…International Monetary Fund and World Bank quota realignments to result in an equitable voting power distribution between developed and developing countries, without diluting the quotas and shares of individual developing countries, and reiterate that the existing quota formula, biased against developing countries, has to be improved before it is used again...”.
These G77 proposals were opposed by the EU, the US, Japan, Canada, New Zealand and the Republic of Korea.
The G77 also called for the establishment of an “International Transfer of Technology Mechanism under the General Assembly in order to promote, implement and monitor concrete actions, supported by stable adequate and predictable financial contributions and focused on bridging the technological gap between developed and developing countries and facilitating transfer of technology in sustainable development and strengthen national capacities in developing countries on scientific understanding and technology evaluation.”
The EU, Japan, Canada, New Zealand and the US wanted this proposal deleted.
(3) Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)
In explaining its position on the SDGs, Pakistan, speaking for the G77, said that there are 3 elements in the Group’s approach which consists of (i) its vision of the SDGs; (ii) principles that should guide them; and (iii) the process for advancing the SDGs.
On the process, Pakistan said that the Group was still working on the precise approach needed and among the elements of the process should be that it be intergovernmental, be under the UN General Assembly and be inclusive, transparent and open-ended.
In supporting the need for SDGs, the G77 proposal is for recognition “that goals can be useful for pursuing sustainable development, taking into account the need for an integrated approach incorporating economic, social and environmental dimensions and recognizing their interlinkages and avoiding dealing with them in separate or parallel tracks.”
“In this regard Sustainable Development Goals, built upon the MDGs, could be a driver for implementation and mainstreaming of sustainable development as well as of integration of its three dimensions.”
The G77 further proposed the recognition of “…the importance and utility of a set of Sustainable Development Goals which are based on Agenda 21 and Johannesburg Plan of Implementation (JPOI), fully respect Rio Principles in particular common but differentiated responsibility (CBDR), build upon commitment already made, respect international law and contribute to the full implementation of the outcomes of all major summits in the economic, social and environmental field taking into account that these goals should ensure a holistic coherence with the goals set in Agenda 21 and JPOI”.
The EU wanted the principle of CBDR to be bracketed, while Switzerland and the Republic of Korea asked for deletion of the G77 proposals.
The G77 called for the SDGs to be guided by the following principles and characteristics:
(a)  achieve poverty eradication;
(b)  integrate in a balanced manner the three dimensions of sustainable development;
(c)  respect the sovereignty of States over their natural resources in accordance with the UN Charter and principles of international law, without causing damage to the environment of other States or of areas beyond the limits of national jurisdiction;
(d)  be consistent with the Rio principles particularly the principle of CBDR;
(e) ensure the implementation of Agenda 21 and JPOI, and the outcomes of all UN major summits in economic, social and environmental field;
(f)  build upon and complement the MDGs and renew and strengthen commitment towards their achievement;
(g)  take into account different national realities, capacities and development priorities;
(h)  rely on government driven implementation with involvement of all relevant stakeholders;
(i)  contribute to the monitoring of fulfillment of developed countries' international commitments especially those related to financial resources, technology transfer and capacity building;
(j)  shall include means of implementation for developing countries, including under each goal;
(k)  give special attention to the countries in special situation and to disadvantaged and vulnerable people;
(l)  not place additional restrictions or burdens on developing countries or dilute responsibilities of developed countries;
(m)  contribute to fulfill the right to development and achieving equity at all levels;
(n)  should respect policy space and national development priorities of each country, in particular avoiding the establishment of mechanism for monitoring national policies;
(o)  applicable to all countries consistent with the principle of CBDR;
(p)  SDGs shall be voluntary in nature.
Switzerland wanted reference to “poverty eradication” deleted, leading to a strong reaction from the G77, emphasising that the UN Conference and work should be guided by the core element to eradicate poverty.
(4)  Means of Implementation
(a)  Finance
The G77 called for “the fulfillment of all ODA commitments, including the commitments by many developed countries to achieve the target of 0.7 per cent of GNP for ODA to developing countries by 2015 …To reach their agreed timetables, donor countries should take all necessary and appropriate measures to raise the rate of aid disbursements to meet their existing commitments…”
The EU, US, Switzerland, Japan and Canada called for a deletion of this proposal.
The G77 also called for the urgent and timely fulfilment of financial commitments made by developed countries in the context of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. It called for the reaffirmation that financing for climate change should be new, additional and independent of ODA.  Such financing should not substitute ODA.  Funding provided by developed countries for their own mitigation actions should also not be considered as financing for poverty eradication.
The EU, US, Switzerland, Japan, Canada and New Zealand wanted this deleted.
The G77 wanted to “…underline that debt crises tend to be costly and disruptive and tend to be followed by cuts in public spending, affecting in particular the poor and vulnerable. We recognize the important role on a case by case basis of debt relief, including debt cancellation and debt restructuring, with the provision of additional concessional financing, as debt crisis prevention and management tools for developing countries, and we stress the urgent need for the international community to examine options for an effective, equitable, durable, independent and development-oriented debt restructuring and debt resolution mechanism that takes into account the multiple dimensions of debt sustainability and its impact on development.”
This proposal was opposed by EU, US, Switzerland, Japan, Canada and New Zealand and wanted its deletion.
(b)  Technology
The G77 made a proposal “to enhance access of developing countries to technologies, know-how and expertise to achieve sustainable development. We also agree to explore modalities for assured access to environmentally sound technologies, including state-of-the-art technologies, in particular by developing countries, while providing fair incentives to innovators, in particular innovators in developing countries that promote research and development of new environmentally sound technologies.”
The US, Japan and the EU wanted deletion of this proposal.
The G77 proposal further underlined “… the necessity of creating enabling environment that aims at removing all barriers to technology transfer and technology adaptation, consistent and in harmony with the relevant international obligations. We stress the need for effective mechanisms, enhanced means, appropriate enabling environments and the removal of obstacles to the scaling up of the development and transfer of technology to developing countries. Furthermore, developing countries should be enabled to develop their own technology with the support of the international community, including building local capacity to design and develop technologies.”
The US, Japan, Switzerland and the EU wanted this proposal bracketed and reserved their position.
The G77 also proposed that “consideration must also be given to the role of  patent  protection and intellectual property  rights along with an examination of their impact on the access to and transfer of environmentally sound technology, in particular to developing countries  as well as to  further exploring efficiently the concept of assured access for developing countries  to  environmentally sound technology in its relation to proprietary rights with a view to developing effective responses to the needs of developing countries in this area.”
Canada called for this proposal to be deleted while the US, Japan, Switzerland, Australia, New Zealand and the EU wanted it bracketed and reserved their position.
(c)  Trade
The G77 made a proposal stressing “…the need to refrain from adopting any measures or restrictions related to trade and transit that affects the access of developing countries to medicines, specially generic medicines and medical equipment.”
Norway, US, the Republic of Korea, Japan, EU and Canada wanted deletion of this proposal.
One proposal by Switzerland which raised the concerns of the G77 and some developed including Australia, New Zealand, Norway, the US and EU relates to the relationship between multilateral environmental agreements (MEAs) and World Trade Organization Agreements.
The Swiss proposal reads as follows: “We acknowledge that trade rules and environmental protection are interdependent and mutual supportive components of a green economy. Both MEAs and WTO Agreements constitute legitimate bodies of international law of equal standing. Due respect must be accorded to each and their respective expertise in environment and trade matters shall be valued and utilised. We recognize the importance of ecological transparency in markets to promote resource efficiency and sustainable consumption and production. We urge the WTO to allow a different treatment of like products and like services based on process and production method criteria that are themselves based on internationally recognized standards.”
The proposal to allow for the process and production methods to be taken into account in the generation of products is highly controversial, given that this is presently not allowed or at least greatly discouraged in the WTO.
The next round of informal negotiations from April 23 to 4 May will indeed be intense and challenging, given the great divide in the positions of countries on the key issues.
- Meena Raman is a Senior Advisor of the Third World Network.
South Bulletin 61
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