Countdown to Rio: Reflections on the Zero Draft

Farooq Ullah, Head of Policy and Advocacy at Stakeholder Forum reflects on the Zero Draft of the Outcome Document for the Earth Summit 2012

The Zero Draft of the Outcome Document represents a strong starting point for effective and successful negotiations. The UN Secretariat has synthesised an honest and fair record of the conversations to date. But there remains much to play for. Currently the Zero Draft lacks the urgency, ambition, and detail required to use Rio as an opportunity to re-imagine our socio-economic systems and the way in which they work in harmony with nature, to deliver greater well-being for all, now and into the future.

The Zero Draft provides an opportunity to take a critical look at ourselves, own up to bad practices, identify pockets of good practice and plan for a fair and resilient future for all. Key to this challenge will be in describing a Rio+20 Vision. At the moment, the Zero Draft does not achieve this. There is a need for a clear articulation of our common values and key principles. This should begin with the fundamental elements of sustainable development and how these must be considered together; that is planetary health and social justice. Together, these two elements describe a sustainable vision that respects both planetary boundaries/environmental limits and a social protection floor, which will ensure a safe and just operating space for our existence and define new pathways for inclusive growth and prosperity

Combining a rights-based approach (both human and social) with a clear acknowledgment that the health of our only planet is absolutely fundamental to our existence is powerful. It puts people at the centre of any form of development. Moreover, it means that denying anyone basic rights (including the right to water, food, energy, and education) is a violation of those rights. Therefore, environmental degradation becomes an issue of fairness and intergenerational justice as future generations will rely on the same ecosystem services we currently do.

The Zero Draft has many strong points. For example, Poverty Eradication is a major focus throughout and sits alongside sustainable development as the context for the green economy. It emphasises a ‘resolve to redouble our efforts to eradicate poverty, acknowledges current challenges and recognises the context of water resources, climate change, and desertification as

intensifiers/barriers to efforts for greater sustainability and well-being. Furthermore, there is an agreement to devise Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) by 2015. An inclusive process of devising and monitoring is suggested, and it is proposed that the MDGs are to be ‘complemented’ and ‘strengthened’ by any SDGs. There is also a discussion on a 2030 (or similar) target system.

Unfortunately, there are also weaknesses. For example, Social Inclusion is associated with green jobs as a key priority/theme, broadly addressing a range of social and developmental topics, and it is specifically applied in the context of access to education; but the term social equity is not used, other than in reference to inequities faced by women and children. It is also proposed that the SDGs should include ‘green jobs, decent work and social inclusion’. However, social inclusion needs greater prominence as this is about much more than just having a job. The need to provide Social Protection/Floor is stressed, and national and local floors and programmes are ‘strongly encouraged’, though without prescription at this stage. The green economy concept needs to link more clearly with the social dimension. At the moment, it only stresses the environment-economy relationship. The social dimension of sustainable development is, in general, underplayed in the whole draft.

Even more unfortunately, there are some glaring omissions in the Zero Draft, for example, Planetary Boundaries/Planetary Limits. While the science on such a concept needs further development, a strong acknowledgement of our finite planet and its health is missing. Carrying capacity is noted once to provide background context, and also as a clear proposal for a ‘regular review of the state of the planet and the Earth’s carrying capacity’ to be coordinated by the Secretary-General with international organisations and the UN. However, ecological footprint, ecosystems approach, and planetary boundaries/environmental limits has no mention at all within the Zero Draft.

Given the well-understood connection between the health and well-being of Earth and our own, operating within planetary boundaries is a necessary precondition for sustainability. With that in mind, fairly sharing the and its resources requires strong values and concepts of interpersonal, inter-societal, inter-biological, and intergenerational justice. These concepts are paramount in the Rio+20 thinking and need development.

This article is cross-posted from Stakeholder Forum’s Outreach, a multi-stakeholder magazine on environment and sustainable development.

Rio +20 editions of Outreach can be found here: 25th, 26th and 27th of January


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