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Claudio Angelo: a short guide for the bewildered

25/04/2012 - 10h09

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BY CLAUDIO ANGELO

I'VE ALREADY MENTIONED here the name of Argentine Ambassador Raúl Estrada, the "father" of the Kyoto Protocol. A man with a deliciously acid sense of humor, Estrada often says that one of the secrets to the success of an international agreement is its simplicity. "If I can't explain something to my wife, then something is not right," he says.

Well, this week my wife urged me to define Rio + 20. I rambled a bit, of course, but it was an honest request. A lot of highly educated people out there believe the summit in Rio will be an event about "climate." One of my cousins asked me why there will be another summit, as "they never agree on anything anyway" (he cited the recent multilateral disaster, the Summit of the Americas in Cartagena). Another cousin of mine wants to know if 130 chiefs of state will be able to bring Brazilian soccer team Gama back to the first division of the Brazilian Championship (which seems quite difficult). I'll try to answer those and other questions on the summit below.

Is Rio+20 a summit about climate? No, the event's official name is United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development. It will occur 20 years after (that is where the summit got its name) Rio-92, an event that put sustainable development in the world agenda (but wasn't able to make it stick). In theory, it is not even a proper environmental meeting, but rather an attempt to set the world on a new development standard, based on economical, social and environmental aspects. However, that is the only consensus: countries such as the U.S. will come to Rio in June aiming at the economic angle; Brazil will focus on the social. Scientists and society have complained about the small importance given the environmental aspect. Climate change is not even on the summit agenda -the UN says that is because there is a specific forum for such negotiations, the Climate Change Conference.

What is at stake? Three issues are originally on the agenda: a review of what occurred in the 20 years since Rio-92; the so-called "green economy in the context of poverty eradication and sustainable development"; and the institutional basis for sustainable development. In terms of actual negotiations, that means: a) A session of collective psychodrama, in which developing countries will question the developed ones about not having carried out any of the promises made in 1992, among them putting aside 0.7% of their GDP to assist development. The rich countries, on the other hand, will try to bring down the so-called Rio Declaration, in which they agreed to use their best efforts to save humanity and the world from the environmental catastrophe, as they have polluted and consumed natural resources in their progress towards development. Today, the rich countries say that, well, the world has changed since 1992 and developing countries, especially China and India, but also Brazil, have a growing responsibility (and more money in their coffers than the old rich economies).

Aren't they right? Yes, they are, but the problem is that in this type of discussion everybody is right. But let me continue. The summit's second center point can be translated as: b) A major debate on the most adequate model to promote sustainable development and end poverty. Here, things start to get foggier, as no one knows what this "green economy" is; several developing countries suspect that is a Trojan horse of the rich countries to impose non-tariff barriers on commerce. The rich, on the other hand, fear they will be held accountable for their unsustainable consumption and production standards, and so they resist opening their public finances to pay for the transition to the green economy is poor countries. This morning, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs said the rules for the green economy will be "totally flexible": each country will decide how it will make the transition. The third central point aims to c) Reform the UN's environmental management system, creating a UN council or forum for sustainable development and reinforce the Pnuma. The question is how to do it, either creating a new agency, the UNOE (United Nation Organization for the Environment) or financially assisting the Pnuma to allow it more autonomy. Click here to see Pnuma's big boss, Achim Steiner, in favor of the new agency.

But all this is so vague. Won't the summit have goals? It seems it will. Apparently all countries have agreed that Rio +20 will launch the Sustainable Development Goals, a set of indicators in areas such as water, poverty reduction, sustainable energy, and land and ocean management. There are no figures on the table yet, and maybe there won't be any at the end of the summit (although Brazil has been fighting to make it happen). Meeting the (volunteer) goals will be verified by the UN's new sustainable development agency. No matter what strategy the 193 countries in the world adopt to reach the green economy, it will have to be in accordance with the so-called SDO, which will apply to all.

But if they are not compulsory, will anybody meet them? Hum. Next question.

Does Rio+20 lack ambience? Last Month, 3,000 experts met in London, among them, the top scientists in the world, and said the summit falls short. They criticized the summit's wide approach. After all, anything can be fit into the "sustainable development" omnibus. The U.S., for example, will address a strong commerce liberalization agenda. Brazil will showcase the PT's income distribution policies, such as the Bolsa-Família. This morning I heard a Planning Ministry secretary presenting the PAC (that program which has systemically devastated the Amazon since 2007) as an example of sustainable development. You see what mean.

How many people will come to Rio? Government estimates say 60,000. But the figures can vary, of course, due to the event's importance, the number of chiefs of state and the main question: will Obama come?

Will Obama come? Even the geese in the Potomac river know that, initially, he won't. Rio+20 did not deserve more than a short mention during Dilma's meeting with Obama, a sign that he won't come, due to the elections in the U.S. Brazil's Ministry of Foreign Affairs has downplayed the fact, stating that Obama's failure to be reelected would be the worst thing for sustainable development. A high diplomat joked that he will cancel Obama's visa himself if the U.S. president coming to Rio+20 leads to less votes. But an event of this magnitude without the president of the U.S. will be a flop for Dilma's diplomacy (it is worth highlighting that Collor managed to bring anti-environmentalist George Bush to Rio-92, also during the U.S. elections). Brazil is left with hopes that Obama will be able to spend some hours at Rio+20, "stopping by" during a trip to Latin America in June.

What will the chiefs of state do at the summit? The so-called high-level segment (the actual summit) will take place at Rio Centro from June 20 to 22. The leaders will do two things: make speeches about the importance of sustainable development, bla, bla, bla, and take part in round table meetings on issues such as energy, sustainable cities, water, forests and food safety. And they also will have to approve the event's final document, The Future We Want, which will certainly come to their hands with several controversial issues to be decided on.

What about civil society, won't it take part? Yes, and in the usual UN style: from far away. The NGOs and social movements will be invited to occupy the Aterro do Flamengo at the People's Summit, where they will protest against the cruelties of capitalism and the world's unsustainablity and sing Manu Chao and Mercedes Sosa songs (by the way, they should put the Alba countries there too, #justatip). Brazil has found, however, the formula to guarantee society's great participation in the Rio+20 decisions: the so-called Dialogue on Sustainable Development, to be held from June 16 to 19. It will be a series of panels by international leaders on ten issues (the fight against poverty, the economy, food safety, cities, water, oceans, forests, decent employment, energy and the crises of capitalism). Each panel will take three recommendations to the chiefs of state's round table meetings. The suggestions, however, will only be heard, but not formally approved by the summit, which seems like poor democratic practice.

Will it fail? Judging by the attention the summit has received from the international press - below second-rate - it will, as mobilization around the world has been very little (my explanation: a post-Copenhagen hangover). But after the climate conference in Durban last year, which started with very little support and ended almost successful, I rather keep my pessimist forecasts to myself.

What about Gama, will it play in the first division again one day? Forget that. Next question.

Translated by THOMAS MUELLO

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