2 July 2012

Africa: Rio+20 Shortchanges Continent


THE Future We Want is the title of the document released at the end of the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development (UNCSD) or Rio+20 last week.

Ironically, that outcome is clearly not what Africa wants, not least a delayed future that is devoid of sustainable environmental and social inspiration - according to demands contained in the Africa Consensus Statement to Rio+20.

For want of concrete decisions that redirect the present uncertainty in the implementation of sustainable development actions and minimise carbon emissions, Africa received further pledges of delayed actions, whose implementation (or rejection) will be decided at the next session of the UN General Assembly (UNGA).

Instead of a clearly defined global framework on sustainable development, deeper commitments for action on technology transfer, funding and implementation of agreed outcomes from developed nations, Africa received promises for creating modalities to implementing what would be effective sustainable development strategies - all long-term actions requiring ratification by the UNGA.

Prior to the summit, Africa said it stood guided by its Consensus Statement to the Rio+20, as proposed by the continent's environment ministers and adopted by the African Union in January.

But then, really, who else listens to this statement, and consider it as one for serious implementation except Africans themselves, and perhaps a few others in the civic society and in the South?

Even for those that listen, they do not carry sufficient political muscle to be able to sway global decisions in Africa's way in any significant manner, if at all.

Do not be misled, it is not for lack of merit that African positions are constantly heavily diluted at multilateral environmental negotiations, but only because it is regarded as poor, sometimes divided, and therefore, mostly politically irrelevant.

Africa's dependence on foreign aid even on funding and implementing programmes, which are meant to benefit and cushion its own people from such issues as the effects of climate change do not make things better.

If anything, it does complicate them. Eventually, the continent is forced to become content with compromise agreements that leave Africans holding the bitter end of the stick.

So, again, this was the case at Rio+20. On many fronts, the Rio+20 outcome failed to meet many expectations, particularly on the need for renewing political will to implement previously agreed sustainable development commitments as well as establishing a functional pathway for defining and implementing the green economy.

Yet, the concept of the green economy within the context of sustainable development was one of the major themes at the conference.

Rio+20 failed to provide coherent and efficient support to developing countries in designing and implementing strategies and action plans for low emission technology transfers to deliver climate and sustainable development targets.

The outcome delivered little hope on measures to address equity issues such as access to energy and water by poor people, at least not in the short to medium term.

Most pointedly, the absence of many leaders from key polluting nations led by U.S. President Barack Obama was one of the major weaknesses of the conference.

While most of the leaders who were absent at the conference had just attended the G20 Summit and probably absconded as they were rushing back to their respective nations ostensibly to sort out home politics, and the debt mess.

Critics viewed the absence as a lack of political commitment from the world leaders in unsustainable development, particularly given that presidents from other countries such as South Africa's Jacob Zuma headed straight to Brazil after the G20 Summit.

Others in the civic society said the UNCSD agreement was modest electing to focus "on the upcoming opportunities within the UNGA and other fora to shape the true Rio+20 legacy".

Many others criticised it for failing "to launch new processes and significantly alter the international framework - from establishing a new High Commissioner for Future Generations, to upgrading UNEP to the status of an organisation, to identifying significant means of implementation", etc.

However, it is critical that the path of international negotiations is maintained.

Despite the endemic incremental nature of these talks, they do provide and maintain necessary direction on the course of future global action on sustainable development and poverty reduction.

Rio+20 received pledges amounting to US$513 billion mostly from industrialised nations, the same nations that have struggled to fulfil earlier pledges.

Among the numerous outcomes from the Rio+20 conference was the strengthening of the UN Environment Programme and establishment of a working group to develop global Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

Delegates also agreed to constitute a body to operationalise the 10-year framework of programmes on sustainable consumption and production.

In addition, the summit approved the setting up an inter-governmental process under UNGA to prepare a report proposing options on an effective sustainable development financing strategy as well as consider inputs for a facilitation mechanism that promotes the development, transfer and dissemination of clean and environmentally sound technologies.

An estimated 44 000 delegates from nearly 200 UN member states including 79 heads of state attended Rio+20, which ran for two weeks and ended with the Earth

Conference that ran from June 20-22.

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