As many of those reading this blog are probably aware, Rio +20 marks the twentieth anniversary of the 1992 Earth Summit held in Rio, which gave rise to many outcomes – the Rio Declaration, Agenda 21, the Forests Principles, Convention on Biological Diversity – and importantly in the DECC context, the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). The Earth Summit in ’92 is the reason why the Conference of the Parties (COP) to the UNFCCC is convened annually to review progress in implementation of the Convention and its Kyoto Protocol; as well as make plans for future commitments relating to energy and climate change.
So what’s in store for Rio +20 and how does energy and climate change feature?
The agenda of Rio +20 was proposed when, in 2008, the G77 tabled the UN General Assembly Resolution that called for the Summit, and subsequently finalised the following year. Overall, the Summit has three objectives and two themes:
Since last December the preparatory process for the Summit has been in full swing with monthly meetings to first discuss and now negotiate, the outcome document. The process leading up to this invited and welcomed all stakeholders to input submissions to the Summit secretariat which were then considered and compiled into the Zero Draft of the outcome document. Currently, Member States are discussing a co-chair’s suggested text based on the amendments proposed and responses made to subsequent iterations of the Zero Draft, and at the end of this week it is expected that the Rio +20 secretariat will work with the co-chairs once again to produce a streamlined version of the text that will be under discussion at the final preparatory meeting in June; followed by the Summit itself on 20 – 22 June.
Following on from COP 17 in Durban the bridge between the COP and the Summit was highlighted by many stakeholders who were keen to build on the outcomes and momentum of Durban, and to bring the energy and climate issues into the process in the final six months lead up to Rio +20. Whilst it is important to recognise that the agenda of Rio +20 is broader than the UNFCCC, being focussed on sustainable development – which necessarily integrates environment, economics, and social well-being as the foundations for development that will meet the needs of the present generation without compromising the needs of future generations – climate and energy issues play an important role in achieving this.
As it stands, the negotiating text focusses on the importance of access to sustainable energy for all, and the need to phase-out or eliminate fossil fuel subsidies, for instance. The water-energy-food nexus is also a talking point especially since the German Government hosted a high level conference on this nexus in November 2011. Language around ‘addressing climate change’ through green economy policies; and the links between health and climate change are strongly made with a recognition also of the impact air pollution and other pollution has on health. In relation to oceans (or the ‘Blue Economy’ as it is being dubbed) the issue of ocean acidification – as a result of rising CO2 emissions – is addressed; as well as the impacts that sea level rise will have on coastal and protected areas.
The concept of Planetary Boundaries was highlighted by many stakeholder groups, coupled with an appreciation of the safe and just operating space for humanity, also brings climate change and energy into the Rio +20 agenda: climate change is one of the nine recognised planetary boundaries that keep us within the carrying capacity of the planet; and universal energy access for all is one of the cornerstones of the safe and just operating space.
Whilst DEFRA is leading on efforts towards Rio +20, it is supported by a cross-ministerial committee comprising of DFID, DECC, FCO. There is still much to play for in terms of the final outcome document and the language of the text. But more than that, Rio +20 will also be a momentous occasion that will bring together thousands of people who will be leading the sustainable development agenda from now and for the next twenty years and beyond. It will mark the beginning of a multi-stakeholder effort to truly entrench sustainability into our development paradigm, to ensure that the worst impacts of climate change are mitigated against and that universal access to renewable and sustainable energy becomes a reality.