The first fifteen minutes of the Major Groups meeting this morning were a clue as to the state of the negotiations on the Rio+20 Zero Draft, here at the UN headquarters in midtown Manhattan.
First to speak was the representative of the Business and Industry Major Group, who reported that global business “welcomed the Zero Draft” and the fact that they’d been given greater access in the negotiations, but noted that they were still “feeling sidelined” by the process and would like to participate more actively in the process. The private sector, she noted, sees the green economy as a linking of “economic growth with environmental sustainability,” and is pushing for an agreed-upon definition of “green economy” in the text.
Directly afterwards was the report from the Farmers Major Group representative, who affirmed that according to fisherfolk and small farmers, food sovereignty and the rights of rural women must play central roles in sustainable development strategy, with food sovereignty defined as a “comprehensive and cross-cutting framework” connecting rights, sustainability, and poverty eradication. The delegate also pointed to the shortcomings of the Green Economy as it “diverts attention away from sustainable development.”
These reports illustrated the seemingly irreconcilable divide existing here at the negotiations, which the Brazilian negotiator (at the Major Groups meeting by invitation) characterized as “parallel worlds”- a simultaneous push by most nations and civil society to strengthen rights-based language and build off of the outcomes of the 1992 Rio summit, such as the Precautionary Principle, and the push by the most powerful nations to use the UN process to kickstart and support a major new investment frontier for global business.
The Workers and Trade Unions Major Group representative seemed to capture the mood of the room: “Our rights are being bracketed.” Civil Society is losing, she pointed out, and needs to demand global outcomes based in democratic process at the international level. This concern was echoed by one of the focal points for the major groups when he called on civil society to “organize” and present a unified front against the agendas of the most powerful nations and corporate interests.
We followed this divide into the first negotiating session, taking place in a cavernous room packed with delegates, all seated in beige leather chairs behind their respective member-state placard. Hung on the walls and featured at the front of the room were large television screens displaying what could be described as the world’s most intense googledoc session- brackets within brackets, comments, additions, and clarifications. In other words, a “cluster-doc”.
When we walked in, the process was essentially a back-and-forth between the US and the G77 (a negotiating bloc of mostly southern countries) with the US bracketing and deleting language upholding rights to food and development, and the G-77 trying to ensure social inclusion and address the shortcomings of market-based approaches to eradicate poverty. The Zero Draft had become littered with paragraphs such as this one:
[25 b alt: Encourage government-driven and market-oriented policies and actions to promote an integrated, action-oriented approach to sustainable development that is based on data, information, and evidence. -US, Canada, EU, New Zealand; G77 delete]
Or, more likely, its inverse, such as a G77 proposal calling for the regulation of financial market speculation, and a wealthy nation response to refine the statement using a [positive tone].
So what will it be? Will the “Road to Rio” further devolve into a North-South power struggle, preventing the coveted UN mandate for a green free-market investment bubble? Or will the G77 eventually cave and sign on to this new Washington Consensus, agreeing to swap human rights language for intellectual property rights guarantees? One way or another, the green economy ball is rolling, and its in all of our interests to follow it closely.