On the road to Rio: Sustainability swamps climate change

Just in case you haven’t heard, there will yet another United Nations conference aimed at setting goals for “saving the planet”; this one is known as UN Conference on Sustainable Development (UNCSD, or Rio+20 and sometimes called the “Earth Summit“) which is scheduled to take place June 20-22 of this year.

Not surprisingly, the UN Secretary-General announced today that he has a “5 year Action Plan” to ‘build the future we want’. And I’m sure that it’s purely coincidental that this “theme” just happens to echo the title of the “zero draft” of the outcome document for Rio+20. Dated January 10, 2012, this zero draft, is entitled “THE FUTURE WE WANT“. It was:

Submitted by the co-Chairs on behalf of the Bureau in accordance with the decision in Prepcom 2 to present the zero-draft of the outcome document for consideration by Member States and other stakeholders no later than early January 2012.

As part of their “open, transparent and inclusive process, led by member states”, the powers that be behind the UNCSD have made available not only the zero draft but also the 6,000 page “compilation document” which:

serve[s] as [the] basis for the preparation of a zero-draft of the outcome document, to be presented for consideration

For the record, these 6,000 pages appear to have been distilled into a 19 page, 128 paragraph document which constitutes the zero draft “outcome document” currently under review.

It is interesting to note that the UNCSD seems to have a somewhat different (albeit one that more closely approximates the common understanding of the English words used) definition of “open, transparent and inclusive” than the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).

The IPCC also claims to conduct an “open, transparent and inclusive” process; yet, as Steve McIntyre has observed, maintaining secrecy of their zero-draft trumps openness and transparency at this stage of the climate change game. Perhaps this secrecy has been deemed necessary to keep under wraps the extent to which Pachauri’s July 2009 “vision” for the IPCC’s 5th Assessment Report (AR5) has (or has not) been realized:

Climate change needs to be assessed in the context of sustainable development, and this consideration should pervade the entire report across the three Working Groups. In past assessments sustainable development and its various linkages with climate change were seen largely as an add-on. Most governments who have commented on this issue have highlighted the need to treat sustainable development as an overarching framework in the context of both adaptation and mitigation. [emphasis added -hro]

But I digress …

There have been news reports to the effect that “climate change” is not on the agenda for Rio+20.

Needless to say, I have not had an opportunity to review the UNSCD’s 6,000 page “compilation”. But I have read the zero-draft, and such reports would appear to be borne out by the content. Here are some interesting, if not quite telling, word-counts from the 128 paragraphs that survived the distillation of the compilation:

emissions: 0
greenhouse: 0
global warming: 0
carbon: 2
climate change: 7
women: 7
scientific: 7
Agenda 21: 8
technology/technological: 16
poverty: 20
green economy: 24
sustainable/sustainability: 137

And in case you were wondering … there is no mention of either the IPCC or its “primary client”, the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). Nor was either of these (rapidly falling stars?!) mentioned** during the course of yesterday’s “Informal Discussions”, according to the quasi-official rapporteurs, the IISD, whose Earth Negotiations Bulletin report of the proceedings indicates that there may be some changes to this zero-draft between now and June.

**However, in the interest of truth in posting, I should note that the representative of the Russian Federation did propose:

creating an intergovernmental panel modeled on the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change or the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) to improve cooperation

All of which suggests that, at this point, I may not have been too far off the mark when I had speculated “Move over IPCC … here comes IPBES” – nor when I more recently posed the question: Is the IPCC still relevant to the UNFCCC?. Indeed, in light of the conspicuous absences in this zero-draft of the “outcome document“, one might be forgiven for wondering … How relevant is the UNFCCC to the UNCSD?!

It will be interesting to see how … uh … sustainable … the paragraphs of this zero-draft might be when the final draft is made available for review. IOW, we are left with the really BIG question: how sustainable is sustainablity?!

Unsustainable Sustainability

(Image courtesy of xkcd.com and h/t Jane Coles via Bishop Hill)

4 thoughts on “On the road to Rio: Sustainability swamps climate change

  1. In the light of this shift of emphasis from global warming to sustainability, I find it rather curious that just before Rio +20 there’s the G20 summit at Los Cabos in Mexico:

    The G20 summit starts June 18th, ends June 19th. Rio +20 starts the very next day!

    The agenda for G20 includes the encouraging of “sustainable development, including a comprehensive plan, an infrastructure agenda, energy efficiency, green growth and financing of sustainable development.” The agenda for Rio +20 includes of course “securing renewed political commitment to sustainable development”.

    What I find curious is that these are two separate events in the same week, attended by two different sets of people (I haven’t heard that any of the G20 leaders or finance ministers will be attending Rio +20, but I could be wrong), and agendas that coincide in some important respects. Decisions made at the G20 will impact on Rio +20 and presumably vice versa, but (to me, at least) there seems to be something of a strange disconnect between the two.

    • Decisions made at the G20 will impact on Rio +20 and presumably vice versa, but (to me, at least) there seems to be something of a strange disconnect between the two.

      Never fear, Alex … the UNEP’s Achim Steiner has this covered … they’re working on “bridging” the disconnect! Try a search for G20 in:

      Click to access un-confidential_october_fromfoxocrd.pdf

      [I’ve also covered some more gems from this “Confidential Summary of Discussions” in my latest post … plus, there’s lots more that I haven’t (yet) covered!]

    • Thanks, Hilary, yes the Summary document provides the missing puzzle piece. Mr Lamy (is this Pascal Lamy, Director-General of the WTO?) first mentions the disconnect, and Achim Steiner works it into the highlights. It will be interesting to see how they try to integrate the two summits, given that they are literally back-to-back and provide, between them, it would seem, a good example of their phrase “silo-based implementation”.

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