With only a few days to go before the start of the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development in Rio de Janeiro, there are signs that developed countries are attempting to backtrack from the commitments they made at the original Earth Summit of 1992 to assist developing countries to move towards the path of sustainable development.
There are also fears that the conference, dubbed Rio+ 20, may not fully reaffirm the political commitments made 20 years ago. Some progress on the summit's declaration was made during the final preparatory meeting last week in New York. But only 70 paragraphs out of a total of 329 have been agreed on, leaving negotiators with the daunting task of coming up with an agreed text by the time the political leaders meet on 20-23 June.
Differences are evident in the three new issues being addressed by the Conference: a) the concept of the green economy, b) how to define sustainable development goals, c) and what new institutional framework to create to house future activities on sustainable development.
But more worrying is the attempt by developed countries to dilute the principles agreed to in Rio 20 years ago, and to backtrack on pledges to assist developing countries.
Thus the North-South divide affects the principle of common but differentiated responsibilities (CBDR), and commitments on technology transfer and finance. The CBDR was one of the Rio Principles adopted in 1992. It was agreed that all countries have a common responsibility to protect the environment, but also differentiated responsibilities because the rich countries should shoulder the main part of environmental action due to their greater contribution to the ecological crisis and their greater economic resources.
The US, EU, Canada and Australia do not even want any reference to technology transfer in the title. Wherever the words 'technology transfer' appear, there is an attempt to change it to voluntary transfer on mutually agreed terms and conditions. This is backtracking from the previous commitment by developed countries – in the 1992 Rio Summit, the 2002 Johannesburg Summit and others – to transfer technology on concessional and preferential terms, or on fair and most favourable terms.
On the issue of finance, developed countries are resisting renewal of the traditional commitment to providing new and additional funds. The draft also urges developed countries to make additional concrete efforts towards the target of allocating 0.7 per cent of their GNP to development aid, which had been in the original Rio action plan. But Canada and the US want to delete this, claiming they never agreed to this target.
The G7 and China proposed that developed countries provide new funds exceeding $30 billion a year from 2013-17 and $100 billion a year from 2018 onwards, and to set up a sustainable development fund. But most developed countries objected to the mention of figures and the fund. Many officials from developing nations are worried their countries are being asked to take on more obligations, without corresponding new commitments to support them.
As negotiations resume in Rio on 13 June, it is hoped that there will be a change of heart by the developed countries on these issues. That is needed to enable rapid progress on other issues to improve the capability of developing countries to protect biodiversity, convert to cleaner energy and ensure sustainable development. (IPS)
Martin Khor is executive-director of the South Centre, an inter-governmental organisation of developing countries based in Geneva.
Getting real in Rio
Over 172 countries are taking part in the Rio+20 Conference on Sustainable Development to mark 20 years since the first Earth Summit held in the Brazilian city. Nepal's official delegation headed by Prime Minister Baburam Bhattarai will take part in the conference and raise issues relating to converting Nepal into a 'green economy'. He will also speak on behalf of the Least Developed Countries (LDCs), and highlight Nepal's fragile mountain ecosystem and the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) to mobilise resources for forest conservation and carbon cutbacks.
"We do not have equal footing with the developed countries so the issues of sustainability raised at the conference need to go hand in hand with development," explains Krishna Gyawali, secretary at the Ministry of Environment, Science and Technology. The delegation will also seek support from the international community for the progress made in Nepal in community forestry, micro-hydro, biogas and solar energy.
Nepal will also seek support to preserve the biodiversity in the Himalaya which is vulnerable to climate change. Says Gyawali: "We will press for a separate window in the Green Climate Fund to support conservation efforts in developing mountain countries."
Dirty snow is melting our mountains faster, BHRIKUTI RAI in KHUMBU
Instead of whining about emissions by rich countries, we should stop our own pollution that is accelerating Himalayan meltdown