WYA Monitors Last Week of Rio +20 Negotiations in New York

The final “informal-informal” negotiations on the Rio +20 outcome document prior to the long-awaited Conference in Brazil occurred at the United Nations Headquarters in New York from May 29 – June 2. Delegates presented their feedback on the 79-page outcome document, which was compiled from the results of the previous negotiations by the Conference Chair. The Chair’s text represented a significant step toward the final outcome document, in that it was much shorter than the previous document, which numbered at over 200 pages. Differing opinions were voiced with some delegates noting that the document was still too long, while others regretted that many positions had been omitted. 

The World Youth Alliance was present at the UN throughout the week to monitor the negotiations, which began with an introductory statement by Ban Ki-moon. The Secretary General of the UN urged delegates to work toward consensus, noting that time was running out before Rio. Negotiations have proceeded slowly, however, with many high-level issues remaining unresolved at this time. As of June 2, 70 paragraphs of the document have been agreed on, with 259 remaining non-agreed.

One such issue concerns the institutional framework for sustainable development. Member States have highly divergent positions with regard to what changes should be made at the UN-level to better manage sustainable development matters. For instance, the European Union would like to see the establishment of a high-level representative for sustainable development (an ombudsperson). In contrast, the Group of 77, which represents 132 developing countries, has opposed this idea. Other debates concern strengthening the role of the United Nations Environment Programme or creating a new specialized agency on sustainable development.

Member States are also at odds with regard to determining an approach for the establishment of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Rio +20 is expected to start the process of developing these new goals, which are intended to take the place of the current Millennium Development Goals when they expire in 2015. The news goals will incorporate social, economic, and environmental dimensions, and have substantial implications for development and foreign aid. Although the SDGs will not be crafted in June at the Rio Conference, it is at this time that countries are expected to formally commit to forming these goals. The US has called for the creation of goals that would be aspirational in nature, and implemented by voluntary action at a national level. The EU has called for steps to be taken at Rio toward fleshing out the content of these goals, while the Group of 77 has been resistant to this idea and prefers that this discussion take place at a later time.

With regard to these and other issues, the Rio +20 process has revealed a sharp discrepancy in the negotiating stances of the developed versus developing worlds. Developed states focus primarily on environmental protection and the idea of a “green” economy. Their developing counterparts, however, consistently call for an equal emphasis on the social and economic aspects of sustainable development. For these countries, it is imperative that they prioritize development at its most basic level.

At this time, it is uncertain whether all states will be able to participate in the Conference. Although Rio +20 was initially intended to be open to all sovereign states, an ongoing debate has since threatened to limit participation to only official Member States. The effect of this would be to restrict the full participation of the Holy See, an observer state, and Palestine, the Cook Islands and Nuie. The Group of 77 and China, in addition to New Zealand, support the inclusion of all states per past practice; however, Canada and the US are opposed to their inclusion. It is expected that this matter will not be resolved before Brazil.

As noted in our recently published Declaration on Sustainable Development, “We stand in solidarity with all people from both developed and developing nations, in affirming that responsible stewardship of the earth is the duty of each person”. The World Youth Alliance will be travelling to Brazil with a delegation of young people from around the world to participate in the Conference and to affirm the fundamental truth of the human person.

For more information: 
Elyssa Koren, Director of Advocacy 
Email: elyssa@wya.net | Phone: 212-585-0757 | Website: www.wya.net 

About the organization:
 The World Youth Alliance is a global coalition of young people dedicated to promoting the dignity of the human person in policy and culture and to building solidarity between young people of developing and developed nations. With approximately one million members from more than 160 countries, the World Youth Alliance is one of the biggest coalitions of young people worldwide. Regional offices are located in Brussels (Europe), Manila (Asia Pacific), Mexico City (Latin America), Nairobi (Africa), New York (North America and headquarters).