What will be the measure of Rio+20’s success?

    A Rio+20 banner in New York. Slow progress in crafting a sustainable development roadmap in time for the event leads some to say that the Rio+20 might "completely collapse." Photo by: Sophie Torelli / UNISDR / CC BY-NC

    Slow progress in crafting a sustainable development road map that will be adopted at Rio+20 is fueling concerns that the U.N.-backed event would end in “complete collapse.”

    The latest round of talks aimed at drafting the outcome document for Rio+20 ended in another deadlock, with negotiators agreeing only on 20 percent of the text. This has prompted a warning from World Wildlife Fund that Rio+20 could either collapse completely or produce “an agreement so weak it is meaningless.”

    Neither option “would give the world what it needs,” according to WFF Director General Jim Leape.

    A key sticking point in the discussions is the concept of green economy — an issue that developed and developing countries are reportedly deeply divided about. There is also a lack of agreement on the focus areas of the proposed Sustainable Development Goals.

    U.N. officials remain optimistic that a meaningful draft will be ready before Rio+20 kicks off June 20. U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, who initially expressed disappointment following the last round of talks, attempted to boost the process and step up the pressure.

    Ban outlined six “concrete outcomes” he said he wants to see in the document and from the conference: a definition of the path to an inclusive green economy, agreement on the SDGs, decisions on the institutional framework for sustainable development, strong action on key development issues, progress on implementation, and stronger partnerships with the private sector and civil society.

    Aside from the lack of consensus on the draft, another source of concern for Rio+20 observers is the expected absence of key world leaders. U.S. President Barack Obama, for instance, has yet to give a firm response while German Chancellor Angela Merkel and U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron have announced they would not be attending.

    But some groups have argued that the success of Rio+20 does not lie solely on how comprehensive and strong the outcome document will be.

    Manish Bapna of environment-focused think tank World Resources Institute, for instance has said that the “important action will be on the sidelines of the formal negotiations.” He was referring to expected announcements of commitments by civil society organizations, groups of countries and U.N. coalitions.

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    About the author

    • Ivy Mungcal

      As former senior staff writer, Ivy Mungcal contributed to several Devex publications. Her focus is on breaking news, and in particular on global aid reform and trends in the United States, Europe, the Caribbean, and the Americas. Before joining Devex in 2009, Ivy produced specialized content for U.S. and U.K.-based business websites.

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