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February 2012
Vol 5, No. 2

Office of Justice, Peace and Integrity of Creation
Edmund Rice Christian Brothers, N.A.
Br. Kevin Cawley

Zero Draft now Available

The Rio+20 Zero Draft document has now been published by the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development (UNCSD).  The Zero Draft Document is intended to give the parties a starting point for discussion in June.  Preliminary discussions took place at UN headquarters in New York in January and will resume in March.  The Rio+20 Conference is also known now as the "Earth Summit" and the terms are used interchangeably in various documents and discussions.

To download the Zero Draft document click here.


Jacob Scherr of the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) has noted:  "The zero draft is truly just a very preliminary vision.  It was prepared by a group of experienced diplomats and officials at the UN, based on submissions from a 100 governments and more than 500 civil society and other entities, and two days of discussions at a preparatory meeting in December.  Over the next five months, this document could be expected to be the subject of hundreds of hours of intensive negotiations."


Jacob further explains the genesis of the starting document: "The 19-page zero draft, optimistically titled ‘The Future We Want’, already has too much jargon and repetition and too many abstract incremental promises and far off goals.  Given the experience with past UN mega-conferences, there is a real danger that by the time the leaders get to Rio, they will be asked to endorse a document that will have ballooned in length to more than 100 pages.  There will be strong pressures to accommodate the desires of various governments and interests to make sure that their issue or concern is at least mentioned.   The few potential gems in the zero draft (my colleague Lisa Speer has blogged about the draft’s promising language on the high seas) could easily get lost in a deluge of vague promises.  Worse yet, based on the record of the last four decades, there is little guarantee that governments will follow through on these negotiated grand plans."


He concludes by asking again as the NRDC has done before, "So here is the plea NRDC has been making to officials, negotiators, and fellow civil society advocates:  Make this summit different.  Keep the final Rio+20 declaration short and sweet.   We all need to focus on what will make this Summit transformative – let’s create the expectation that each of the leaders will come to Rio with commitments to specific actions which produce real near-term results for which someone can be held accountable.  Let’s not waste time arguing over matters that has been debated repeatedly over the last 40 years.  Let’s ask the presidents and prime ministers to focus on a handful of truly international structural issues – such as upgrading the United Nations Environment Programme, setting clear and measureable sustainable development goals, and moving much more quickly to secure protections for our high seas."

What Can I Do, The Problems Are So Large?
You can keep paying attention.  Please know that the Rio summit in June may well be the last best hope for a truly significant turn in consumption patterns and a truly important moment in awakening each of us to the challenges.   It may be the best opportunity we have to move our leaders to take decisive action and commit to binding agreements about moving away from burning  fossil fuels which now threaten to shift the climate of Earth irreversibly.   Paying attention to these issues will be a sure way to keep informed and ready to take action to influence leaders.  This past fall, we saw concerted action by a large number of demonstrators make the point to President Obama in Washington that there was a vibrant constituency opposed to the XL pipeline.  Keep informed.  Keep learning and be ready to respond.  You can go the JPIC website for more information right now.  You can go directly to the website for the most recent suggestions on how to organize and be a part of larger efforts.

NGOs Respond to Zero Draft

A position paper from the Pew Environment Group praises the inclusion of oceans as a priority area to be addressed by the potential Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), as well as Paragraph 80, which calls for the negotiation of an implementing agreement under UNCLOS regarding biodiversity on the high seas. Other NGOs respond to the draft's mentions of alternatives to Gross Domestic Product (GDP), financing a green economy, and the SDGs.

more »Link is here.

Green Economy Coalition:
 ‘Grade B: Good effort, but really must try harder

Twenty years on from the first summit on sustainable development, this week the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development (UNCSD) Bureau released their first negotiating draft for Rio 2012.  They have called the draft ‘the future we want’.  They say that it aims towards a ‘prosperous, secure and sustainable future for our people and our planet’. They express their ‘determination to pursue the green economy in the context of sustainable development and poverty eradication’. So, given the momentous challenges that face our societies and the planet, does the document live up to these ideals?  Is this a blueprint for a better future? Is that future tangible, possible and near? 

From a distance, the document ticks many of the right boxes.  It pulls together a range of different strands and proposals into a single piece ranging from finance and poverty alleviation to ecosystem preservation and climate change. It picks up on a large number of issues and proposals that we, and our partners, have been promoting over the last six months here at the Green Economy Coalition. But, while all the right elements of the composition are present, the picture as a whole is blurry. The document lacks urgency, it lacks courage, it lacks conviction.  The ‘future we want’ is painted in watercolours with hazy edges and indistinct areas, it is not a bold oil painting that shows us the pathway towards a more resilient, secure and just world.

Secretariat of the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development 2012.
The following is an overview of rights-based language in the submissions of member states and inter-governmental organizations compiled by the Secretariat of the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development 2012.  They are organized according to major themes: 
Human rights in general; 
Rights over the access, management, and ownership of natural resources; 
Property and user rights; 
Right to food; 
Right to social services; 
Right to information; 
Women’s rights; 
Workers’ rights; 
Indigenous Peoples’ Rights 
Rights to Self-determination
Right to development 
Common but Differentiated Responsibility


An overview of equity-based language in the submissions of member states and inter-governmental organizations compiled by the Secretariat of the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development 2012organized according to major themes:
  • Social equity,
  • Equitable economic development,
  • Sustainable use of resources,
  • Equitable access to resources,
  • Equitable distribution of wealth, and
  • Equity in global trade

Everyone interested in participating in the Rights for Sustainability Initiative may

email Paul Quintos for more information.

Global Civil Society Workshop
Rights of Nature

Bolivia, Ecuador, and Paraguay specifically called on the Zero Document to include the “rights of nature.”  Each noted that in order to reestablish balance with nature, it is essential to recognize that nature has rights that should be respected, promoted, and defended.


Paraguay added that the obligations of humans need to be clearly established with regard to recognizing nature’s rights in our laws and enforcing them.


Bolivia further explained that “[i]n an interdependent and interrelated system like the planet Earth, it is not possible to recognize the rights of just the human part of the system without affecting the whole.”  Accordingly, “[u]nless the rights of nature are respected and safeguarded, it will not be possible to guarantee human rights and achieve sustainable development.”  As an example, Bolivia stated that “[h]umans and all living things have the right to water, but water also has rights.”  In light of the fact that nature has rights, “it is necessary to clearly establish the obligations of humans toward nature.”  


As some of the sources for its proposals, Bolivia referenced the Earth Charter (2000) and the World People’s Conference on Climate Change and the Rights of Mother Earth (2010), which resulted in the “Declaration of the Rights of Mother Earth.”  Bolivia’s proposals included an International Tribunal of Environmental and Climate Justice to judge and sanction crimes that violate the rights of nature.  Finally, Bolivia specifically criticized “market mechanisms with regard to nature, biodiversity and the so-called environmental services,” stating that such market mechanisms will “deepen the imbalance with nature because they are driven by the search for maximum profits and not harmony with nature.”


Ecuador added that States should “take precautionary measures and restrict activities that could lead to the extinction of species, the destruction of ecosystems or permanent changes to natural cycles.”  Ecuador indicated its support for a Universal Declaration of the Rights of Nature, and proposed a new paradigm of “living well” as an alternative to the prevailing model based on “endless economic growth.”  Ecuador described the process of achieving a state of “living well” as including lessons from indigenous ancestral knowledge regarding living in harmony with oneself, nature, and others to build democratic, inclusive, plurinational and multicultural States.


Costa Rica called for “campaigns to defend the rights of endangered species and ecosystems.”


The IUCN stated that governance for sustainable development should include a “rights-based approach to environmental governance” and added that “it is essential to adopt rights-based approaches to conservation and natural resource management.”  The IUCN further called on national and local governments to ensure the enforcement of rights and responsibilities, by, among other things, developing international and/or national courts for environmental issues and broadening the functions of existing courts to include environmental issues.


UN Women referenced the need for “environmental rights” and noted that a “rights-based approach and a development approach” is at the foundation of needed changes for Rio +20.

Linda Sheehan notes:
...we are currently operating from a fundamentally flawed assumption that humans stand apart from and control the environment, which we try to “manage” for its “resources.”  This assumption needs to evolve to recognize our integrated partnership with surrounding ecosystems and species, a partnership that we continue to harm by our destruction of its component elements.  As 
Bolivia noted in its submission, “[u]nless the rights of nature are respected and safeguarded, it will not be possible to guarantee human rights and achieve sustainable development.” 
Linda Sheehan
Executive Director
Earth Law Center
Moy Hitchen of Edmund Rice International (ERI):

 I note only Ecuador and Bolivia mention Earth rights! (Bolivia specifically says 'water has rights'.)


I notice China defines 'development' in terms of 'human rights' solely; no other indicators of progress are given. If this definition is taken, then we need to re-define 'development' quickly.


But the conference is about sustainability. Most of these interventions do not make clear how 'protecting' a human right is going be sustainable. In fact, as the IMF notes shrewdly, it's more about money transfers. So, such inputs do not help the conference goals, and lead us into a different discourse.


As the whole human population is a key component in all the planet's ecosystems, the whole human population has some rights within the network of rights that hold the system together  and validates it. The biggest issue is how can the whole human population (9 - 10 billion) survive, without denying other species, ecosystems and soils their rights to exist. It's a kind of 'right of the common good'  (identical to the rights of other species to exist).


Individual human rights (as in RBA) assume the human species is going to survive. Rio+20 is to ensure that the whole human species survives, not to descend to this level of which human right has precedence over which other right.

Our Rio+20 Vision

Farooq Ullah, Stakeholder Forum


The Zero Draft of the Outcome Document represents a strong starting point for effective and successful negotiations. The UN Secretariat has synthesised an honest and fair record of the conversations to date. But there remains much to play for. Currently the Zero Draft lacks the urgency, ambition, and detail required to use Rio as an opportunity to re-imagine our socio-economic systems and the way in which they work in harmony with nature, to deliver greater well-being for all, now and into the future.

Read more...

A Milestone Birthday for Planet Earth

By Peter Bosshard, Policy Director of International Rivers


Milestone birthdays are opportunities to take stock of our family, health and financial situation. So how is Planet Earth doing 20 years after the historic UN Conference on Environment and Development in Rio de Janeiro? The planet’s economic output has more than doubled since 1992. Some members of the global family are doing extremely well, but the number of hungry people is increasing. And the planet’s health is steadily deteriorating, with vital ecosystems nearing the point of collapse.

Read more...

Ombudspersons for Future Generations: Addressing the growing burdens for those who follow us

Catherine Pearce, World Future Council


Humanity and the environment faced the same problems last year, the year before that and the years before that… and they are growing exponentially. Rio+20 deliberations are running the risk of approaching the problems we face in the very same way that they have been caused. By considering each issue in isolation, without giving deeper attention to how they are interlinked or how the solutions can be mutually beneficial, we could further exacerbate this perfect storm of financial, environmental and fuel crises. 

Read more...

Towards Rio+20, How Can Big Companies Show Leadership?

Kaarin Taipale, Ph.D. (Urban Studies)


The Rio process is unique within the UN system, in its provision of space – even if limited – for ‘civil society’. The composition of the nine Major Groups, however, has always caused debate. For example, why are local governments called ‘local authorities‘ and considered non-government? Similarly, ‘business and industry’ sit uncomfortably in the role of an NGO. Although individual firms are represented by their umbrella organisations, much like in the other Major Groups, companies don’t have the opportunity to represent themselves at a session of the CSD.

Read more...


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