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Rio+20: Deep Splits And A Leadership Void Weeks Ahead Of Summit

Besides the lack of political leadership, the upcoming Rio+20 summit is showing signs of divisiveness over a draft outcome document.

When a landmark U.N conference on sustainable development kicks off in Brazil mid-June, more than 120 world leaders are expected to participate in the much-ballyhooed talkfest on the future of the global environment.

“But yet we haven’t had a single leader who has stood up and provided a vision and direction that these talks desperately need,” complained Tim Gore of the London-based Oxfam International.

“What we need,” he told reporters Tuesday, “is a vision for the future to reorient the global economy around the needs of the poorest – and to meet those needs within the environmental limits of this planet.

“It is not too late,” he said, “to get onto that track but we need that vision to be forthcoming now.”

Scheduled to take place Jun. 20-22, the three-day summit, also called Rio+20, is a follow-up to the historic June 1992 Earth Summit, also held in Rio de Janeiro, 20 years ago.

Besides the lack of political leadership, the upcoming conference is also showing signs of divisiveness over a draft outcome document – an action plan to be adopted by world leaders on sustainable development for the future.

An international coalition of over 400 non-governmental organisations (NGOs) from 67 countries is challenging “an apparent systematic effort by particular governments to delete virtually all references to well-established rights to water, energy, food and development.”

These are some of the basic principles agreed at the original Earth Summit in 1992, says the coalition which includes Oxfam International, Greenpeace International, the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC), the Council for Canadians, CIVICUS, and Women in Europe for a Common Future.

Asked if there is a North-South confrontation – rich versus poor – over negotiations on the draft document, Anil Naidoo of the Council of Canadians told IPS, “My assessment is that the conflicts (amongst U.N. member states) in the negotiations are mostly focused on the ill-defined green economy and on attacks on human rights and equity.

“We are seeing northern governments like Canada, the United States, New Zealand and the UK trying to remove human rights and safeguards in the document, which would leave the most vulnerable completely at the mercy of a commodified green economy,” he said.

In a letter to Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, and also addressed to the 193 U.N. member states, the coalition says that many countries are opposing prescriptive language that commits governments to actually do what they claim to support in principle and act as duty bearers of human rights.

These include the provision of finance, technology and other means of implementation to support sustainable development efforts in developing countries.

On the other hand, there is a strong push for private sector investments and initiatives to fill in the gap left by the public sector, says the letter, which is also addressed to the secretary- general of the conference, Under-Secretary-General Sha Zukang of China.

“This risks privatizing and commoditizing common goods such as water which in turn endangers access and affordability, which are fundamental to such rights,” it says.

Although economic tools are essential to implement the decisions aiming for sustainability, social justice and peace, the letter warns, a private economy rationale should not prevail over the fulfillment of human needs and the respect of planetary boundaries.

The coalition also calls for strong institutional framework and regulation because “weakly regulated markets have already proven to be a threat not only to people and nature, but also to economies and nation states themselves.”

Markets must work for people, people should not work for markets, the letter declares.

Naidoo told IPS, “As we have seen in the fight to achieve the human right to water and sanitation, the strongest resistance to human rights is clearly from countries like Canada, the U.S., New Zealand and some within the European Union such as the UK.”

This, he pointed out, sets up a situation where corporations from these countries can go into places where the most vulnerable are then without any protection.

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