Information and (random) thoughts on environmental governance
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Are Governments Ready for Rio 2012?

Guest post by Carole Excell

Photo credit: flickr/David Berkowitz

Though the next Earth Summit, Rio+20, will take place next June, few governments have started to seriously assess their progress towards achieving the internationally agreed upon sustainable development goals outlined in the Rio Declaration and Agenda 21, according to a recent survey from the Access Initiative.

Time is running short. In order to have a successful Rio+20, governments must submit meaningful and ambitious goals to the Zero Draft of the Outcome Document by November 1, which will outline the agenda and discussion points for Rio+20.

At the 1992 Earth Summit, governments gathered to rethink economic development, protection of the environment, and empowerment of people. Two of the most notable outcomes were the Rio Declaration, which outlined the principles needed to support sustainable development, and Agenda 21, the action plan for reaching these sustainable development goals (see box).

The 1992 Earth Summit was a great success in that it established a new perspective on the relationship between humans and the environment, however its legacy has been waning. Monetary policies have not balanced environment and development concerns, capacity building is a sidelined pillar of sustainable development, and governments have not progressed consistently in implementing refined ecosystem management practices.

The inability of the international community to implement the environmental and development objectives laid out 20 years ago in the Rio Declaration and Agenda 21 requires governments to critically reflect on why these internationally-agreed upon objectives were not or could not be fulfilled.

  • The Rio Declaration on Environment and Development is comprised of 27 principles that lay out objectives to achieving environmental well-being and reduction of poverty and waste.
  • Agenda 21 is the “blueprint” for global partnership to address specified challenges facing the international community: how to link society, economy, and nature (2) protection of natural resources, and inclusion of the public in decision-making.
  • Principle 10 states that environmental decisions are best handled with participation of all concerned citizens, at the relevant level.

The 5 Questions Campaign

In late spring 2011 The Access Initiative (TAI), a network of civil society organizations promoting the implementation of Principle 10 of the Rio Declaration, submitted five questions to governments focusing on how states were progressing in their preparations for Rio+20 and implementing this principle nationally. The “5 Questions Campaign” asked 24 governments questions related to Rio+20; governments were given 60 days to respond. Fifteen of the 24 governments responded with information directly related to the questions; most provided indefinite progress reports and were non-committal in their preparation efforts. (A detailed write-up of each of the countries’ responses can be found on the TAI website. Eight Latin American, three African, three European, and one Asian country responded.) In summary governments:

  • Made broad statements supporting citizen participation, information access, and justice but did not provide examples of how Principle 10 had been implemented, practiced, or protected, making no reference to improving commitments for Rio+20.
  • Advocated the importance of a “green economy” and “sustainable development,” but warned against a conference dedicated to the issue of the green economy which would derail the theme of improving the institutional framework for sustainable development.
  • Acknowledged that they had not yet begun forming committees or councils to reach out to the public about Rio+20; some cited resource constraints, while one government department responsible for the environment acknowledged they were unaware of Rio+20.

The 5 Question campaign illustrates that governments’ preparations for Rio+20 are insufficient; if Rio+20 is going to implement legitimate action plans on goals for sustainable development, governments need to quickly begin:

  • Reflecting on internal progress on Agenda 21 and the Rio Declaration.
  • Articulating to stakeholders how to become engaged with Rio+20 preparation process and how the government itself is preparing for next year’s summit.
  • Outlining their national, regional, and international goals relating to both Rio+20 themes with a specific focus on strengthening the institutional framework for sustainable development.

TAI maintains that there will be a missed opportunity at Rio+20 if governments do not carefully address improvements needed to national environmental governance. TAI’s ultimate goal is getting governments on record stating specific, measurable objectives, such as implementation of access laws or opening up more space for public participation. TAI wants governments to articulate how they will capitalize on Rio+20 to achieve their national-level goals– and to hold these governments accountable for action (or lack thereof) taken.

TAI partners will work with governments who have acknowledged civil society’s important role to discuss improving implementation of Principle 10 of the Rio Declaration. TAI also seeks to use Rio+20 as an opportunity to raise awareness of the importance of civil society participation to governments who have yet to formerly recognize the role of civil society. National-level preparation and goal-setting is essential for serious international action and a successful Rio+20.

The Five Questions

  1. What is the most important outcome that the government would like to see from Rio 2012?
  2. Is the government currently undertaking a process to review its progress to date in achieving commitments outlined in Agenda 21, the Rio Declaration on Environment and Development, and the Johannesburg Plan of Implementation?
  3. What are the government’s current plans to include stakeholder input into the discussions on the two themes for the conference, a green economy and sustainable development governance?
  4. Would the government support a call for the development of regional conventions to implement Principle 10 (P10), guaranteeing citizen rights of access to environmental information, public participation, and access to justice in environmental decision-making?
  5. Has the government designated officials responsible for organizing and preparing for Rio 2012?

Read more about the implementations TAI is pushing for at Rio+20.

This piece was written with Emma Smith, an intern with The Access Initiative.

July 13, 2011   No Comments

The 5th annual Kathryn S. Fuller Symposium

Solving the Mystery of MPA Performance: New perspectives on a familiar topic, a 1 day international symposium hosted by WWF on 5 November in Washington, DC, will review the state of the science of Marine Protected Areas as a foundation for both science-based policy and policy-relevant science. Marine protected areas (MPAs) have been an integral component of local, national, and international strategies for fisheries management and biodiversity conservation for decades, yet many aspects of MPA implementation and impacts remain uncertain. [Read more →]

August 21, 2010   No Comments

Five years after the IPCC Special Report on CCS: state of play

The Journal for Mitigation and Adaptation Strategies for Global Change will be publishing a Special Issue on Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) in 2011. The Special Issue is entitled “Five years after the IPCC Special Report on CCS: state of play”. The editors are looking for a broad range of review articles that examine and analyse the developments in a variety of CCS-related areas and/or build on the review done by the IPCC in 2005. The articles will be subjected to normal peer review. [Read more →]

July 26, 2010   No Comments

Nature™ Inc?

Nature™ Inc? Questioning the Market Panacea in Environmental Policy and Conservation
International Conference, 30 June – 2 July 2011, ISS, The Hague, The Netherlands

Nature is dead. Long live Nature™ Inc.! This adagio inspires many
environmental policies today. In order to respond to the many
environmental problems the world is facing, new and innovative methods
are necessary, or so it is argued, and markets are posited as the ideal
vehicle to supply these. Indeed, market forces have been finding their
way into environmental policy and conservation to a degree that seemed
unimaginable only a decade ago. Payments for ecosystem services,
biodiversity derivatives and new conservation finance mechanisms,
species banking, carbon trade, geoengineering and conservation 2.0 are
just some of the market mechanisms that have taken a massive flight in
popularity in recent years, despite, or perhaps because of the recent
‘Great Financial Crisis’. [

July 22, 2010   No Comments

Climate Change and Impact Assessment

The Aalborg (Denmark) Climate Change and Impact Assessment Symposium, 25-26 October 2010, include themes such as “social impact assessment”. Mitigation and adaptation strategies can potentially generate both negative and positive social impacts. Developing improved strategies to cope with climate change requires improved understanding of such impacts. For more information about the symposium see:

June 25, 2010   No Comments

Carbon Governance in Asia: Bringing Scales and Disciplines

The workshop on ‘Carbon Governance in Asia: Bringing Scales and Disciplines’ is calling for applications. The workshop will be jointly organised by the Global Carbon Project, the Earth System Governance Project and the United Nations University Institute of Advanced Studies (UNU-IAS) in Yokohama, Japan, on 1-3 November 2010. The workshop is supported by the Asia-Pacific Network on Global Change Research. The deadline for application is 8 July 2010.

For more information see:

June 18, 2010   No Comments

Conference of the IASC

The 13th Biennial Conference of the International Association for Study of the Commons will be held in Hyderabad, India, 10 – 14th January 2011.

More info at:

August 30, 2009   No Comments

Climate Change Adaptation 2010 Conference

“Climate Change Adaptation Futures: preparing for the unavoidable impacts of climate change” – 29 June – 1 July 2010, Gold Coast, Queensland, Australia

Co-hosted by Australia’s National Climate Change Adaptation Research Facility and the CSIRO Climate Adaptation Flagship, this conference will be one of the first international forums to focus solely on climate impacts and adaptation. It will bring together scientists and decision makers from developed and developing countries to share research approaches, methods and results. It will explore the way forward in a world where impacts are increasingly observable and adaptation actions are increasingly required.

The Climate Adaptation Futures Conference will showcase leading impacts and adaptation research from around the world. It will explore the contribution of adaptation science to planning and policy making, and how robust adaptation decision making can proceed in the face of uncertainty about climate change and its impacts.

More info at:

August 30, 2009   No Comments