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

Is Global Action the Only Solution to Climate Change?

Secretary of UNFCCC Yvo De Boer Opens the Unit...

Image via Wikipedia

For many policy analysts reducing the threats of climate change requires an enforceable global treaty. But, global agreements have proven difficult to negotiate. Just remember the United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP 15) held last year in Copenhagen, which fell short of producing a meaningful outcome. Also, reaching a global agreement on climate change involves dealing with sensitive issues, such as the responsibility of developed countries for the current levels of CO2 in the atmosphere, the “rights” of developing countries to pursue economic growth, and who should bear the costs for solutions. For that reason, an enforceable agreement involving the major emitters of greenhouse gases may take a long time to be reached.

Elinor Ostrom – who was awarded the 2009 Nobel Prize in Economic Sciences for her research on governance – argues that just waiting for a global solution defeats the possibilities of substantial action to prevent dangerous climate change. In a recent paper published in the 20th Anniversary Special Issue of Global Environmental Change(1), she argues that averting climate threats require collective action at diverse levels (local, regional, national and global). By the way, global problems result from cumulative actions of individuals, families, small groups, private firms, and local, regional and national governments.

While a global agreement is yet to be realised, action is being taken by individuals, community groups, NGOs, and local, state and national governments. The examples are many: individuals cycling to work rather than driving; households replacing conventional light bulbs with more energy efficient ones, or installing solar panels; private firms and government investing in better designed buildings; and local and state governments engaging in programs to reduce their carbon “footprint”. While these actions have yet to make a significant contribution to reducing emissions, they create compound benefits – and these benefits are slowly cumulating. Also, action at multiple scales may enhance innovation, learning and adaptation, and the realisation of more sustainable outcomes.

For Ostrom there is no question that a global treaty is a major step that needs to be taken in tackling climate change. However, she challenges the assumption that only the global scale is relevant for policies related to global problems. It is important to take into consideration the potential of climate action at multiple scales too. Global efforts need to be backed by national, regional and local efforts to have a chance to work well. “Think globally but act locally”, does the slogan sound familiar?

(1) Polycentric Systems for Coping with Collective Action and Global Environmental Change. Global Environmental Change, 20: 550–557, doi:10.1016/j.gloenvcha.2010.07.004

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November 7, 2010   No Comments