The behemoth that is the Rio Declaration on Sustainable Development has less to it than meets the eye.
It is long on declaratory intent, short on decisive resolve.
Faced with an unprecedented global ecological crisis, the international community makes general statements of intent. Recommendatory phraseology beats decision-making. Feel less pain that way, right now.
In the Declaration that is near certain to be adopted on Friday, we:
- ‘encourage’ ourselves to do something 49 times;
- ‘call for’ things to be done 45 times;
- ‘recommend’ a few times (6);
- urge (35), note (37), consider (30), request (12), welcome (17), acknowledge ((33), support (99), reaffirm (59), and emphasise / stress / underline / underscore 164 times.
Do States make any decisions at all at this critical historical juncture?
Why yes, we ‘decide’ 3 times, resolve 16 times, commit 29 times and agree to do something 6 times.
Let us analyse some of these more ambitious moments.
- Work more closely with [the nine] Major Groups ( paragraph 43)
- Support UN funding for infrastructural investment (149)
- Implement the Istanbul POA for developing countries )181)
- Promote international cooperation in biodiversity (202)
- Explore options for a Sustainable Development Financing Strategy to mobilize financial resources (255)
- Explore modalities for enhanced access to environmentally-sound technology in developing countries (270)
- Establish a universal intergovernmental high-level political forum to replace the Sustainable Development Commission (84, 86);
- Accelerate implementation of (existing) commitments already made in CEDAW, Agenda 21 and the Beijing POA;
- Establish an inclusive and transparent intergovernmental process to develop the new Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to supplement the existing Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).
This amounts, you will see, to very little.
Essentially, the two significant things to come out of Rio+20 is upgrading the SD Commission to (probably) a Council, just as with human rights a few years back, and transforming / supplementing the MDGs with a sustainability tweak.
This, you will conclude, is insufficient to react to the Ecological Crisis that is fast approaching.