Rio day 1: Gearing up
14 Jun 20120 comments
[Editor] Here is a little preview of what's in store at the Rio+20 Summit. Senior legal advisor, Dave Banisar is at the Summit and about to be joined by our South Asia director, Tahmina Rahman, who is coming as part of the Bangladesh delegation, and our South American director, Paula Martins, who runs our Brazil office.
What's the weather like?
Greetings from ground zero of the UN Summit on Sustainable Development (Rio+20). I'm in in sunny/rainy/cloudy Rio De Janeiro (not sure as i'm inside most of the time, someone please email me and let me know what is happening!) for the biggest meeting on development and environment.
The big cheeses
First a bit of background. For those of you that have never heard of this summit, this is the 20th anniversary of the 1992 Rio Earth Summit, where over 100 world leaders got together to save the Earth. They did such a fine job succeeding that they've decided to get back together again to see if they can do it again and actually save the earth this time. (you can also read the joint A19/TAI brief.)
On the table is upgrading the UN Environment Programme to something with clout and money and Sustainable Development Goals as well as lots of discussion of protection of oceans, water and other issues. Supposedly, 100 leaders are coming again but Nick Clegg is coming for the UK and Hilary Clinton for the US so not necessarily the top cheeses.
This Summit is important to us as advocates of right to information because the original Rio Declaration included Principle 10 calling for access to environmental information, public participation and access to justice. This resulted in the Aarhus Convention adopted by over 40 countries in Europe and Central Asia and a lot of countries putting access to information laws both in environmental laws and generally. You could say that it was pretty influential in the RTI laws we have today.
A little about us
I'm here in Rio for ARTICLE 19 as part of an effort to build on the 1992 Declaration and get a commitment out of governments to develop a new global convention on access to information, public participation and access to justice (or more regional ones perhaps) as well as commitments for national implementation of the rights and ensuing that UN bodies adopt those rules into the reformed UN environmental organisation, ECOSOC, UNCSD and other related bodies. We are also busy promoting RTI as a cross cutting issue for the new sustainable development goals that are being discussed, as well as in sectoral areas such as water.
The Summit is being held in Rio Centro, the same as in 1992, which is about 40 miles outside of Rio proper so people are spending up to 2-3 hours a day on the buses depending on traffic getting there and back (i'm writing this on the bus there). So getting so a bit of tourism in from the bus but don't actually expect to see much of Rio in the next 11 days except out the window. I'm seeing some lovely views right now of the mountains on one side and the ocean and beaches but its not quite 9 am so no one on them yet. Didn't get back to my room in Copa until 10 last night so no views going back.
The Summit is divided into three parts. At the moment, we are having the Prep-Com where the Outcome Document is intended to be finalised. It is only supposed to go until Friday, followed by 4 informal days Sat-Tue where NGOs will be holding meetings with governments and public events and then the Summit itself next wed-Fri. But it’s likely the Prep-Com negotiations will go on until the Summit itself (more on that below).
Our side event and building works
There are over 500 registered side events here at Rio Centro plus an unknown larger number across the city and an estimated 50,000 people are coming for the Summit. We are holding a big one day event ourselves on Tuesday with the Deputy Director of UNEP and a number of other senior people. At the moment, its early so its still quiet. Perhaps only a few thousand were here on Day 1.
I chaired a panel session on Climate Finance we co-organised with Transparency International in a new temporary pavilion that they have made just for the CSOs (perhaps to trap us all in when the negotiations get serious ;-). In fact when we arrived, they were still building the room and had not finished putting in the generators for the air conditioning. It was an interesting discussion on ensuring accountability and transparency in climate funds but not as many people as we would have liked as it was the first panel on the first day and most people were in traffic or security.
For the most part, when we are not trying to lobby delegations or in side events, CSOs are meeting in groups like meerkats huddling together for protection. For access to information, groups including ARTICLE 19, World Resources Institute/Access Initiative, Friends of the Earth UK, World Futures Council (who want a ombudsman for future generations) and a number of TAI partner groups are meeting twice a day at the moment as well as endless huddles. We also have larger daily briefings of all of the major groups and of just the NGO section of major groups. There is also the UK NGOs group that we hope to meet with Deputy PM Nick Clegg when he gets there next week for the Summit itself. So lots of meetings to trying and coordinate actions as things develop.
Delgations but no delegates
Negotiations are very slow. They have broken the outcome document into a number of pieces and are holding separate discussions in different rooms. You could say that the atmosphere is tedium broken by moments of excitement as our paragraphs come up. Otherwise, there are endless discussions about some words- there was a half hour one on "fundamental" in some unknown context unless they finally were able to get online to look at other treaties and agreements and discovered that the it was already there in some previous. Then there was 45 minutes on an amendment but no delegate in the room from the government that proposed it so they couldn't decide anything. Other times, they are waiting for something or start having side meetings and no one quite knows what is going on except that we are sitting on the floor waiting and if lucky the internet is working so checking our email. This happens a lot.
There is a now a persistent rumour that if the negotiations don't resolve by Friday, Brasil will announce that they have a short summit declaration like the Johannesburg Declaration in 2002 at the last one of these high level meetings where the the governments couldn't get their acts together.
Currently there are about half dozen paragraphs relating to access to information, transparency and public participation that we are trying to influence. A couple of the beginning are mostly about how important they are but not committing to anything. More importantly are paragraphs 69 and 93 which relate to commitments for action in a very watered down way. Last night, there was a major impasse on these roughly on north-south lines and we are waiting this morning to find out what happened.
You can see the draft at http://www.scribd.com/doc/96419644/Draft-of-UN-Rio-20-main-text
The bus ride (95 minutes this morning!) is finally over so i'm off to work now once i can get online to send this (very dodgy most of the time) and off to my morning briefings of NGOs and the info group.