What We Want from Rio+20: An Update

On this day, the 20th year anniversary of the United Nations (UN) Conference on Sustainable Development, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon has likened Rio+20 to a “free-market revolution for global sustainability,” calling for the Conference to inspiring innovation to move the world along more sustainable pathways to economic growth and development. Subsequently, UN Commission for Sustainable Development Chair, Sha Zukang, explained that the main difference of Rio+20 from earlier conferences “will be the sharp focus on renewing political commitments and on implementation…and the unprecedented and strong engagement of the Major Groups of society – the non-state actors whose role is fundamental in building the future we want.” In this spirit, a key part of the Conference has been bringing commitments to the table. According to Sha, “My message is: come to Rio ready to commit.”

Indeed, it is in this spirit that The Access Initiative1 launched Three Demands (3Ds) Campaign in July of 2011. The network saw Rio+20 as a chance for individual countries to re-affirm their commitment to Principle 10 of the 1992 Rio Declaration and to take new and innovative steps to implement this cornerstone of environmental governance. Each country, the logic followed, would identify the most important steps in improving public involvement in environmental decision-making from forest management to pollution control, from project-level decisions to formation of law and regulation.

As the formal process has continued, UN member states have signaled once again, their commitment to open and participatory governance, in multiple versions of “The Future We Want,” the formal outcome document of the Rio+20 process. Furthermore, in one of the more interesting developments to emerge from the process, more than one “Compendium of Commitments” has been developed, including an official process led by UNDESA as well “Cloud of Commitments” to be launched by NRDC. These interfaces might help to energize implementation and accountability. But as we move closer to the Conference, are governments ready to commit?

New Developments in Principle 10 Demands

Certainly, civil society has intensified its calls for government commitments. Since the original launch of the 3Ds, another coalitions of NGOs in 11 other countries have added their voices to global call for improved implementation2. At the same time, a number of TAI partners and a large coalition of NGOs has also called for the launch of international instruments to strengthen national and sub-national governance. While that call is detailed in other documents, including all NGO major groups statements (and many of the statements by other major groups) leading up to the conference, we use the remainder of this space to detail some of the highlights of the developing 3Ds Campaign.

The 11 countries that have joined the Campaign include:

  • Cameroon
  • Colombia
  • Democratic Republic of Congo
  • Ireland
  • Macedonia
  • Malawi
  • Peru
  • Tanzania
  • Ukraine
  • United Kingdom
  • Venezuela

There are a number of interesting developments in these submissions. These proposals are summarized in the table, “Summary of 3ds October 2011-March 2012” on page 3. While diverse,
notable demands include:

  • Growing calls among civil society organizations for a global convention on Principle 10, in addition to regional conventions. Such a convention process might be launched by Rio+20 itself.
  • Continued calls for improvements in environmental data systems.
  • Improvements in public participation aspects of various environmental management laws, including forestry codes, environmental impact assessment, and natural resource contracts.

Mixed Signals from Governments

As we move closer to the official proceedings in Rio+20, will governments respond? Signals have been mixed. Arguments of “national sovereignty” have peppered proceedings, and few governments have made public their intention to improve governance. Notable exceptions include:

  • Chile and UNECLAC: Most notably, Chile and UNECLAC have both signaled their intent to launch a process negotiating a regional convention on access to information, public participation, and access to justice. Other countries formally supporting this call have included Peru, Ecuador, Costa Rica, and Jamaica. A number of other countries have discussed it, but have not formally signaled their support.
  • Ireland: The Irish Government has expressed its intention to ratify the Aarhus Convention (formally the UNECE Convention on Access to Informaiton, Public Participation, and Access to Justice in Environmental Matters).
  • European Union and Mexico: A number of countries have strongly signaled their support of moving the Almaty Guidelines on Access to Information, Public Participation, and Access to Justice in International Forums or their equivalent forward. These are considerations being taken into account within the context of the development of a high-level forum on sustainable development and discussions of the future status and functions of the United Nations Environment Programme.
  • Indonesia and South Africa: While declaring their commitments to improve access to information has not been a part of the Rio+20 process officially, both countries have entered plans to improve access to information for sustainable development (on forests in Indonesia, and for an “environmental open data portal” in South Africa).

On June 19th, 2012, the Access Initiative, Fundação Getulio Vargas, and the United Nations Economic Programme will host “Choosing Our Future: Open and Participatory Sustainable Development Governance,” an event which offers the opportunity for a number of governments to announce their commitments or fortify existing ones, perhaps by entering them into a voluntary compendium of
commitments. Beyond this date, it is hoped that the commitments process will be continue, as a rolling process perhaps in the high-level forum being discussed in formal negotiations. Hopefully, this is an opportunity to do more than just make Rio+20 and the institutions it establishes more than just a simple talk shop and activates civil society to work for the institutions we want.

Summary of 3Ds October 2011 - March 2012

Cameroon

  1. Accelerate the adoption of the Text of Application to Article 7 of the 1996 Frame Work Law Relating to Environmental Management, which gives citizens the right to access environmental information held by a public authority.
  2. Improving the effectiveness of the Official Gazette. In order to give it full effect, the Official Gazette should broadly be given the means, both financial, material and otherwise, to enable it fulfill its mission.
  3. Adoption of a general law on freedom of information
  4. Involvement of the Cameroon Civil Society (the major groups) and local communities in the negotiations and signing of natural resources related contracts.

Colombia

  1. Support the launch of negotiations for a global convention on Access Rights and the UN Conference on Sustainable Development and support negotiations on a regional convention on Access rights.
  2. Adopt measures to improve Access to Information in environmental material, including through accessible and simple means.
  3. Integrate environmental law into the training of judges and at all levels of the administration of justice.

Democratic Republic of the Congo

  1. Ensure the representative participation of local communities and different groups of actors working on the environment in national and international processes, in regulation, programs, and projects.
  2. Accelerate implementation of the Forest Code, and, according to the new law, especially with reference to the establishment of new institutions which will work to guarantee access to information, consultation, and access to justice
  3. Strengthen the recognition and the implementation of customary rights guaranteed in the Constitution and the Forestry Code.

Ireland

  1. Support the Aarhus Convention: Ireland should, without further delay:
    1. ratify and fully implement the UNECE Convention on Access to Information, Public Participation in Decision-making and Access to Justice in Environmental Matters (the Aarhus Convention);
    2. fully implement and enforce the existing EU legal instruments which transpose parts of the Aarhus Convention; and
    3. support the revival of the European Commission’s proposed directive on access to justice in environmental matters. Ireland should make the negotiation and adoption of this directive a priority during the Irish Presidency of the Council of the EU (January to June 2013)
  2. Ireland should amend its national laws and practices to ensure that accessing justice in environmental matters is no longer prohibitively expensive.
  3. Promoting Principle 10 globally, easing accession to the Aarhus Convention; supporting countries that are considering acceding to the Aarhus Convention; and, at Rio+20, supporting the negotiation and adoption of a global Principle 10 convention or other regional or sub-regional Principle 10 conventions.

Malawi

  1. Strengthening Institutional Arrangements which would establish basic environmental management.
  2. Enhancing law enforcement and compliance
  3. Expediting enactment of revised Environment Management Bill

Peru

  1. Push the creation of the National Climate Change Management Program (PRONAGECC) with the highest levels of transparency and access.
  2. Improve the EIA System, including major development projects, and the policies, plans and programs with significant environmental impacts.
  3. Improve the Environmental Accountability and Evaluation System (SINEFA) and the Organism of Accountability and Environmental Evaluation (OEFA).

United Kingdom

  1. Access to Justice: we request that our Government dedicates resources to bringing the UK into compliance with access to justice requirements under the UNECE Aarhus Convention.
  2. Public Participation: we request that our Government dedicates resources to putting measures in place to ensure the UK is consistently meeting its obligations under the UNECE Aarhus Convention to provide for adequate public participation in environmental decisions.
  3. Access to information: we request that our Government dedicates resources to conducing an audit of the UK's progress in meeting access to information requirements under the Aarhus Convention across a number of environmental sectors (e.g. publicly owned waste and water treatment facilities).

Venezuela

  1. Reconsideration of law on foreign cooperation.
  2. Consideration of the regional convention on Principle 10.