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Rio plus 20 – New Impulses for International Climate Negotiations?

Rio plus 20 – New Impulses for International Climate Negotiations?

25 June 2012

The 22st Climate Talk on 25 June 2012 occupies itself with the question: which impetuses for international climate policy will expand out from the Rio+20 Conference? The debate at the event, organized by Ecologic Institute in cooperation with the German Institute for International and Security Affairs (SWP), was opened by Dr. Karsten Sach (BMU), Dr. Thomas Koenen (BDI), and Daniel Mittler (Greenpeace), who were all fresh back from Rio.

Twenty years ago the vision of sustainable development, the economy, environment, and society was first proclaimed internationally at the "World Summit" in Rio de Janeiro. The Summit in 1992 was a milestone for international climate policy and global climate protection. Thus was signed the Framework Convention on Climate Change, which is still today the cornerstone of international climate policy. Two decades later, from 20 - 22 June 2012, a follow-up conference for sustainable development took place at the same location. The implementation of the long-since agreed sustainability policy held two things in focus, in specific the transition to a "Green Economy" and the reform of the institutional framework for sustainable development.

At the Climate Talk the climate-policy relevant aspects of the conference stood in the foreground.

Dr. Karsten Sach summarized the concrete results of the conference and assessed them with the background of global policy and environmental policy challenges. He referred specifically to the appreciation of the concept of the Green Economy in the UN's sustainability discussion. Dr. Sach further discussed aspects of the institutional strengthening of UN environmental policy. Lastly he explained the Capacity Development Scheme, introduced by the EU. Furthermore, Mr. Sach underlined the significance of globally shifting constellations of power at such conferences, in which emerging countries, like Brazil, would emerge in the negotiations with a new self-confidence. Mr. Sach viewed it as a good sign that, upon the start of negotiations, much was being spoken about international climate policy. With this, the conference was also used to strengthen and further develop the Durban Alliance between the EU and important developing countries.

Daniel Mittler from Greenpeace showed that he was on the whole quite disappointed with the results of the negotiations. Greenpeace explicitly labeled the conference not as a climate conference, rather as a much broader, sustainability conference. Therefore, before and at the conference, Greenpeace tried to steer the public debate also to other important themes, for example, to the debate about the Brazilian Forest law and the protection of the high seas. As a result, despite good approaches in the run-up, the conference would not have delivered the necessary results. There are parallels to the climate negotiations in Copenhagen in 2009. At this summit there were also high expectations, but not much achieved. As to climate, it is to be held, that on a basic level, the goals from 1992 were once again confirmed. This generally strengthens the Durban Platform as well. One big remaining theme is the debate about the understanding of the principle of common but differentiated responsibility.

Dr. Koenen from the BDI, before all, took interest in the role of private industry in the negotiations. The BDI mainly represented the interests of the German economy at the summit. Many inquiries were given regarding the German energy transition and the role of private industry in it. The exchange and the networking were however complicated by the special separation of the various groupings and event locations. The various forums for policy, economy, and civil society were often several hours away from each other. As a whole the BDI also expected better results. But the UN conferences would have not have survived on their own despite the failures of the prior years, because they have no alternatives. There needs to be continued adaptation to the changing constellations of power and actors in international negotiations like Rio. One example is Brazil, which showed a completely new self-confidence.

In the concluding debates the participants delved deeper into the analysis of the poor negotiation results as well as the significance of the conference for the climate process. On the whole, the results of the summit, namely the lack of results, was lamented and criticized as insufficient. The summit in some ways once again demonstrated the weaknesses of the international processes and the limits of multilateralism. The current constellation of actors in upcoming emerging countries, an EU with rising internal and economic difficulties, and skepticism of opener resistance in the USA make it more improbable that a lasting consensus on environmental and sustainability issues on the UN level will occur in the near future. One hopes now for a new impetus from other actors and from new constellations between these actors. Due to the current dynamic of the various national interests and on the site of the NGOs, economic, further societal groups, there is potential for new partnerships and alliances. Controversies were discusses, if the classic North-South conflict is responsible for the poor negotiations result. Emerging and developing countries would rely on this (common but differentiated responsibilities), although the framework conditions in the previous years would have changed significantly, and the North would have put itself in a financial and economic crisis. The opinion was also represented that the original Rio agreement would already have been newly defined and adapted to the actual realities, but the Rio+20 Summit fell back upon the old role distribution and therefore was seen as a step backwards. A new, comprehensive deal as a basis for the Rio negotiations process must be established for the long term.

After the event the lively debates were continued in a relaxed atmosphere in a nearby restaurant.

Dr. Karsten Sach (Federal Ministry for the Environment, Nature Conservation and Nuclear Safety)
Dr. Thomas Koenen (BDI - Federation of German Industry)
Daniel Mittler (Greenpeace)
25 June 2012
Berlin, Germany
Number of Participants
Climate, Rio, Green Economy, UNEP, Human rights, UNFCCC