Rio+20: Reflections and Realizations
My name is Nur, and I am a passionate youth who is striving to work for the transformation of the world. I was an intern at the BIC over the summer of 2011, where my engagement with the United Nations Commission on Sustainable Development began, and I am currently wrapping up my studies in international relations and environmental science in Vancouver, Canada. I am so excited and grateful that I have reconnected with the wonderful team at the BIC and have been given this opportunity to participate at Rio+20 this year.
Surprise side-event at the Youth Blast
It is my sincere wish that if the peoples of the world have a sincere enough longing for change, the Rio+20 Earth Summit will mark a turning point in the spiritual and material advancement of humanity. I have a strong sense, from the multitude of hopeful and enthusiastic campaigns and endeavours in preparation for Rio+20 throughout the year, that the longing for change is indeed burning fiercely, especially within the hearts of the world’s youth. Even the title of the Rio+20 negotiation document, “The Future We Want,” speaks to the eagerness of taking ownership for the future of our planet and making conscious decisions that will create this reality.
It had only been a couple hours since I arrived when Daniel Perell (one of the head delegates for the BIC) informed me that we were holding a presentation and discussion at the Youth Blast, a side-event conference that aims to empower young people to effectively participate in Rio+20 and its processes. The presentation will be about the concept of “trusteeship,” one of the main themes in the BIC’s statement to Rio+20, Sustaining Societies: Towards a New ‘We”. World-encompassing trusteeship is the idea that each person enters the world as a trust of the whole, and in turn, bears a measure of responsibility for the welfare of all. It is another way of understanding the oneness of humanity. The concept of trusteeship encompasses and contextualizes many topics that are being discussed at Rio+20 such as human rights and sustainable modes of production and consumption, but the principle is of particular importance to the youth since it implies the need for an intergenerational viewpoint in which the well-being of future generations is considered at all levels of decision-making. A rich discussion brought to attention that trusteeship can have both horizontal and vertical dimension, such as mutual care and responsibility between people in an equal and reciprocal relationship, but more of a vertical asymmetric relationship in regards to our care and responsibilities to the preservation and restoration of the natural environment.
To read more about the Youth Blast, visit the blog of another youth delegate, Miles Hanks.
World-encompassing trusteeship is the idea that each person enters the world as a trust of the whole, and in turn, bears a measure of responsibility for the welfare of all. It is another way of understanding the oneness of humanity.
Changing feelings and thoughts about Rio+20
We held orientation for the BIC delegation this morning. In the course of our discussion, my thoughts and expectations for Rio+20 began to change. Yesterday I expressed my hopes that Rio+20 would be a turning point for humanity’s development and bring about substantial change. However, after today I don’t feel that Rio+20 or the processes of the UN will bring about a true transformation of the world. In the 2012 annual message from the governing body of the worldwide Bahai community, it says,
“For let none suppose that the civilization towards which the divine teachings impel humankind will follow merely from adjustments to the present order.”
In the present order, the United Nations has many weaknesses both structurally, in established processes, and ideologically because of fundamental assumptions about human nature and international relations that are incompatible with the lofty goals of Rio+20. For instance, the attachment to state sovereignty and the assumption that people are selfish and untrustworthy are great hindrances to real agreement or action. While we discussed what success would look like for us at Rio+20, I encountered some new ideas that I had not considered: maybe success is that the world recognizes the processes at the UN or Rio+20 to have failed, and therefore realizes that a completely new system is needed. Perhaps we shouldn’t be disappointed or disillusioned if Rio+20 fails, because we can see failures as simply the next steps along humanity’s path to unity. We also discussed that for us, at this point we would feel that Rio+20 has been successful if we have engaged with people in meaningful discussion, advancing the various discourses. We can gauge success by the extent to which a collective consciousness is reached.
A call for teamwork as the negotiations continue
Negotiations are excruciatingly slow, sometimes taking hours to get through a couple paragraphs. At times country delegates argue about every word in a paragraph and agreement about language is difficult to reach because each country has its position fixed and is not willing to look beyond national loyalties. The EU and the G77 (developing countries) tend to have polarized positions. For example, the G77 countries feel that they have the right to exploit their environments and pollute in order to develop and come out of poverty since the developed countries did the same thing over the past century. The developing countries feel that it’s unfair and hypocritical that the developed countries are now telling them to be sustainable, and they see it as the responsibility of the developed countries to stop polluting and clean-up the environment.
Today the informal negotiations ended. The US chair described his experience in his working group: “Imagine a 17-hour flight, economy class, with no food, and a movie with nothing but words and brackets.” The next couple of days will consist of more negotiations and simultaneous Sustainable Development Dialogue days, along with a parallel conference hosted by the Brazilian Government called the People’s Summit.
I encountered some new ideas that I had not considered: maybe success is that the world recognizes the processes at the UN or Rio+20 to have failed, and therefore realizes that a completely new system is needed.
Ambition, ambition, where are you?
Yesterday there was a meeting of the Major Groups (civil society) and the Rio+20 Bureau. A representative from each was given the floor to make a two-minute statement sharing opinions about how the negotiations are going and to ask any questions. Due to the fact that this is the first time that civil society has been given such a space to have their voices heard, this opportunity is very exciting. The common thread in each group’s statement was concern with a general lack of ambition and weak political will at the negotiations. Daniel from our delegation read the statement for the NGOs, and my favourite line was: “How can we achieve international cooperation in solving international problems as stated in the UN Charter, when negotiations are being driven by loyalties that do not extend beyond the nation state?” I began to think about why it is so hard for governments to agree about sustainable development policies; it is because sustainable development requires sacrifice on behalf of some individuals and groups for the common good. It is because reducing inequalities, protecting the environment and considering the interests of future generations requires sacrifice of certain personal interests. This concept is very difficult when the ruling elites in every single nation are benefitting from the current situation.
Global North, you need to lead by example:
|Emergency exit at Rio+20 cafeteria; ironically symbolic of some of the locks and barriers that are holding back the governments here from coming to agreements that will truly allow us to escape the crises that face humanity today.|
I immediately remembered comments by Mr. Martin Khor from the South Center on what Rio+20 must do to achieve The Future We Want. He said that the core of the problem lies in what people believe development and happiness to be. We cannot ask poor nations to adopt sustainable consumption and production and to limit their standard of living if we are not willing to do the same thing. Why should the poor accept the limitations of the planet when their own leaders are leading lavish lifestyles? Sustainable development for developing countries requires that developed countries model what they are asking for. For example, if we say: “You can have only 1 motor car per family in India because the world doesn’t have enough resources,” while the people from the global north saying this each have 4 cars per family, the people in India will respond and say, “No way! We want the same as you guys and our own leaders.” Then we say, “Alright, let’s drive electric cars.”, giving us a new consensus: each family in the North can have 7 electric cars while each family in the South can have 2. This situation is not much different. The question is: What is the world’s perception of what constitutes success and happiness. The number of motor cars? As long as we believe so, environmental and social justice will be almost impossible.