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Rio +20 has nothing to say on REDD (and not much on anything else)

Rio +20 has nothing to say on REDD (and not much on anything else)On 19 June 2012 at 2.45 am, the world’s governments at Rio +20 agreed a draft text on “The Future We Want”. If it’s accepted in its current form, Rio +20 will go down in history to be followed inevitably by the word failure.

“Rio+20 has turned into an epic failure,” says Greenpeace head Kami Naidoo. “We were promised the ‘future we want’ but are now being presented with a ‘common vision’ of a polluter’s charter that will cook the planet, empty the oceans and wreck the rain forests.”

“It is a pathetic result,” says Jim Leape, head of WWF. “If they embrace this document, then this will have been a waste of time.” WWF is so angry that they hung a banner reading “Let’s get SeRIOus +20” from a hot air balloon near the conference centre in Rio.

But the problem is not really what’s in or omitted from the text. The problem is that despite the promises made 20 years ago at the first Rio Earth Summit, the state of the world’s environment is now far worse. No matter how wonderful the words at Rio +20 might have been, there was never any guarantee that anything meaningful would be implemented.

The meeting did succeed in fighting off the USA’s attempt to delete the words “common but differentiated responsibilities”. The Rio +20 “Common Vision” reaffirms the the principle of common but differentiated responsibilities and reaffirms that “climate change is one of the greatest challenges of our time”, and it expresses “profound alarm that emissions of greenhouse gases continue to rise globally”. But there are no targets and no deadlines, presumably because that’s the job of the UNFCCC, which was set up in Rio 20 years ago.

The document also reaffirms “the intrinsic value of biological diversity”, highlights “the importance of the conservation of biodiversity”, and recognises that “traditional knowledge, innovations and practices of indigenous peoples and local communities make an important contribution to the conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity”. Again there are no targets and no deadlines, presumably because that’s the job of the CBD, which was set up in Rio 20 years ago.

“The forest text is an overwhelming embarrassment. There is simply nothing there.” Kumi Naidoo comments on the Rio+20 text on forests. In fact, there are four paragraphs in the text about forests. Whether the words included in the text mean anything much is another question entirely.

REDD is mentioned in the text. But only in one sentence, and that sentence follows four sentences about “sustainable forest management”.

We note the importance of ongoing initiatives such as reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation in developing countries; and the role of conservation, sustainable management of forests and enhancement of forest carbon stocks in developing countries.

So, the text is pretty cool on REDD. The UN uses the word “note” when nothing has been formally adopted. It is much weaker than using the word “welcome”. Which other “ongoing initiatives” on forests the text is referring is not clear.

According to an observer in Rio, the G77 initially opposed the reference to REDD. However, many developing countries were afraid to insist on deleting the reference, because they were worried about losing REDD finance from Norway, which wanted the text on REDD to remain in the document.

The forest text calls for the “urgent implementation of the Non-legally Binding Instrument on all Types of Forests”, which was adopted in 2007 by the UN General Assembly.

Two deadlines were deleted from the text on forests during the negotiations in Rio (a draft version, dated 2 June 2012 is available here). The first was a commitment “by 2020, to strengthen forest governance frameworks and achieve sustainable forest management”. The second was the aim of “halting global forest cover loss by 2030 at the latest”. But targets and deadlines would be the work of the UN Forum on Forests, which developed from the Intergovernmental Panel on Forests, set up in Rio 20 years ago. There’s a good overview of the “achievements” of the UN Forum on Forests since 1992 on wikipedia. If you can spot any meaningful achievements, let me know.

The text on forests is posted below and the full text of the Rio +20 “Common Vision” is available here. REDD-Monitor will allow you to form your own opinion of whether or not this represents an “epic failure” or just another very expensive, high level UN waste of time that could never have resulted in anything else other than failure.


193. We highlight the social, economic and environmental benefits of forests to people and the contributions of sustainable forest management to the themes and objective of the Conference. We support cross-sectoral and cross-institutional policies promoting sustainable forest management. We reaffirm that the wide range of products and services that forests provide creates opportunities to address many of the most pressing sustainable development challenges. We call for enhanced efforts to achieve the sustainable management of forests, reforestation, restoration and afforestation, and we support all efforts that effectively slow, halt and reverse deforestation and forest degradation, including inter alia promoting trade in legally-harvested forest products. We note the importance of ongoing initiatives such as reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation in developing countries; and the role of conservation, sustainable management of forests and enhancement of forest carbon stocks in developing countries. We call for increased efforts to strengthen forest governance frameworks and means of implementation, in accordance with Non-Legally Binding Instrument on All Types of Forests (NLBI) to achieve sustainable forest management. To this end, we commit to improving the livelihoods of people and communities by creating the conditions needed for them to sustainably manage forests including through strengthening cooperation arrangements in the areas of finance, trade, transfer of environmentally sound technologies, capacity-building and governance, as well as by promoting secure land tenure, particularly decision-making and benefit sharing, in accordance with national legislation and priorities.

194. We call for urgent implementation of the Non-legally Binding Instrument on all Types of Forests and the Ministerial Declaration of the high-level segment of the ninth session of the United Nations Forum on Forests on the occasion of the launch of the International Year of Forests.

195. We recognize that the United Nations Forum on Forests, with its universal membership and comprehensive mandate, plays a vital role in addressing forest-related issues in a holistic and integrated manner, and promoting international policy coordination and cooperation to achieve sustainable forest management. We invite the Collaborative Partnership on Forests to continue its support to the Forum and encourage stakeholders to remain actively engaged in the work of the Forum.

196. We stress the importance of integrating sustainable forest management objectives and practices into the mainstream of economic policy and decision-making, and to that end we commit to working through the governing bodies of member organizations of the Collaborative Partnership on Forests to integrate, as appropriate, the sustainable management of all types of forests into their strategies and programmes.


PHOTO Credit: Berenice Sanchez.

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  1. What a waste of time. UN money down the drain. Country reports brought to Rio +20 were not worth it. What a waste of time and money. Why travel all the way across the globe to end up with nothing constructive? It would have been better if Rio +20 had not been convened at all.

  2. There are systemic changes needed in the charters of corporations: Today most have no mandate to consider the environment or any component therof, including people who inhabit it, no discrimination here, I mean all people. Also, there is no mandate in the charters of corporations that would limit the influence in- participation with- or even legally changeing constitutions or interpretations of rules of governments or branches thereof, such as putting their own man or woman in public office with the purpose of removing legal limitations, undermining or diverting restrictive rulemaking, preventing enforcement and preventing the expansion of liability or responsibility in the face of environmental desasters, caused by ignoring safety measures in the promotion of profits. The limit of corporations is the limited liability. To hope that any forum, or any branch of the U.N., or any world conference, or human rights organization or world wildlife fund will actually have greater influence than corporate interests is unrealistic, as the corporations have already achieved the ruination of the finances of the greatest Nations on Earth, while amassing capital in their coffers, so they can hold the creation of employment over the heads of politicians and the public, the minute someone criticizes their products or ways of influence peddling. I think that the economy is the only way to effect change. The public has to know, which companies do everything right and have it in their charters to effect social and environmental responsibility, reject the use of poison or non-biodegradable packageing and have a mandate to limit their carbon footprint. These would be companies the public could choose tu purchase from, invest in, and associate with. It is the economic feedback loop that will influence what corporations do. Because there is no limit to their mandate to make money, not even if they have to do the right thing to get it. They will also put it on their banner, before it is true.

  3. I wonder how much extra carbon and other GHG have been omitted for nought on this 20 plus occasion.

    Naturally it will ultimately fail. The whole political philosophy is not to change therefore wallpapering over the industrial economic mess will too be a collosal waste of time and effort.

    Changes begin with the heart and minds of G8/G20 folk changing their philosophy to one of contentment and localism. The politicians love the idea of so called natural capital capitulation because it means they have to do nought to act on what is the biggest vortex of destruction to affect the human species in its history….unfortunately history will not be able to repeat itself sometime and not too long a sometime in the near future.

  4. What a waste of time to have this ideological/conceptual discussion on REDD+.
    Reduction of emissions is needed and forests must be saved.
    Please stop with this bullshitting against things that don’t exist (such as carbon markets for REDD+).