Rich nations backtrack on pacts

Last Updated 07 June 2012, 16:45 IST

Developed countries want to delete para-graphs that call for a balanced treatment of IPR issues.

With only a few days to go before the start of the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development in Rio de Janeiro, there are disturbing signs that developed countries are attempting to backtrack from the commitments they made at the original Earth Summit of 1992 to assist the developing countries to move towards the path of sustainable development. There are also fears that the conference, dubbed Rio plus 20, may not fully reaffirm the political commitments made twenty years ago.

Some progress on the summit’s declaration was made during the final preparatory meeting for the conference that ended on Junuary 2 in New York City. But only 70 paragraphs out of a total of 329 have been agreed on, leaving negotiators with the daunting task of coming up with an agreed text by the time the political leaders meet on June 20-23.

The Rio+20 summit is facing the same hurdles of a North-South divide that recently became evident at negotiations in the World Trade Organisation, the Climate Change Convention and the UN Conference on Trade and Development.

Evident differences

Differences are evident in the three new issues being addressed by the Conference –the concept of the green economy, how to define sustainable development goals, and what new institutional framework to create to house future activities on sustainable development. But more worrying is the attempt by developed countries to dilute the principles agreed to in Rio 20 years ago, and to backtrack on pledges to assist developing countries.

Thus the North-South divide does not only affect specific issues but also fundamental principles underlying international cooperation, particularly the principle of common but differentiated responsibilities (CBDR), and commitments on technology transfer and finance.

The CBDR was one of the Rio Principles adopted in 1992. It was agreed that all countries have a common responsibility to protect the environment, but also differentiated responsibilities because the rich countries should shoulder the lion’s share of environmental action, due to their greater contribution to the ecological crisis and their greater economic resources.

This basic principle, which the developing countries consider the most critical, is under attack. In the recent negotiations, the United States has made it clear it cannot accept references to CBDR. Almost all developed countries argue that no single Rio principle should be singled out and a general reference to the set of Rio principles should suffice.

This is a cause of great concern to developing countries, grouped in the G77 and China. For them, the clear reaffirmation of the CBDR principle in particular and the Rio principles in general is politically crucial. Otherwise Rio+20 would be retreating from the goals of the original Earth Summit.

In the section on technology transfer in the draft declaration, the US, European Union, Canada and Australia do not even want any reference to technology transfer in the title.

The current title in the draft reads: ‘technology development and transfer’. The US, the EU, Canada and Australia want to delete the word transfer’ and instead re-name the section technology development, innovation, science and research’. Wherever the words ‘technology transfer’ appear, there is an attempt to change it to voluntary transfer on mutually agreed terms and conditions.

The major developed countries also want to delete entire paragraphs that call for a balanced treatment of intellectual property rights. For example, the Co-Chairs proposed that the impact of patents on developing countries’ access to technology be examined, but almost every developed country rejected this effort.

The draft also urges developed countries to make additional concrete efforts towards the target of allocating 0.7 per cent of their gross national product (GNP) to development aid, which had been in the original Rio action plan. But Canada and the US want to delete this, claiming they never agreed to this target.

The G77 and China proposed that developed countries provide new funds exceeding 30 billion dollars a year from 2013-17 and 100 billion dollars a year from 2018 onwards, and to set up a sustainable development fund. But most developed countries objected to the mention of figures and the fund.

Many developing-country officials are worried their countries are being asked to take on more obligations, without corresponding new commitments to support them. As negotiations resume in Rio on June 13, it is hoped that there will be a change of heart by the developed countries on these issues.  That is needed to enable rapid progress on other issues, and ensure a successful outcome for Rio+20.


(Published 07 June 2012, 16:42 IST)

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