Tuesday, 29 May 2012

Why it makes no sense for Australia to be a spoiler in Rio - by Don Anton

Why it makes no sense for Australia to be a spoiler in Rio
Donald K Anton
May 7, 2012

Rio+20 is an opportunity for us to re-establish our environmental credentials, DONALD K. ANTON writes
Negotiations are proceeding apace in New York in preparation for the global environmental gathering of the decade, the 2012 UN Conference on Sustainable Development in Rio de Janeiro - popularly known as Rio+20. One bright spot, in what is shaping up to be an otherwise disappointing meeting from an environmental protection perspective, is a proposal by the host country, Brazil, to use the conference as a platform to launch negotiations on a treaty to globalise public participation in environmental decision-making. Unfortunately, Australia appears to be acting as a spoiler.
Twenty years ago, the 1992 Rio Declaration on Environment and Development established Principle 10, in which the international community unanimously declared the fact that ''environmental issues are best handled with the participation of all concerned citizens'. Principle 10 established what have become known as the three pillars of effective participation. These pillars require:
■ access to environmental information held by government so that participation can be meaningful.
■ participation in environmental decision-making itself in order to give citizens democratic voice.
■ effective access to legal remedies in order to correct refusals to provide information or decisions that do not comport with the law.
In 1998, the Aarhus Convention on public participation was adopted under the auspices of the UN Economic Commission for Europe. The Aarhus convention is notable for its progressive rights-based approach to public participation in environmental protection. Its provisions helped to establish democratic accountability in a number of formerly closed and dictatorial Eastern European countries as they became members of the European Union. The Aarhus Convention, however, has been mostly a European affair. Although any member of the UN can join with the consent of the parties, disappointingly, this has not happened. This failure is presumably one reason why Brazil proposed to ''globalise'' public participation by starting negotiations on an international ''Aarhus'' type convention.
This brings us to the current state of play and Australia's negotiating stance in New York on moving towards a global public participation treaty. While negotiations always take place in a broader political context, it is disappointing that Australia is urging the deletion of the mere ''consideration of legally binding frameworks'' on public participation ''at the appropriate level'', including the ''international level'', from the political declaration that Rio+20 will produce. Such a position retards democratic accountability globally. Such a position is also contrary to the progressive, world leading environmental legislation across Australia that provides generous opportunities for concerned citizens to meaningfully engage and participate in environmental decision-making. Why would Australia oppose the globalisation of rights that its own citizens enjoy at home, when citizens in many countries continue to bear the unfair costs of decisions in which they neither have a voice, nor have a seat at the table? It does not make sense.
Lalanath de Silva, director of the Access Initiative at the World Resources Institute, and Jeremy Waits, secretary general of the European Environmental Bureau, suggest four additional reasons why it is bad policy for Australia to oppose the consideration of legally binding frameworks for public participation. First, the language being opposed only obliges states to ''consider'' a legally binding framework. It does not create a mandate to negotiate a convention or other framework, nor does it oblige states to negotiate one.
Second, the phrase ''legally binding frameworks'' covers many types of instruments. First it covers a potential global treaty. It also covers possible regional treaties. But most importantly from the Australian point of view, it covers ''bi-lateral'' treaties. If Australia's preference is to advance Principle 10 through bi-lateral agreements and mechanisms, then this language covers such instruments as well. The language is broad enough to catch up a variety of mechanisms leaving it open to each state to decide which framework (of many) suits them best.
Third, deleting the word ''international'' cuts right across the efforts Australia has been making to build the capacity of other nations to improve access rights. It cuts right across even bi-lateral approaches which are ''international''. It cuts right across the recently adopted 2010 UNEP Bali Guidelines on Principle 10 setting international guidelines. By deleting ''international'' the universal Principle in the Rio Declaration is being changed and limited to less than global as intended. This is a regressive step.Principle 10 has always been seen as a universal principle.
Fourth, it is in the interests of Australian business to globalise our domestic Principle 10 laws - because this creates a more level playing field for our companies to compete with companies from places like China - where such laws don't exist. This increases efficiencies for them and above all, increases their competitiveness and reduces the need to fall foul of laws and global conventions against corruption.
If we are to make the Rio+20 outcome ambitious and agenda-setting, it is important that Australia advances the cause of Principle 10 by specifying steps to advance its implementation. In addition to advancing global democracy, supporting the consideration of legally binding frameworks for public participation at the appropriate level could allow Australia to showcase its world leading participatory environmental legislation and help it regain the international environmental leadership it once so prominently held.
Professor Donald K. Anton is associate professor of law at the ANU College of Law 

Read more from Don Anton on Rio+20: 

The 2012 United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development and the Future of International Environmental Protection
Donald K Anton 


This opinion piece addresses concerns about the suitability of the continuing use of sustainable development as a concept around which to organize international environmental protection. Despite advances made in international environmental law over the last 40 years, progress in abating global greenhouse gas continues to be slow, and predictions about global average temperature increases remain disturbing. The upcoming GEO5 publication based on the United Nations Environment Programme’s Global Environmental Outlook data portal reveals that prospects for improvements in global environmental standards are grim. Some of the challenges facing the advancement of international environmental law can be largely attributed to inefficiencies associated with treaty congestion; however, there is a more fundamental reason why international environmental law remains ineffective. There has been little, if any, progress because we have been focusing solely on the concept of sustainable development for the last quarter century. It is clear that ‘sustainable development’ has become too malleable a theory to serve its vital purpose. Consequently, it needs to be replaced with a straightforward title for the environmental movement. The international community needs to reconsider its approach in dealing with today’s pressing environmental concerns.

Sunday, 27 May 2012

The Future We Want - by Ban Ki Moon

The Future We Want


Twenty years ago, there was the Earth Summit. Gathering in Rio de Janiero, world leaders agreed on an ambitious blueprint for a more secure future. They sought to balance the imperatives of robust economic growth and the needs of a growing population against the ecological necessity to conserve our planet’s most precious resources — land, air and water. And they agreed that the only way to do this was to break with the old economic model and invent a new one. They called it sustainable development.

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Two decades later, we are back to the future. The challenges facing humanity today are much the same as then, only larger. Slowly, we have come to realize that we have entered a new era. Some even call it a new geological epoch, where human activity is fundamentally altering the Earth’s dynamics.
Global economic growth per capita has combined with a world population (passing 7 billion last year) to put unprecedented stress on fragile ecosystems. We recognize that we can not continue to burn and consume our way to prosperity. Yet we have not embraced the obvious solution — the only possible solution, now as it was 20 years ago: sustainable development.
Fortunately, we have a second chance to act. In less than a month, world leaders will gather again in Rio — this time for the U.N. Conference on Sustainable Development, or Rio+20. And once again, Rio offers a generational opportunity to hit the reset button: to set a new course toward a future that balances the economic, social and environmental dimensions of prosperity and human well-being.
More than 130 heads of state and government will be there, joined by an estimated 50,000 business leaders, mayors, activists and investors — a global coalition for change. But success is not guaranteed. To secure our world for future generations — and these are indeed the stakes — we need the partnership and full engagement of global leaders, from rich nations and poor, small countries and large. Their overarching challenge: to galvanize global support for a transformative agenda for change — to set in motion a conceptual revolution in how we think about creating dynamic yet sustainable growth for the 21st century and beyond.
This agenda is for national leaders to decide, in line with the aspirations of their people. If I were to offer advice as U.N. secretary general, it would be to focus on three “clusters” of outcomes that will mark Rio+20 as the watershed that it should be.
First, Rio+20 should inspire new thinking — and action. Clearly, the old economic model is breaking down. In too many places, growth has stalled. Jobs are lagging. Gaps are growing between rich and poor, and we see alarming scarcities of food, fuel and the natural resources on which civilization depends.
At Rio, negotiators will seek to build on the success of the Millennium Development Goals, which have helped lift millions out of poverty. A new emphasis on sustainability can offer what economists call a “triple bottom line” — job-rich economic growth coupled with environmental protection and social inclusion.
Second, Rio+20 should be about people — a people’s summit that offers concrete hope for real improvements in daily lives. Options before the negotiators include declaring a “zero hunger” future — zero stunting of children for lack of adequate nutrition, zero waste of food and agricultural inputs in societies where people do not get enough to eat.
Rio+20 should also give voice to those we hear from least often: women and young people. Women hold up half the sky; they deserve equal standing in society. We should empower them, as engines of economic dynamism and social development. And young people — the very face of our future: are we creating opportunities for them, nearly 80 million of whom will be entering the workforce every year?
Third, Rio+20 should issue a clarion call to action: waste not. Mother Earth has been kind to us. Let humanity reciprocate by respecting her natural boundaries. At Rio, governments should call for smarter use of resources. Our oceans must be protected. So must our water, air and forests. Our cities must be made more liveable — places we inhabit in greater harmony with nature.
At Rio+20, I will call on governments, business and other coalitions to advance on my own Sustainable Energy for All initiative. The goal: universal access to sustainable energy, a doubling of energy efficiency and a doubling of the use of renewable sources of energy by 2030.
Because so many of today’s challenges are global, they demand a global response — collective power exercised in powerful partnership. Now is not the moment for narrow squabbling. This is a moment for world leaders and their people to unite in common purpose around a shared vision of our common future — the future we want.
Ban Ki-moon is secretary general of the United Nations.

UNAA Australia at Rio+20 Seminar in Melbourne

Report on the UNAA Australia at Rio+20 Seminar
Melbourne, Thursday 17 May 27, 2012

On Thursday 17 May, the United Nations Association of Australia (UNAA) Victoria Branch held a stakeholder forum on Australia at Rio+20. The forum was facilitated by Rosemary Sainty, Former Head, Secretariat UN Global Compact Network Australia and Advisor, Corporate Engagement, Transparency International Australia. The forum involved a panel of high profile Australians involved in the Rio+20 Conference sharing their views on Australia’s position and the outcomes expected from Rio+20.

Julie Melrose and Tatiana Stotz attended the Melbourne Forum on behalf of the ANU Rio+20 Delegation.

Donna Petrachencko
First Assistant Secretary, Australian Government Rio+20 Taskforce

Ms Petrachencko is one of the Australian Government’s Chief Advisors on sustainability and was a former Commissioner to the IWC, UNEP and APEC.

An interesting point that Ms Petrachencko opened with, was that “this is not an environmental conference – it’s about sustainability”. She explained that there could recently be a strong case for another “pillar” of sustainable development being social inclusion, especially since the events during the Arab Spring.

She explained that Rio+20 was about a “renewed political commitment to sustainable development” and involved discussion around two main themes; (1) the ‘green economy’ and (2) new institutional frameworks for sustainable development. She also explained that Australia was leading the way in advocating for mining as a ‘catalyst for sustainable socio-economic development’ and poverty alleviation.

Charles Berger
Director of Strategic Ideas, Australian Conservation Foundation (ACF)

Charles Berger is the ACF’s in-house lawyer. He questioned what we mean when we say ‘the economy’. Too often the economy is seen as a series of market transactions rather than a social obligation/relationship. He gave the example of a private dinner party and pointed out that giving a gift (ie cooking dinner for a friend) is much more rewarding than a sale, and these forms of production and distribution in regards to social interactions and exchanges are currently not recorded within the current economic system. What we really should focus on is the “real economy” or “rainbow economy” if you like.

Charles Berger outlined 3 things that Australia should do after Rio+20

1.     Commit to integrating system of environmental accounting – allocate funding and resources to proper environmental accounting and statistics;
2.     Get rid of the $2-5 billion in fossil fuel subsidies: these are bad for market signals and polluting industries should pay the full cost of their activities;
3.     Implement an principle financial transactions tax to fund sustainability projects and initiatives including clean energy technologies.

Melanie Stutsel
Minerals Council of Australia

Melanie Stutsel, speaking on behalf of the MCA, said that mining is critical to the green economy. She said mining was a socio-economic catalyst for the development of local communities, with activities in developing countries generating employment opportunities and contributing to poverty alleviation. She also said that mining products were critical to sustainable development, such as copper and gold being used for the generation of batteries.

The MCA will be participating in a forum in Rio on the 17th June called “Fair Ideas” run by the International Institute for Environment and Development. It will discuss issues around sustainable production, life cycle accounting for use and disposal and recycling.

Interestingly, Ms Stutsel said that the MCA was disappointed by the lack of consultation on the part of the Australian Government in regards to engaging them in the mining for sustainable development policy.

ANU delegates present their ideas at the ANU International Environmental Law Symposium

International Environmental Law Symposium - Global Outlook 2012 

The ANU delegates presented their ideas around the themes being discussed at Rio+20 at the International Environmental Law Symposium held at ANU College of Law on Saturday 26th May 2012. The delegation was able to engage in an interesting Q&A session with the audience about their ideas for how they would make a difference at Rio+20 and how they would bring back the information to the Australian public.

Nobel Laureates at Rio+20 by Will Steffen

Nobel Laureates at Rio+20

Will Steffen

A group of about 20 Nobel Laureates, covering physics, chemistry, economics, literature and peace, have been putting their considerable collective wisdom to global sustainability issues over the past few years. The results of their deliberations will be profiled at Rio in a “High-Level Dialogue on Global Sustainability” on 18 June at 10am at RioCentro.

The open event follows a closed dialogue the previous day, co-hosted by the Brazilian Government and the Stockholm Resilience Centre, that will develop a science-based message to the world about the risks facing humanity, and the policy options and technological opportunities as we enter a new geological epoch – the Anthropocene.

The Nobel Laureates have been working on global sustainability issues over the past four years with a small group of the world’s leading global change researchers in a series of three symposia. The first was held in Potsdam and hosted by German Chancellor Angela Merkel, and was followed by a London symposium hosted by the Prince of Wales.

The third symposium, held last year in Stockholm and hosted by the King of Sweden, was directly oriented towards providing advice to the UN High-level Panel on Global Sustainability and to Rio+20. The Rio declaration, and the two dialogue events at Rio, will draw on a set of three background papers prepared for the Stockholm symposium.

The three papers (pdf versions available below) outline the nature of the Anthropocene and the challenges facing humanity in navigating a successful transition to global sustainability. We’ve also include a pdf version of the Stockholm Memorandum issued by the Nobel Laureates after the 2011 symposium.

*Professor Will Steffen is the Executive Director of the ANU Climate Change Institute. 

ANU Climate Change Institute: