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One of the key themes of Rio+20 is the green economy. The trouble is no-one agrees what the green economy actually means.
“Green economy in Switzerland is very different from the green economy from the point of view of Madagascar or Mali or China.”
That’s Martin Khor, the executive director of the South Centre. It’s a research centre for developing countries based in Geneva.
“The green economy issue has taken a lot of the energy of this conference. And some people were wondering whether we should have just stuck to sustainable development and how to implement it better. Because in the end I think we are reaching almost the same definition that the green economy in the end is quite similar to sustainable development.”
Sustainable development stands on three pillars - environmental, social and economic. Many poor countries fear that the green economy leaves out the social aspect. To complicate the matter, some people say there’s too much green in the green economy while others say there’s too much economy in the green economy. Daniel Ziegerer is head of global affairs at the Swiss environment office.
“There has been a discussion whether it is only a market-based approach so the economic side of the green economy concept has been questioned by some countries but there has also been a debate whether it is actually too much focused on green and whether it is only a strategy for developed countries to protect their markets or to create new trade barriers to sell green new technologies to developing countries.”
Another source of friction is whether to reaffirm the Rio Principles from 92. They say countries have common but differentiated responsibilities. The idea is that rich countries should shoulder a greater burden in fixing the Earth’s environmental problems. But when it comes to stumping up cash, they’re particularly reluctant to commit themselves to a figure. Isolda Agazzi works for Alliance Sud, a coalition of the largest Swiss development NGOs.
“High income countries still have an ecological footprint that is five times higher than the one of low income countries. If you take China, Brazil, India, South Africa, if you look at the per capita emission, they are still much, much lower, than our countries. That is the thing which does not mean that there is nothing to debate out there. There is an issue, there is an issue but one has to be very differentiated, I believe.”
Nations are inching towards progress on organisational reform. The hope is to replace the Commission on Sustainable Development with a stronger, better structured Council. And there’s broad agreement that the role and responsibilities of the UN Environment Programme need to be beefed up. Here’s Martin Khor again.
“The world has very strong institutions on trade or finance. We have institutions that deal with food but we don’t have a powerful organisation that deals with environment or with sustainable development. “
Rio+20 looks set to pave the way for a set of Sustainable Development Goals. These would replace the Millennium Development Goals which come to an end in 2015. But what should be included, time frames and targets are all up for grabs.
And the clock is ticking. At the end of last week, host nation Brazil took over responsibility for the talks and issued a text of its own to try to break the deadlock. Brazil wants the document wrapped up before heads of state and government start to arrive on Tuesday.