Monday, 25 June 2012

Africa and Rio+20

Anti-desertification plan gets official launch in Rio

The new collaboration will mainly tackle desertification in the Sahel region of Africa
Flickr/SOS Sahel UK

[RIO DE JANEIRO] Organisations from Africa, Brazil and France have officially launched a scientific collaboration to fight desertification in Africa.

The collaboration was discussed at the Fight Against Desertification in Africa conference in Niger in October 2011. The 'Declaration of Niamey' adopted at the conference highlighted the need for interdisciplinary research in the fields of desertification, drought and land degradation, focusing on social, economic and environmental issues.

Its commitments were ratified earlier this year (March 2012), with a tripartite agreement signed at the sixth World Water Forum in Marseille, France, between Brazil's National Council for Scientific and Technological Development (CNPq) of Brazil, the Institute of Research for Development (IRD) in France, and the Pan-African Agency of the Great Green Wall (PAGGW), to which 11 African countries belong.

Yesterday's official launch at the UN Conference on Sustainable Development (Rio+20), taking place this week (20–22 June), saw the presentation of the collaboration's first concrete actions based on these earlier commitments.


This article is part of our coverage of preparations for Rio+20 — the UN Conference on Sustainable Development — which takes place on 20-22 June 2012. For other articles, go to Science at Rio+20

The project's initial start-up capital is US$1.3 million, and it is funded by the three organisations equally. It is "an original initiative in that it is a South-South-North cooperation", according to the IRD.

The collaboration brings together researchers to devise programmes for tackling desertification (the process by which fertile land becomes desert), particularly in Africa's Sahel region — a belt of semi-arid grasslands, savannas and steppes stretching across northern Africa, immediately to the south of the Sahara desert.

Michel Laurent, IRD's director-general, said the collaboration aimed to build scientific capacity in Africa and strengthen links between scientific and civil society groups for sustainable development in in Africa's arid and semi-arid regions.

"We want to [assimilate] knowledge through both research on the ground, and data on the region's evolution collected through satellites, to help improve policies dealing with desertification, and to enable the betterment of people's lives," said Laurent.

"The situation in the Sahel area is continuing to deteriorate, with desertification spreading southwards and causing many people to migrate," he told SciDev.Net.

Laurent added that it was important to restore areas already affected by desertification, through afforestation, pastoralism and sustainable agriculture.

Idriss Déby, president of Chad, told the meeting that desertification was "affecting millions of people in Africa". Unless tough action was taken immediately, it would degrade many parts of the continent, making them unfit for human habitation.

Déby said the new collaboration should not lose momentum through protracted scientific discussions, and appealed for international solidarity to help raise funds. "We need funds to allow us to act now," he said at the signing ceremony.

Abdoulaya Dia, PAGGW's chief executive officer, said that the conservation of natural resources and biodiversity in desert and semi-desert areas was a high priority for Africa. The new collaboration should evaluate existing traditional knowledge alongside conventional scientific knowledge, he added.

This article is part of our coverage on Science at Rio+20. Read more in our live blog.

Africa After Rio+20

It is clear that Rio+20 has not delivered what many of us had hoped. Twenty years after the world committed itself to increased efforts to tackle inequality, hunger and environmental destruction at the first Earth Summit, we seem to be moving in the wrong direction.

It was a major disappointment that Rio+20 saw a lack of progress on defined and measurable sustainable development goals. Rather than agreeing new global action to meet existing equity commitments, many seem to have been diluted or have disappeared.

Instead, we saw a wasted opportunity to build on the way the MDGs (Millennium Development Goals) have focused global attention on the needs of the extreme poor. We are pleased to see that the Rio+20 statement recognized the need for increased efforts to meet the MDGs by 2015. But what is lacking is any commitment to timetables or outcomes to achieve and extend this ambition.

This is a huge setback for Africa and other developing regions of the world. As the latest report from the Africa Progress Panel highlighted, the continent continues to suffer from deep, persistent and enduring inequalities. We called for agreement on an international drive to close the gap where the MDGs are going to be missed and to continue progress beyond 2015. This has not happened.

While new efforts to meet the MDGs and to extend them beyond 2015 are vital, they are also not enough on their own. They need to be complemented by practical commitments to address the combined demands of rapid population growth, increased consumption of scarce natural resources, climate change and environmental degradation on our world.

This puts the failures of the global food system high on any agenda for action. Again Africa's citizens are paying a very high price for these failures. Over 200 million people, the highest proportion of any region, face food insecurity in sub-Saharan Africa.

Ensuring that Africa can meet present and future food needs requires agricultural productivity and small-holder farmers, many of whom are women, to be put at the centre of economic growth strategies. But while stressing the importance of agriculture, the Summit again failed to agree on provisions for the urgently needed investment in small-holding farming and climate adaptation assistance.

Africa is forecast to be the continent worst hit by climate change. Increasing harvests and food production in these challenging circumstances requires a major commitment, by governments within and outside the continent, to fund a climate-resilient Green Revolution in Africa.

This will also require increased international co-operation in managing scarce water resources -- essential in Africa whose rivers cross many national borders. So it was alarming to see the Rio Summit apparently giving renewed emphasis to national sovereignty on this critical issue.

Nor did we see the steps needed to strengthen land rights protection and introduce global standards for land acquisition. In the last decade, speculators have bought up over 134 million hectares of land in Africa -- an area larger than the UK, France and Germany combined. All too often, it is the poor people who live on this land whose livelihoods and futures are threatened.

None of these ambitions can be met if wealthier countries use the excuse of the global financial crisis to break their promises to the poorest on the planet. The Rio statement rightly calls on Governments to keep their word on all ODA commitments. Yet over 40 years after the developed world first committed itself to spending 0.7 percent of its annual national wealth on aid, only five countries have met this target.

Rich countries, meanwhile, spend 80 times more in subsidy to their own farmers than they do in supporting agriculture in the developing world. Promised money to help poorer countries protect their citizens against climate change has simply not been delivered. This failure helps explain why many developing countries are reluctant to sign up to new international goals.

We understand that national budgets, in developed and developing countries, are under intense pressure. It is why we need to examine new funding mechanisms such as levies on international air transport or bunker fuel taxes. In particular, we agree with our colleague, Mr. Kofi Annan in calling for a financial transactions tax as an innovative method for mobilizing development and climate change finance.

Despite the missed opportunities at Rio, it is not pessimism but action we need. We saw support for the importance of green growth strategies for eradicating poverty, reducing inequalities and upholding human rights. If countries adopt the green accounting measures, endorsed by the UN and World Bank, alongside more traditional economic data, it will be a major step in driving sustainable development.

Above all, in a world more inter-connected than ever, it is becoming clearer by the day that only through multilateral co-operation can we redress unjust and persistent inequalities, world hunger and environmental destruction. But the longer we ignore this truth, the larger these challenges will become.

Michel Camdessus and Muhammad Yunus are members of the Africa Progress Panel

Rio+20 ends with weak text, emboldened observers

Global leaders ended a UN development summit on Friday with what was widely considered a lackluster agreement, leaving many attendees convinced that individuals and companies, rather than governments, must lead efforts to improve the environment.

Nearly 100 heads of state and government gathered over the past three days in efforts to establish "sustainable development goals," a UN drive built around economic growth, the environment and social inclusion. But a lack of consensus over those goals in Rio de Janeiro led to an agreement that even some signatory nations said lacked commitment, specifics and measurable targets.

A series of much-hyped global summits on environmental policy has now fallen short of expectations, going back at least to a 2009 UN meeting in Copenhagen that ended in near chaos. As a result, many ecologists, activists, and business leaders now believe that progress on environmental issues must be made locally with the private sector, and without the help of international accords.

"The greening of our economies will have to happen without the blessing of the world leaders," said Lasse Gustavsson, executive director of the World Wildlife Fund.

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who arrived early on Friday for a quick announcement on US-backed projects in Africa and a series of bilateral meetings with various world leaders, admitted as much. "Governments alone cannot solve all the problems we face," she said, "from climate change to persistent poverty to chronic energy shortages."

Most troubling for many critics of the summit is the fact that leaders arrived in Rio merely to sign a text that their diplomats had all but sealed beforehand. The text, dubbed "The Future We Want," left little room for vision or audacity from presidents and prime ministers, critics argued.

"The world we want will not be delivered by leaders who lack courage to come here, sit at the table and negotiate themselves," said Sharon Burrow, general secretary of the International Trade Union Confederation.

"They took no responsibility for imposing the action, the targets, the time lines."

Some heads of state and government stayed away, given the global economic slowdown, worsening debt woes in Europe and continued violence in the Middle East. Notable absentees included US President Barack Obama, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and British Prime Minister David Cameron, all of whom attended a gathering of the Group of 20 major economies earlier this week in Mexico.

Goals different from '92 summit

The summit, known as Rio+20, was never expected to generate the sort of landmark accords signed at the 1992 Earth Summit in Rio, which included a treaty on biodiversity and agreements that led to the creation of the Kyoto protocol on greenhouse emissions. Although this week's meeting attracted more than 50,000 people, many were disappointed that the leaders made few specific commitments on issues ranging from energy to food security to oceans.

Throughout the three-day gathering and weeklong negotiations beforehand, the streets of central Rio and surrounding the suburban conference hall that hosted the summit were filled with demonstrations by activists ranging from Indian tribes to environmentalists to anti-nuclear protesters.

The completion of a draft text even before the arrival of government heads gave the gathering itself a sense of finality from the start. Some delegates left on Thursday and by late Friday a handful of leaders were still delivering ceremonial addresses in a large, empty hall.

Instead of forging legally binding treaties, organizers say, the purpose of the summit was to initiate a process to define a new set of development principles.

But that process, like most global diplomacy, is rife with conflicting interests and tensions between rich countries and the developing world. "The storyline is different from 1992," said Andre Correa do Lago, chief negotiator at the conference for Brazil, which led the final talks on the declaration.

"This summit recognizes more than the others that not one size fits all," he added.

Many leaders used their time at the podium to note the markedly different needs they were struggling with, especially compared with the developed world. While Brazil, China and other big emerging nations spoke of their need to catch up with rich countries, others like Bolivia, Iran and Cuba unleashed traditional rants against capitalism and conventional definitions of growth.

Environmentalists angered

One point of contention is what many emerging nations say is a need for a global fund that could help them pursue development goals. Early talk of a USD 30 billion fund for that purpose as a possible outcome of the summit foundered well before leaders arrived. A French proposal to tax financial transactions for that purpose also failed.

Clinton, announcing a USD 20 million grant for clean energy projects in Africa, said a better mechanism was "partnerships among governments, private sector and civil society."

Other countries, the World Bank and regional development banks also used the summit to showcase similar initiatives. UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said on Thursday that private investors since last year had pledged over USD $50 billion to boost the use of renewable energy sources worldwide.

Many business leaders at the conference said they were eager to find ways to contribute further. Richard Branson, the British billionaire, said in an interview at the "World Green Summit," one of many sideline events: "There's very little in a document like what they've come up with to accomplish real goals. That leaves it to the rest of us to find ways to move forward."

But some warned that private initiatives, while helpful, could not be responsible for the rulemaking and law enforcement necessary to ensure that wholesale changes take place.

"The private sector has an enormous and important role to play but not as a substitute to governments and international leadership," said Malcolm Preston, who leads the sustainability and climate change practice at PriceWaterhouseCoopers.

Environmentalists were angry that leaders failed to make commitments on two key issues: measures to protect the high seas and defining a process to stop subsidizing fossil fuels.

Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff and other leaders said the outcome of the summit reflected what was possible after more than a year of discussions among the 193 government delegations that attended the summit. "From here we can only advance," she said. "We've arrived where we are together. To advance further we have to build a consensus."

Monday, 18 June 2012

Rio+20: Civil Society News

Rio+20: As negotiations continue, civil society groups voice concerns in side-events

19 June 2012 - EU-BRICS Civil Society Meeting

EU-BRICS civil society dialogue on sustainable development

Joint event of the European Economic and Social Committee with Economic ans Social Councils and similar institutions from the BRICS countries (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa

At Rio+20 UN Women Executive Director calls for central role for women in achieving sustainability

At a press conference on 18 June during The United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development (Rio+20) in Rio de Janeiro, Michelle Bachelet, Under-Secretary-General and Executive Director, UN Women calls for women’s central role in achieving sustainability. Gro Harlem Brundtland, Former Prime Minister of Norway and Special Envoy of the UN Secretary-General on Climate Change, joins the press conference.

Civil society activists join forces to protest at Rio+20

Rio de Janeiro, Sunday, June 17, 2012 - Civil society activists from across the world joined for a protest on Sunday inside the Riocentro convention center to push the messsage: “Our Future, Our Voice.”

EU News: Civil society takes global responsibility at RIO+20

Source: European Economic and Social Committee

The European Economic and Social Committee (EESC) has been contributing to the EU's preparatory work for the UN Rio+20 Summit on Sustainable Development, to strengthen the European and global civil society involvement in the transition towards sustainable societies. European organised civil society calls on world leaders to make concrete commitments to advance global sustainable development and eradicate poverty. The EESC believes that the involvement of economic and social civil society players is vital in defining and carrying out actions that will transform our economies and lifestyles into sustainable, greener ones.

Civil Society Groups Voice Concerns in Side-Events at Rio+20

Rio+20: As Negotiations Continue, Civil Society Groups Voice Concerns in Side-Events

New York, Jun 14 2012 - As delegates today continued negotiating the outcome agreement document for the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development (Rio+20), thousands of civil society representatives took part in side-events to discuss the economic, social and environmental issues at the heart of the Conference

Rio+20: 'Extraordinary' coalition warns governments can't go it alone

Jo Confino, Guardian Sustainable Business

18th June 2012

Friends of Rio say politicians need to recognise the power of collaboration to take sustainable development to scale.

By their own admission, it is an "extraordinary" group of leaders from across business, NGOs, trade unions and science that have come together to find a new path towards sustainable development. But then again, these are extraordinary times.

Citizens call on leaders to commit to fossil-fue​l subsidy reform at Rio+20

On 18 June 2012 19:47, Nona Pelletier <> wrote:

RIO DE JANEIRO—June 18, 2012—Thousands of citizens around the world have called on government leaders to eliminate harmful subsidies in the run-up to Rio+20, a major United Nations conference on sustainable development.
Some 60,000 people from 192 countries cast 1.37 million votes to identify their priorities for a sustainable future. Voting on the economics of sustainable development, the number one recommendation is to “phase out harmful subsidies and develop green tax schemes.” On the issue of sustainable energy, the top vote calls for “concrete steps to eliminate fossil-fuel subsidies.”

“Globally, governments spend at least $1.4 billion a day subsidizing fossil fuels. In a time of economic austerity and environmental crisis, it is clear that governments need to rethink their priorities. Fossil-fuel subsidies are a very good place to start,” said Mark Halle, European director of the International Institute for Sustainable Development.
“The benefits of reforming fossil-fuel subsidies are clear. They are environmentally harmful, socially inequitable and economically draining, these subsidies run counter to the core objectives of sustainable development,” Halle said.

However, governments face a number of challenges to eliminating fossil-fuel subsidies. Recent events in Nigeria, where the withdrawal of fuel subsidies sparked public unrest, and significant political barriers to fossil-fuel subsidy reform in countries such as Indonesia and Bolivia, demonstrate the need for a strategic approach to designing and implementing reforms.
IISD’s Global Subsidies Initiative—a policy research and advisory group that focuses on subsidies that are detrimental to sustainable development—is convening a session at Rio+20 to examine the political barriers to fossil-fuel subsidy reform.

Breaking Down the Political Barriers to Fossil-Fuel Subsidy Reform
Date/time: Thursday June 21, 2012, 3:00 to 4:30 p.m.
Location: Room T-5, Rio Centro

Moderator: Mark Halle, director, International Institute for Sustainable Development
  • Keynote speaker: Hon. Martin Lindegaard, minister for climate, energy and building, Denmark
  • Majid Al-Suwaidi, deputy director of energy and climate change, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, United Arab Emirates
  • Hans-Peter Egler, head of trade promotion, State Secretariat for Economic Affairs, Switzerland
  • Fabby Tumiwa, Institute for Essential Services Reform, Indonesia
  • Kerryn Lang, project manager, Global Subsidies Initiative, IISD


For more information, please contact Damon Vis-Dunbar, GSI communications officer at +41 (22) 917-8848, or Nona Pelletier, IISD manager, public affairs at +1 (204) 958-7740 or cell: +1 (204) 962-1303.


On 18 June 2012 18:04, Nona Pelletier <> wrote:

WINNIPEG—June 18, 2012—The International Institute for Sustainable Development has identified practical ways people can contribute to water management practices aimed at improving the health of the world’s lakes.

IISD has collaborated with other stakeholders to develop Do What Matters: Lake friendly practices and actions, a guide for residents, farmers, fishers, recreational users, cottagers, students, businesses and local governments. The publication emphasizes the importance of collective action.

While the guide was developed to address issues within the Lake Winnipeg Basin, the best practices described in the guide can be applied to aid any lake experiencing eutrophication (nutrient loading). Nutrient loading can lead to severe and potentially toxic algal blooms.

These practices can help combat nutrient loading in Lake Winnipeg, the 10th largest freshwater lake in the world, and also help water bodies such as the United States and Canada’s Lake Erie; Hungary’s Lake Balaton; Japan’s Lake Biwa; Lake Victoria in Tanzania, Uganda and Kenya; and Lake Dianchi in China.

“We want lake friendly practices and actions to become second nature to people,” said Henry David (Hank) Venema, director of IISD’s Water Innovation Centre. “We’re learning lessons and coming up with innovative solutions in the Lake Winnipeg Basin, and we can share these to help other countries experiencing similar problems.”

“The real strength of Do What Matters: Lake friendly practices and actions is that it highlights that everyone—business, government, farmers, homeowners—all need to be part of a broad-based solutions culture that can save money and create other environmental benefits while healing the lake,” Venema said.

Among the best practices featured in the guide are:

  • Sustainable procurement policies for lake friendly products.
  • Nutrient recycling and recovery from wastewater treatment facilities.
  • The use of native grasses and plants requiring low nutrient and water inputs.
  • The use of permeable materials such as wood decking or gravel for parking pads and sidewalks to allow water to percolate into the ground.
  • On-farm water storage and runoff reuse (for example using conserved and restored wetlands).

The full guide to lake friendly practices and actions can be found at

The challenges of Río+20

Ignacio Ramonet

BRAZIL is hosting, June 20-22, the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development, also called Río+20, given that it is being held 20 years after the first great Earth Summit of 1992. Attending are 80 heads of state and discussion will focus on two central issues: 1) a "green economy" in the context of sustainable development and the eradication of poverty, and 2) the institutional framework for sustainable development. Parallel to the event, a Summit of the Peoples will also be held, bringing together social and environmental movements from around the world.

Nations back in Brazil to build on sustainable commitments

UN environment haggle runs into problems ahead of summit

Rio+20 News: Rio+20 Earth summit moves to boost UN environment programme

Rio+20 Earth summit moves to boost UN environment programme

Brazilian draft deal sets out new sustainable development goals but EU delegates and others demand concrete timelines

Rio+20: France seeks one agenda to end poverty and protect environment

French development minister in Rio attending Earth summit says the world has to define how global resources are shared

Rio+20 People's summit gathers pace

The counter conference is designed to foster alternative ideas and provide an outlet for discontent

Rio 20: What Will Come of It?

Rio+20: Brazilian pitch for summit deal runs into crossfire

Rethinking Rio +20: Why Economists Should Take the Earth Summit Seriously

Rio +20 -- saving the Earth, one resort meeting at a time


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