RIO+20 base document needs to take the planet's limits into consideration | AGÊNCIA FAPESP

According to specialists, focusing on discussions that cover sustainable development could be the only chance for the conference to achieve concrete objectives. The March workshop at FAPESP will be fundamental for the revision of the document (photo:Nasa)

RIO+20 base document needs to take the planet's limits into consideration

March 07, 2012

By Fábio de Castro

Agência FAPESP – In January, the United Nations (UN) released the first outline of the final declaration of the Conference on Sustainable Development (RIO+20) to be held in Brazil in June.

The document, however, should emphasize the principle that the planet has a natural limit—a central concept for sustainable development—in a more clear and objective manner. Such is the opinion of Carlos Alfredo Joly, head of the Policies and Thematic Programs Department (DEPPT), Secretary of Policies and Research and Development Programs (SEPED) for the Ministry of Science, Technology and Innovation (MCTI) and coordinator of the BIOTA-FAPESP program.

“The document’s main problem is the fact that it is not based on the principle that the planet has a natural limit and that we will inevitably have to adapt ourselves to its carrying capacity. This is a key concept for sustainable development, which is not stated in any clear or objective way anywhere in the document. Starting from this principle may be the only chance that RIO+20 has to reach palpable objectives,” Joly told Agência FAPESP.

Other authorities and environmental specialists also criticized the document. In an article published on February 8, the Minister of Foreign Relations, Antônio Patriota, told the Folha de São Paulo that the members of the national commission that debates RIO+20 asked for greater detail on the objectives for sustainable development in the draft of the document beyond the inclusion of a mention of unsustainable production and consumption standards.

The document, titled 'Zero Draft,' was produced by a UN commission involving member states, international agencies, non-governmental organizations and political groups. European environmental authorities publicly criticized the document, and said that the text “lacks focus” in its establishment of such topics as the Green Economy and sustainable development as priorities for the conference.

According to the Europeans, the conference should focus more on the environmental question itself and on the institutional reorganization of international sustainable development agencies.

France’s Minister of the Environment, Nathalie Morizet, told O Estado de São Paulo newspaper in an article published on February 1st that “The more we talk about green growth and the less about governing, the more we are losing focus.” Jean Jouzel, Vice-President of the Intergovernmental Panel for Climate Change (IPCC), also affirmed that RIO+20 needs to be “more conclusive and less philosophical.”

Joly says the diverging points of view demonstrate even more than ever the importance of the event that will be held on March 6 and 7 by BIOTA, the FAPESP Bioenergy Research Program (BIOEN) and the FAPESP Research Program on Global Climate Change.

According to Joly, the “BIOEN-BIOTA-Climate Change Joint Workshop: Science & policy for a greener economy in the context of RIO+20” was planned so that the scientific community can discuss the topics for RIO+20.

On March 8, the Brazilian commission that discusses the suggestions for the final RIO+20 document will meet again. The suggestions from the meeting will be compiled by the Brazilian executive secretary, who will condense a new text to be sent to the UN.

“The workshop will bring some core international leadership together for the discussion process and will be a great opportunity to move forward. From now on, the delegations will work on the Zero Draft until the 3rd RIO+20 Preparatory Conference to be held June 13-15 in Rio de Janeiro. Once they have reached an accord, the document will be approved by the Chiefs of State during the conference from June 20-22,” Joly said.

Carrying capacity

Joly, who is a professor at the Universidade Estadual de Campinas (UNICAMP), says that the Earth’s carrying capacity, far from a “purely philosophical discussion,” is the most promising area for concrete results at the conference.

If the heads of state meeting in Rio de Janeiro in June 2012 approve the idea of Earth’s limited carrying capacity, Joly says, it will lead to a paradigm shift that will define a new trajectory for the planet.

“In a concrete manner, this appears to me to be the only palpable objective that Rio+20 can achieve. Without acknowledging new concepts, such as the Green Economy, the creation of new structures and the institutional reorganization of the UN’s environmental area, in the best of cases, will merely slow down environmental collapse,” he affirmed.

According to Joly, the preamble of the Zero Draft should already contain a clear statement about the natural limits of the planet’s carrying capacity before the rest of the document describes the scenario in which the debate occurs.

“It is an extremely concrete question. If this principle is already stated in the introduction to the document, the discussion will develop in a completely different direction. If all nations endorse the position that we have limited space on the planet, the conventions will have to work upon this basis. It will determine the agenda of how we will alter our destruction patterns of habitats, biodiversity, ecological services, greenhouse gas emissions and so on,” Joly explained.

Aside from its limitations, the Zero Draft also has positive points, in Joly’s opinion. He praised the significant references the document makes to advances in science and technology that will promote sustainable development.

“The text reaffirms the importance of technology transfer so that all nations can move forward more quickly in this direction. It also reinforces the need for scientific collaboration between nations without losing focus on local solutions and innovation,” Joly said.

Another positive aspect is that the draft indicates a need to broaden the relationship between the scientific community, policy makers and decision makers. “It recognizes that governmental decisions about the environment need to be increasingly based on the results of scientific research,” Joly affirmed. 

The scientific community’s participation will be a determinant for the refinement of the document, which will be the subject of intense debate in the coming months.

According in Joly, to be endorsed by over 190 nations, the final document will have to conciliate broadly divergent positions. However, discussing the question of governance and the reformulation of UN agencies will be as important as prioritizing sustainable development and the Green Economy.

“Right now, the text is very similar to the final document from RIO+10, held in South Africa in 2002, which had very little impact outside diplomatic arenas and met no one’s expectations. At Rio+20, we will not sign any new conventions; therefore, at the very minimum, we must propose a very clear agenda. This is what we will discuss intensely at the FAPESP workshop in March,” Joly pointed out.

More information about the “BIOTA-BIOEN-Climate Change Joint Workshop: Science and Policy for a Greener Economy in the context of RIO+20” is available at




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