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Rio + 20 conference: Negotiators producing a mammoth, messy and expensive grab bag of regulations and demands

EXCLUSIVE:  By George Russell
Fox News

Published June 01, 2012

Three weeks before the U.N.-sponsored Rio + 20 summit conference on  sustainable development, member countries that  the United States hoped  would produce a five-page summary of goals are instead haggling over a mammoth   grab-bag of demands for new planetary regulation and assertions that   industrialized countries, led by the U.S., should  pay for, among  other things, an unprecedented and massively expensive transfer of technology  and funds to the developing world.

At one point, the text being debated by hundreds of negotiators climbed to  171 pages  before being cut back by executive fiat to 86 pages—only to  start climbing steeply again.

The unwieldy document covers everything from sustainable food strategies to  codes of corporate responsibility to technology transfers—on highly favorable  terms—to developing countries. Copies of the document are not being made  publicly available.

The emergency  bargaining session was intended as a last-ditch effort to  bring some focus, energy and concision to the text after previous scheduled  meetings led only to the current, bloated document.

“We were hoping it would inspire people, get them interested in the issues  writ large,” a senior State Department official told Fox News. “ Right now, it’s  just a long list of everybody’s projects, which is less valuable. “

The haggling over what will be said at the end of the three day Rio + 20  meeting, which starts on June 21 in Brazil, does not bode well for the summit,  which U.N. organizers hope will  inaugurate not only a radical overhaul of  the world economy but a new and still unspecified era of “global environmental  governance.”

The summit is also in danger of being overshadowed by deepening financial  clouds over Europe and an economic slowdown between China and the U.S., as well  as the ugly confrontation in Syria and an impending U.S. presidential election.   As the State Department official put it:  “We think the focus should  be the future rather than a long negotiated text. Most countries around the  world recognize that we are in difficult circumstances. This is not a time to  talk about new financial commitments and transfers.”

Nonetheless, that is just the kind of sweeping and open-ended language that  many countries evidently feel that the document should contain.

The messy document owes much to the huge, varied and often antagonistic   interests that the U.N. decided to bring into the negotiation process,  which includes not only national governments but also “civil society” groups  ranging from business interests to native peoples to such undefined classes as “women.”

Some of the unmanageable complexity, however, is due to the internal  machinations of the U.N. itself, which quietly decided last April to bring  together representatives from at least 60 developing countries, “to share good  practice on the themes of the conference and to learn from each other on their  national preparatory processes for Rio +20. ”

The $2.8 million effort, billed as a “capacity building” exercise, brought   together about 80 participants, including “senior officials from relevant  ministries,” representatives of business, labor, indigenous people, farmers, “youth,” and “women” among others, along with parliamentarians and media from  May 15 to 17 in Dakar, Senegal.

According to an internal Rio + 20 “concept note” describing the   process, the aim was “to develop consensus on broad areas of national  action, as well as on priorities for regional action and for international  decision at [Rio + 20].

Or, in other words, how to hone and focus their lobbying efforts in advance  of the meeting, and their efforts at shaping the outcome afterwards.

The organizers, which included U.N. development agencies and the U.N.  Department of Economic and Social Affairs (DESA), which provides the secretariat  for Rio + 20, also distilled  10 detailed country studies to  offer  proof that the whole idea of “sustainable development” works.

The studies were intended to show that the selected countries “have embarked  on a more sustainable development path,” and “demonstrate how sustainable  development approaches (such as fiscal reform for poverty reduction, economic  valuations of natural resources, pro-poor payments for environmental services,  as well as institutional and coordination arrangements) can contribute to the  sustainable development agenda.”

Click  here to view the concept note.

How well the lobbying prep session went is not known.

(Alongside those advance efforts to shape the negotiating outcome for Rio +  20, minutes of a meeting of summit organizers held on May 1, and examined by Fox  News,  indicate that the U.N. intends to pay the way for “two  participants…per developing country” to attend the Rio + 20 meeting itself.  Full details of the subsidized attendance were to be determined at a later  date.)

In a final complication to the last minute marathon bargaining, at least some  international “civil society” organizations with close U.N. ties have been  mobilizing pressure on their government representatives in the bargaining  session to protect their special-interest sections of the bloated outcome  document.

One such is a Spain-headquartered  international organization of mayors  known as “United Cities and Local Government,” which claims to include more than  1,000 member-cities 95 countries. United Cities includes a smattering of U.S.  municipal and country officials in its ungainly executive bureau.

As the bargaining has gotten stiffer over the negotiating text, United Cities  has been sending its members a form letter to pass on to national government  ministers, urging them to preserve specific references to local government in  the negotiating text, and thus, presumably, enhance the organization’s clout  post-Rio + 20.

Click here for the to view the suggested letter.

Whether the  letter-writing campaign has been successful or not is  unknown. But it certainly cannot be making the containment of Rio + 20s  rhetorical sprawl any easier.

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