News / 17 February 2012

A rights based analysis of the zero draft of the Rio+20 document

In preparation for the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development or Rio+20, which will take place in June, Both ENDS published a document in February to start the discussion on the progress of events. In this policy note, Both ENDS has made some suggestions to improve "the Future we want" which is the 'zero' draft of the negotiating document, in an effort to maximize the chance of a successful outcome of the conference.

Although the global focus on sustainable development has increased significantly since Rio 1992 and has led to international negotiations and national debate, few measures are now legally binding or linked to accountability mechanisms and the Rio agreements have met with very limited implementation. This is alarming because meanwhile ecological degradation and poverty is only expanding. In order to honour the agreements of 1992, the zero draft should be an evaluation of the progress of the agreements until now and monitor which areas require further attention.

Social and cultural value of nature
Although the zero draft refers to the 27 basic principles laid down in Rio '92, it focuses mainly on the Green Economy, the new discourse on sustainable development. It focuses on the link between economic interests and environmental protection and hereby does not acknowledge the social and cultural bond people have with nature: the environment is represented as instrumental to the economic development of people. This instrumentalist approach of the zero draft is insufficient; as agreed in 1992, sustainable development requires an integral approach addressing the ecological, economic and social dimension at the same time. This should be the guiding principle for the Rio +20 negotiations.


Right to sustainability
Since 1992 there have been new insights and developments in the discourse on human rights. The term 'development' is being redefined to a right for every individual person. This redefinition has implications for policies and their implementation: because development is now a general human right, no one can be excluded from policies. All people have the right to sustainable development. Along this line, some remarkable documents have departed from the human right to sustainability. They are based upon extensive consultation and participation from stakeholders. These international documents, such as the Earth Charter, IAASTD and the recommendations of the World Commission on Dams lack formal recognition by the international community. Rio+20 should get these documents out of the policy limbo if they are to play the role they were designed for.


People, the private sector and NGOs should all play a role to achieve sustainability. The global action for the transition towards sustainable development lies with the international community and therefore with the UN and the national governments. However, within the UN there is no central coordination, nor a clear division of roles regarding sustainable development. The clarification of this responsibility is lacking in the current draft. Finally, the Rio+20 conference should conclude with a roadmap that consists of politically binding targets in order to meet global Sustainable Development Goals that reflect an integrated and balanced treatment of the three dimensions of sustainable development.


To read the full policy note click here: 

Rio+20 policy note

Read more about this subject