Rio+20 in Retrospect: Few Firm Commitments: practical standards
Many Western Greens and environmental officials panned the Rio+20 meeting in Brazil as a failure. It was a distinct success: it defined a global consensus on how to manage the environment by being practicable, in contrast to divisive green demands for global rules and procedures to which many had strong objections.
Brazil managed the meeting precisely how UN meetings should be run, but increasingly are not. It delivered a consensus declaration two days before conclusion; and showed radical ecological positions favoured in the West are not acceptable in the global community.
The final 49-page document never quite defines sustainable development; instead it sets out what outcomes members of the UN think sustainable development should deliver – solutions to social, economic and environmental problems – from trade and mining to intellectual property and gender issues.
The practical value of the document is limited. UN members put so many issues on the table, that reaching consensus on commitments among nations that have such diverse sets of interests was nigh on impossible. Instead the document is what UN General Assemblies typically produce – political commitments to general goals.
Some weeks before the meeting, leaders of BRICS nations (Brazil, India, China and South Africa) met in South Africa and warned Western economies that measures which undermined growth were unacceptable.
This reiterated the position they took 20 years ago at the first Rio Environment and Development conference. Since then, BRICS nations now account for a much bigger share of the global economy.
This new clout was shown in 2009 at the disastrous UN climate change meeting in Copenhagen. Western governments ignored the first Rio consensus and insisted on putting environmental interests ahead of economic interests by pushing their growth flattening strategy for global regulation of greenhouse gases. The BRICS nations blocked the agreement. There is still no global consensus on how to deal with climate change.
Three years later in Rio, they turned the tables again. Before the RIO+20 meeting, Connie Hedegaard, now European Union Commissioner for Climate Action (and former Chair of the failed Copenhagen conference) stated the world must “move beyond grow now, clean up later”. She and the Greens wanted the UN to build a global “Green economy”.
The BRICS leader would muse about debt-riddled Europe moving beyond “grow now”. The BRICS economies know the environment cannot be protected unless nations are able to afford the cost
RIO+20 – Practicable Sustainable Forestry – i.e. Not UN-REDD
The RIO+20 Declaration focussed on the importance of promoting sustainable forest management. There is no specific reference to the “UN-REDD” program to reduce emissions from forest activities and foster carbon stocks which is reportedly funded with pledges amounting to US$ 150 million.
On forestry, the document wisely defers authority to the United Nations Forum on Forests (UNFF), the official UN forum on forestry. It has adopted a set of non-binding principles for sustainable forest management. It emphasizes the importance of building sustainable forest management into mainstream economic planning, in contrast to programs by most Western aid donors to fund instead programs which aim to reduce commercial forestry in developing countries.
There is no reference to halting illegal logging, another favourite of western donors.
The declaration gives general support to action to reduce and cease deforestation, and gives equal stress to contributions of that to reducing greenhouse gases as to expanding sustainably managed forests to serve as carbon sinks. There is no reference to the targets dates for ceasing deforestation (a WWF ambition).
There is no reference to the “UN-REDD” programs, to which currently $150 million have been committed by donors. This program has never been officially endorsed by a UN body, including the parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change.
Developing countries will happily take the UN-REDD money, but continue to refuse to give the program official sanction. Donors slide over the fact that the Accord they point to as sanctioning the UN-REDD activity was a voluntary arrangement between donors and developing countries.
Ever since the UNFCCC conference in Bali in 2007, World Growth has consistently critiqued the idea of REDD and the programs developed to implement it. The notions behind it that there are practicable ways to restructure developing country economies to replace existing wealth-generating industries with other, untried, low carbon industries; that forestry is a major source of climate change emissions (see below); that it is practicable to promote carbon farming instead of forestry when no global system to trade carbon credits is in sight, all demonstrate it is a fundamentally flawed idea.
The only result of most of the UN-REDD strategies that have been promoted, if they are successfully implemented, is likely to be a reduction in commercial forestry. This of course is the intent of Greenpeace and WWF and some major donors.
The same US researchers, Winrock International, who reported at the 2010 Cancun climate change meeting that emissions from forestry have been overstated by at least 70 percent, have now had the results published in a peer-reviewed article in Science.
They advise their assessment of emissions from forestry worldwide is 30 percent of previous assessments, including the number used by the IPCC Third Assessment report – between 17 and 18 percent. The World Bank and WWF adopted the IPCC number as an established fact despite a huge margin of error by the authors.
At the Copenhagen Climate change conference, the World Bank stated emissions from forestry were just under 18 percent. A year later, Bank officials in Brazil asserted they were 15 percent. WWF regularly claimed emissions were up to 30 percent. Most development agencies state emissions are 20 percent.
The Winrock numbers put emissions from deforestation at 10 percent at best, noting this does not account for the carbon sinks created by regrowth on logged forest land. They estimate that may reduce the emissions count by 2 to 5 percent.
As World Growth has pointed out consistently since before Copenhagen the declared rates of deforestation and of emissions from deforestation are consistently exaggerated by Greens and donors. It is most likely that the practice of forestry globally today makes the forest industry a carbon sink.