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28 Jun, 2012

Africa Admits It Was “Ambushed” at Rio+20 Talks

ADDIS ABABA — The UN Economic Commission for Africa (ECA) has admitted that African leaders lost the battle at the negotiating table of the recent Rio+20 Earth summit. An official announcement posted on the ECA website on June 25 says frankly that the final outcome document, “The Future We Want”, only looks ahead towards creating “Green Growth” while doing nothing to hold accountable those who are primarily responsible for causing global warming.

In remarkably blunt language, the following two releases make clear the deep frustrations felt by the African leaders who, as usually happens in these multilateral forums, were forced to accept a bad deal rather than walk away with no deal. Although they were well aware of the “ambush” that awaited, in the end, they did fall victim to it.

Basically, this means that not only will the main polluters, the industrialised countries, be doing little or nothing to pay for the damage they caused, but they will now be presenting their new environmental technologies as “part of the solution”. These technologies will now be sold to the developing countries either directly or through aid packages or soft loans with hidden terms and conditions.

The following dispatch reproduces two media releases issued by ECA, both after and before the Rio+20 conference. The first one, issued on June 15, makes clear that it is aware of what is to come at the negotiating table, and calls for African unity to hold their ground. The second one, on June 25, despairs that things did not quite go according to plan.

AFTER: African delegations at Rio Conference agree to move on

Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, 25 June 2012 (ECA) – The African Spokesperson and Political Coordinator of the Rio+20 process on Thursday downplayed Africa’s limited success at the just-ended United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development, saying “we should now focus on the areas of the Rio+20 outcome document that we think need further negotiations in the coming days and months.”

President Denis Sassou N’Guesso of the Republic of Congo was speaking at a news conference jointly addressed by the current Chairman of the African Union, President Yaya Boni of Benin; the chair of the Commission, Jean Ping and attended by a cross section of African leaders present at the Rio+20 parley.

According to the Information and Communication Service (ICS) of the Economic Commission for Africa (ECA), the news conference was held against the background of what African delegations saw as a deliberate tendency by developed countries to rescind all earlier commitments on poverty reduction and the economic development of the continent.

President Sassou recalled the Africa Consensus Statement for Rio+20 and observed that not much had been achieved in any of the key areas of the Statement: renewed political commitment; green economy in the context of sustainable development; means of implementation; institutional framework for sustainable development; and sustainable development goals.

He said that, in fact, except for means of implementation in the context of green economy, little else had been achieved.

Much to the dislike of many African delegates, the language and overall tone during general discussion at the Conference was aspirational and non-prescriptive, as had been the case in most previous development conferences.

Indeed, throughout the final phase of the negotiations leading up to the Rio+20 outcome document, there had been an obvious move away from straight language on rights and equity principles, led by the richest countries and reflected in attempts to leave as un-agreed,  20-year-old Earth Summit principles.

For example, the generally agreed rights to food and water became the issues of “access to food” and “access to water.”

Similarly, the “fundamental right of universal access to health” was watered down to recognizing “the importance of universal health coverage” and even poverty eradication had been re-qualified as eradicating “extreme poverty”.

Cameroon’s Ambassador to the UN, Mr. Michel Tommo Monthe might have been right in suggesting during the negotiation phase that unless Africa is repositioned as a special case of underdevelopment in the international discourse, development partners might either ignore or even rescind some of the commitments they had undertaken with respect to the continent.

The leader of Niger, President Mahamadou Issoufou  later echoed the same apprehension at the news conference when he suggested that, given the qualified success that Africa had achieved in Rio, leaders ought to initiate a new drive to bring global attention to the unfulfilled commitments of the international commitments for the continent.

President Sassou N’Guesso agreed and proposed that a committee be put in place to come out with a real strategy on the way forward, post-Rio+20.

“The African proposal on the transformation of UNEP into a UN specialized agency on environmental issues was referred to the General Assembly of the UN, which comes up next September”, he said, and “we must begin work on it right away, if we want to see the process go through.”

The Congolese leader agreed that the current world economic situation had made it more unlikely for development partners to deliver on their commitments towards Africa’s development, but added that “some of these promises date back to more than a decade, at the time when President Abdou Diouf of Senegal was Chair of the Organisation for African Unity (OAU)”.

He noted that what is unfortunate now is the introduction of new language in the conversation about Africa’s development. “These days the talk is no longer about how to uplift Africans out of unacceptable poverty levels, but about realistic and inspirational commitments.

“Our partners now ask us to be more flexible with our demands regarding the private sector. But we must continue to insist on the application of the principle of common but differential responsibility— that is, the principle that rich countries should be held more accountable for having contributed more towards green house gas emissions or environmental degradation,” the Congolese leader regretted.

The truth is that although Africa gained some grounds in Rio in the provision (or in fact, promise) of some resources for renewable energy, several sections of the final Rio+20 outcome document hardly satisfied delegations from the continent.

He however, said that Africa could be satisfied  that it had come away from Rio having ensured that global attention had been refocused on means of implementation of sustainable development targets.

He added that clear links between Millennium Development Goals and Sustainable Development Goals are now fully understood and accepted by the developed and developing countries.

“With all this in mind, I think the best thing that Africa should be doing now, is to bear in mind that the Rio process remains ongoing; and ought not be limited to the results of a single meeting. We should revisit our strategies and look ahead to next September’s General Assembly meeting of the UN where we still have the possibility of making our case on all these issues”, he concluded.

BEFORE: Africa lays bare its concerns about Rio outcomes

Rio de Janeiro, Brazil 15 June 2012 (ECA) – African participants in the UN Conference on Sustainable Development (Rio+20) which opens here next week have been warned to stick together in Brazil or lose out on most of the sticking points of the negotiation.

The warning came from Ambassador Macharia Kamau, the Kenyan Ambassador to the UN and veteran of the Rio process who addressed the first meeting of the African Group last evening, according to the Information and Communication Service (ICS), of the Economic Commission for Africa (ECA) covering the conference and the negotiations.

“After two days of negotiations, progress is slow and in some ways, negative. Issues such as Agenda 21, Johannesburg Programme of Action, are now being reopened. There is no resolution on “the world we want”, he said.

In a stark disapproval of what he sees as maneuvers by the developed countries to renege “on all that has all along been agreed on”, Ambassador Kamau told his peers and negotiators to stick to the validity of all previous commitments, especially within the G77 + China framework.

“We should not allow our Heads of State to walk into an ambush”, he said, referring to what he sees as tactics by partners from the developed countries to delay discussions on the key issues until the last segment of the Conference, when Presidents might not have the material time for detailed negotiations on those issues.

Ambassador Kamau said while there had been agreement on what constitutes “equity”, there is no agreement yet on “extreme poverty”, “common but differentiated responsibilities” and “sustainable production and consumption”.

“We had arrived Rio thinking that there would be renewed political commitment on the three pillars of sustainable development: shared economic prosperity, social inclusion and environmental protection; but what we see is a systematic attempt to renegotiate even the fundamental issues of the Conference”, Kamau lamented at the briefing.

He cited the example of the Green Economy targets and goals, questioning how the EU could objectively expect Africa to commit to specific targets and goals when there is no agreement on the means of implementation; that is financial, technology transfer and adequate capacity to embrace the green economy model.

“Without adequate means of implementation, how can we accept any real discussion on the green economy”, he wondered.

“How can we compete with richer countries on new goals as if we have all forgotten about the Millennium Development Goals to which the same developed countries have committed”, he asked emphatically.

Kamau told the meeting that developed countries had stated their intentions to have poverty-reduction goals removed from the Rio negotiations because, according to them, poverty is no longer uniquely African as a result of the global economic downturn and financial crisis.

This, he said, was a wicked way of diluting the concept and context of poverty.

He said that the proposal by developed Countries to put on hold their initial commitment to contribute 0.07 percent of their respective GDP towards development assistance (until after the current financial crisis) was untenable because it was never implemented before the crisis set in; and because nobody knows when the crisis will end.

In this context, a new Chinese proposal to shelve the commitment by creating a $30 billion annual fund for development assistance appears likely to appease Africa, although the West would still be unlikely to sign up to new commitments in the midst of the current financial woes, according to experts.

ECA, in collaboration with the African Union Commission, the African Development Bank and other partners, is facilitating Africa’s participation in the Rio Conference.

They have joined with several African Governments and institutions to organize an Africa Day event on 19 June at which there will be dialogue and debates to highlight Africa’s position and “sell” it to the rest of the world.

Issued by:

ECA Information and Communication Service

P.O. Box 3001

Addis Ababa Ethiopia

Tel: 251 11 5445098 Fax: +251-11-551 03 65

E-mail: ecainfo@uneca.org

Web: www.uneca.org