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Rio+20: “Everyone is Pleased. Everyone is Disappointed.”

After two years of work, UN delegates accepted a final document at their meeting in Rio de Janeiro. You can access it (in English, French, and Spanish) at www.unscd2012.org –click on “The Future We Want” Outcome Document. It has been pronounced a qualified success by some and a dismal failure by others. As negotiations approached the last minute, host country Brazil stepped in and created a compromise document that made no country perfectly happy, but that gave every country some “wins.”

Structures put in place by Brazil, such as the “Dialogue Days” (in which some of you participated online) and the Peoples’ Summit (a wildly popular parallel grassroots event) supported the intent of UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon to bring the whole world into the process.

The Glass is Half Empty: On the negative side, the document was said to lack a sense of urgency and plans for concrete action. Much of the disappointment centered around its failure to require true accountability of countries and large corporations, or to clearly define the concept of the “Green Economy,” leaving in place the current economic growth model. The delegate from Malta commented toward the end of the meeting that “We have to take note that NGOs expected more of us.”

The Glass is Half Full: Rio+20 Secretary General Sha Zukang summarized 14 areas of progress, and commented that “80% of the wording of the original document was contributed by civil society.” Though some of our ideas were lost, the document contains many victories on issues for which UNANIMA and other NGOs have been working hard. For example, it declares food (para108), water and sanitation to be human rights (para121), and it supports a guaranteed social protection floor (para107). It calls for women’s leadership (para45). It points to a transition from the Millennium Development Goals to a set of Sustainable Development Goals, yet to be written, and into which we should be able to have input. Rio may not have been the pivotal moment in history, but it has given us some new pegs on which to hang future work.

More Power to Us! Perhaps almost as important as the document itself is the precedent-setting advances in the processes before and during the summit. According to a UN staff member, this was “the most open UN process ever,” thanks to the demands of civil society. The creation of the “Major Groups” concept (nine groups such as NGOs, Women, Trade Unions, Indigenous People etc.) gave members of civil society special access, more opportunities for input to the proceedings, and a stronger voice than ever before. Ten thousand of us registered for Rio! Ban Ki-moon actually asked to address the assembled major group representatives, which has never happened before. Why, we even had our own Major Groups Pavilion at RioCentro!

Ultimate Message: “The most important outcome is the global realization that the balance of things on the planet have shifted irreversibly. Rio marks a shift in the way the world sees, understands, and governs itself.” (Alexander Likhotal, President of Green Cross International)

What Happens on Monday? …is more important than what happened at Rio. More than one UN delegate and speaker said that it is up to civil society now to implement the vision of Rio+20—governments can’t do it, the UN can’t do it, nobody can do it alone. Ordinary people must be ready for vigorous follow-up– pressuring their governments, working with businesses and farmers and local authorities and all sectors to change the way we live and use the planet. One twenty-year veteran of the process calculated all the steps the NGOs had taken since they were in Rio, and he calculated that we had walked enough kilometers to circle the earth. So now, KEEP WALKING! The “Future We Want” lies in our hands.

And More… Each of the other seven UNANIMA representatives at Rio has been invited to share some observations in the next few issues, so stay tuned! In the next issue we will also meet our host community, the Cabrini sisters of Rio de Janeiro, with whom six of us stayed…