Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Initial Reactions to the Zero Draft

The first version of the Outcome Document for the United Nations Commission on Sustainable Development (UNCSD, also known as Rio+20) was released on January 10th on the UNCSD website ( This version of the document is called the “Zero Draft” and its catchy title is “The Future We Want”. The Co-Chairs and bureau of the UNCSD Preparatory Committee compiled the Zero Draft from hundreds of submissions from Political Groups, Member States and contributions from the Major Groups. The initial discussion on the Zero Draft took place in the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) chamber from January 25th to the 27th at the United Nations Headquarters in New York. Bridget Brady, Emma Beals and myself had the great opportunity of attending the initial discussions on the Zero Draft.

Logo for the Conference taken fron the UNCSD website
The publication of the Zero Draft was an exciting step forward in the preparation process leading up to Rio. The 19-page document, although very short and concise, brings a broad array of topics discussed to date onto the table for negotiations. The “Informal-informal” consultations present a platform for delegates to negotiate the text in the Zero Draft and for stakeholder to lobby different agendas. The objective of Rio +20 is to assure renewed political commitment for Sustainable Development, evaluate programs to date and fill the gaps in the implementation process and to also address emerging issues. The two main themes of Rio +20 are; green economy in the context of sustainable development and poverty eradication and institutional framework for sustainable development. Delegates negotiated Section I and II of the zero draft. Section I- the preamble that sets the stage for the discussions and Section II looks at renewing political commitments. Discussions on the other sections and the themes mentioned above will be negotiated in “informal-informal” consultations being held in March and April-May.

The first meeting on January 25th was lead by John Ash, Permanent Ambassador Representative of Antigua and Barbuda- one of the Co-chairs of the UNCSD Preparatory Committee. He mentioned, “The success of the Rio+20 Conference very much depends upon the success of this phase”. Mr. Sha Zuang, currently serving as the Under-Secretary-General for Economic and Social Affairs, was also given the floor- he emphasized that the time period between now and the conference is crucial for setting the stage for “The Future We Want”. He reaffirmed that “We need a robust outcome from Rio+20, with reinvigorated political commitments by all… It is hoped that whatever process is agreed at Rio on sustainable development goals, the outcome will provide a major building block for the post-2015 UN development agenda.” Hearing this was very exciting as it reaffirmed the purpose of our research in following up on the core events leading up to Rio +20.

In the first session Member States, Intergovernmental Organizations, UN system agencies and Major Groups were given the floor to express their initial reactions to the Zero Draft. Member states were given 5 minutes, while other groups were given 3 minutes. A general remark that can be made from the statements is that although participants were pleased with the Zero Draft as the bases of the negotiations, they emphasized that the goal of an ambitious and action-oriented document will require equally ambitious negotiations in the days left between the January consultations and Rio +20. The following extract is from the African group presented by Jean-Francis R. Zinsou Ambassador Permanent Representative of Benin;

“On Substance, the African Groups observes in general terms, that the ‘zero draft’ lacks vision and ambition. Indeed, much work is needed to turn it into a bold vision to achieve sustainable development based on 3 paramount objectives: implementation, integration and coherence”

Regarding the themes of the green economy stakeholders expressed the lack of a clear definition of what the green economy is, what it should consist of and how it can be achieved. On the topic of institutional framework for sustainable development there was a need for greater integration between the three pillars of sustainable development: economic, social and environment. The European Union suggested the following way as a means of strengthening the current commission on sustainable development;

“With respect to the issue of strengthening the international environmental governance, the EU and its Member States firmly believe that the establishment of a fully-fledged environmental organization as a United Nations specialized agency for the environment, based on UNEP and located in Nairobi, will be the most effective manner in which to further develop the environmental dimension of sustainable development.”

In an interview uploaded by the Stakeholder Forum on youtube, Farooq Ulla, Head of Policy and Advocacy for the organization, stated “the zero draft was a good starting point for Rio+20--Not as strong as we would have hoped for, but not as bad as we feared”. Ulla emphasized the need for something expressive of how we are going to achieve our ambitions. Some of the topics strongly referred to in the statements that he mentioned include green economy road maps, sustainable development goals, a successful framework to the Millennium Development Goals. On the governance side; developing Sustainable Development Council that will be part of the Security Council according to the General Assembly, corporate sustainability and accountability and enhanced integration between science and policy-making. A key topic reiterated was the transfer of environmentally sound technological innovations and the reconsiderations intellectual property rights.

The initial reactions set the tone for stakeholders to delve into the negotiations to bring into being a document that met their objectives for Rio+20. Delegates began actively negotiating their amendments to the Zero Draft during the consultations.

For a detailed analysis on the discussions of each paragraph of the Zero Draft visit;

To check out the interview with Farooq Ullah click;

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