Rio Dialogues Part III: Impact on Rio+20 and the Way Forward

Last week, the Rio Dialogues culminated in a three-day panel discussion that engaged Rio+20 conference participants in a grand civil participatory process. The top thirty recommendations were chosen from parallel processes that included the online dialogues top ten picks from a million votes world-wide, the top ten picks from 111 panelists during the panel dialogues in Rio, and the top ten picks from the audience that attended the dialogue panels. All thirty recommendations reflecting diverse sectors of civil society were presented to Heads of State that attended the Rio+20 conference, which started the day after the last dialogue panel ended.

Rafael da Soler from the Ministry of External Relations in Brazil that oversaw the Sustainable Development Dialogues, provided insight into the reasoning behind the separate sets of recommendations:

"...the online debates subsidized the live discussion, which were followed by open debates with an average audience of over 1,300 people in each panel. Platform discussion, panelists interventions and audience debates were all part of this process, and it was felt that the three recommendations from each theme to be presented to the Heads of State and Government had to reflect this synergy."

Thus, the dialogues did not exclude opinions, but merged them into the greatest concerns from each population according to the topic. Below are the recommendations presented to Heads of State, displayed by the top picks for all three population votes on each of the 10 topics:

1. Sustainable Development as an Answer to the Economic and Financial Crises
Online: Promote tax reforms that encourage environmental protection and benefits the poor.
Audience: Create a tax on international financial transactions with a view to contributing to a Green Fund in charge of promoting decent jobs and clean technologies.
Panelists: Adopt shared sustainable development goals (SDGs) that will be embraced by business, civil society and the public sector. Goals include innovative metrics, public disclosure, public awareness, education at all levels, and problem solving from local to global level to map the pathways to achieve the goals. Five critical areas to consider: 1) empower every place in the world to ensure that every individual meets their basic needs of health, safe water, sanitation,and dignity of decent lives; 2) sustainable development energy system; 3) sustainable food supply locally and globally; 4) sustainable urban environments, including initiatives on water systems, sewage and other smart infrastructure; and 5) sustainable industry committed and required to clean up after itself. The SDGs would be met through a shared set of principles and methods that will apply for all, including taxes, financial reform, innovative financing for green development and a shift to sustainable technologies in general.

2. Unemployment, Decent Work and Migrations
Online: Put education at the core of the Sustainable Development Goals agenda.
Audience: Commit to a "Decent Work for All" goal by 2030, including the right to bargain collectively, unemployment reduction, elimination of precarious work, gender equality at the workplace and promotion of green and decent jobs. Also take into account the special needs of women and youth, as well as a "Social Protection for All" goal by 2030, guaranteeing social protection at least at the level of national floors, including minimum wages and guarantees for access to health care. Also incorporate income support for unemployed, aged, disabled, children and pregnant women.
Panelists: Compel national governments to respect the human rights of all migrant workers and their families including those in Temporary Foreign Worker programs and those climate refugees who will be displaced by environmental impacts.

3. Sustainable Development for Fighting Poverty
Online: Promote global education to eradicate poverty and to achieve sustainable development.
Audience: Ensure universal health coverage to achieve sustainable development.
Panelists: Promote equitable access to information, participation, representation and justice in local, national and global level decision-making on sustainable development. Promote grassroots innovation.

4. Economics of Sustainable Development, including Sustainable Patterns of Production and Consumption
Online: Phase out harmful subsidies and develop green tax schemes.
Audience: Include environmental damages in the Gross National Product (GNP) and complement it with measures of social development.
Panelists: Promote sustainable public procurement worldwide as a catalyst for sustainable patterns. Take into account the need for a holistic approach to sustainable development and principles for a sustainable and fair economy.

5. Forests
Online: Restore 150 million hectares of deforested and degraded lands by 2020.
Audience: Promote science, technology, innovation and traditional knowledge in order to face forests main challenge: how to turn them productive without destroying them.
Panelists: Zero Net Deforestation by 2020, respecting the rights and knowledge of peoples living in and from the forests as well as responding to their sustainable development needs.

6. Food and Nutrition Security
Online: Promote food systems that are sustainable and contribute to improvement of health.
Audience: Develop policies to encourage sustainable production of food supplies directed to both producers and consumers.
Panelists: Eliminate misery and poverty-related malnutrition. Empower women farmers, small holder farmers, young farmers and indigenous people. Ensure their access to land, water and seed as well as their full involvement in public decision making regarding food production and food and nutrition security.

7. Sustainable Energy for All
Online: Take concrete steps to end fossil fuel subsidies.
Audience: Establish ambitious targets for moving towards renewable energy.
Panelists: Scale up investments and political will to ensure universal, equitable and affordable access to sustainable energy services to all by the next decade through clear strategies and actions.

8. Water
Online: Secure water supply by protecting biodiversity, ecosystems and water sources.
Audience: Implement the right to water.
Panelists: Adopt more ambitious global policies asserting the importance of integrated water, sanitation, energy and land use planning, development, conservation and management at all scales. Take into account specific gender and cultural needs and activate full and effective participation of civil society.

9. Sustainable Cities and Innovation
Online: Promote the use of waste as a renewable energy source in urban environments.
Audience: Plan in advance for sustainability and quality of life in cities.
Panelists: Each head of state should identify a sustainable city to develop a network for knowledge sharing and innovation. Governments should channel resources to develop people-centered sustainable cities with timed and measurable goals, in such a way that empowers local communities, promotes equality and accountability.

10. Oceans
Online: Avoid ocean pollution by plastics through education and community collaboration.
Audience: Launch a global agreement to save high seas marine biodiversity.
Panelists: Take immediate action to develop a global network of international marine protected areas, while fostering ecosystem based fisheries management, with special consideration for small-scale fishing interests.

Indeed, the dialogues were an innovative process to the UN system that leaves many wondering if such a process will become a staple of UN engagement with civil society. According to Eric Anderson, Dialogues Facilitation Team member and official of the UNDP Bureau of Development Policy, the strategy for the dialogues "is a mechanism that will be further refined and potentially given a stronger, more formal role in the inter-governmental process." Anderson adds, "that is yet to be seen, but likely from the strong feedback we have received." If the participatory action strategy employed in the dialogues becomes a norm for the UN, the Rio Dialogues would have achieved a great accomplishment. But what about the dialogue impact on the outcome of the Rio+20 conference that was themed "The Future We Want"?

Strong critiques from people like Mary Robinson about the inability of the Rio+20 outcome document to result in significant forward progress on sustainable development for the next decade have merit. Some of the Rio dialogue language can be noted within the text, but wording is not coupled with wholesale reinforcement of the collective rights of the majority who are marginalized from land, reproductive rights, food sovereignty, and who experience the immediate impact of destroyed biodiversity. The UNCSD Major Group for Women highlight discrepancies in their statement from June 24th,

"At Rio+20, governments had a historic chance to take bold steps to end poverty and environmental destruction, to protect the rights of the most vulnerable members of our societies, to take concrete measures to fully implement women's rights and women's leadership. We now risk increased poverty, inequities and irreversible environmental damage. This is not the future we want, nor the future we need."

The outcome document is perhaps a result of overly ambitious desires to tackle a laundry list of world challenges that clashed with political will. Perhaps the framing of the challenges that placed human politics and show-boat civil society expertise at the center of attention instead of the rights of the planet, its systems and immediate steps to re-establish our relationship with Pachamama, left us with greater gaps to close throughout our government and civil society structures. Underscoring the sentiment of wrongful framing of world challenges as human centered is the statement from the Asia Indigenous Peoples Pact (AIPP), which partially reads:

"Indigenous peoples call upon the world to return to dialogue and harmony with Mother Earth, and to adopt a new paradigm of civilization based on Buen Vivir - Living Well. In the spirit of humanity and our collective survival, dignity and well-being, we respectfully offer our cultural world views as an important foundation to collectively renew our relationships with each other and Mother Earth and to ensure Buen Vivir/ living well proceeds with integrity." - Indigenous Peoples International Declaration on Self-Determination and Sustainable Development, 19 June, 2012, Rio de Janeiro

Despite the problematic framing under which Rio+20 operated, the Rio Dialogues presented a mix of concrete and ideological steps to move us toward a more sustainable future. Whereas some may regale the Rio Dialogues as a success, the real test of the strategy used for the dialogues is yet to be seen. The process should be implemented from the beginning of the negotiations to really test the correlation of the demands of the people to the motivation and actions of governments to firmly respond to them. Moreover, given that many do not have access to sufficient energy and Internet and/or means to travel to UN conferences, the strategy will have to employ a way to account for the voices that cannot be present through the aforementioned mediums.

Ultimately, the responsibility for success post Rio+20 is not just on governments. Civil society has to be open to listen and receive feedback about their processes as well. This all requires each actor in these processes setting aside convenient adversarial positions in favor of a focus that puts all of our mother's first: the Earth.