The UN Conference on Sustainable Development - Rio+20, is aimed at ensuring full implementation of international commitments on environment and social development. However, there are concerns that it will neglect the urgent need to respect indigenous peoples’ rights, traditional knowledge and self-determined development.
Government ministers and non-governmental delegates from all over the world will gather in June in Rio for the UN Conference on Sustainable Development - Rio+20. The conference is taking place 20 years after the UN Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED) was held in Rio and will aim, among other objectives, to assess the state of implementation of the three Conventions adopted at UNCED: the Convention on Biodiversity (CBD), the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and the Convention on Desertification (UNCCD).
Participants will also negotiate institutional reforms aimed at ensuring more consistent and holistic actions on global environmental and development issues, thereby striving to take into equal account social, economic and environmental imperatives. The leitmotiv of this conference, however, is the so-called “Green Economy” and governments will spend time at RIO+20 discussing its meaning, definition, principles and purpose. They also plan to secure intergovernmental consensus on actions needed for a “global transition” to a green economy for sustainable development. Some observers consider this merely as an opportunity to seek market solutions in favour of the private sector, rather than a commitment to support a transition to a socially just and ecologically healthy model.
A draft negotiating document , the so-called “Zero draft”, is being discussed in monthly meetings in New York. The document falls short of defining clear binding targets and actions for governments and the private sector alike, nor does it identify the need to adopt binding rules for the latter. To make matters worse, key elements, such as a “rights-based” approach to development and social and environmental matters, risk getting lost among diverging governmental agendas. Commitments to tackle cross-sectoral issues, such as economic justice and a thorough reform of the financial system risk the same fate.
Prior to the conference, from June 16-19 2012, Indigenous Peoples will convene a “Global Conference of Indigenous Peoples on Self-determined and Sustainable Development”. Parallel to the official Rio+20 event, civil society organisations and social movements will gather under the umbrella of the “Summit of the Peoples for Social and Environmental Justice and in Defense of the Commons”; there will be an Indigenous Peoples’ Pavillion 19-22 June 2012; and a public space (proposed by South-American and Central American Indigenous Peoples “Acampamento Tierra Libre por el Buen Vivir y la Vida Plena”) to share experiences of sustainable environmental conservation and natural resource management practices based on traditional knowledge and livelihoods. The linkage between territorial rights and truly sustainable paradigms will be highlighted, as well as the urgency to secure a strong rights-based anchor to any programme or platform that will ensue from Rio.
It should be underlined that the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), the key author of the report on the “Green Economy” produced for the Rio+20 summit, sees forests as a key pillar of green economy, through support of Payment for Environmental Services (PES) schemes and programmes and projects for Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD+) as a “catalyst” for greening the forest sector. Nevertheless, UNEP does not mention indigenous peoples’ rights to land, territories and resources, nor highly relevant international obligations and standards, such as the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP).
Recognition of the UNDRIP is a key demand of indigenous peoples for Rio+20. In their statements and submissions to the Zero Draft, Indigenous Peoples’ Organisations have repeatedly highlighted 5 key priorities that governments and UN agencies will have to take into due account:
• UNDRIP must be the key international standard and framework for sustainable development;
• Indigenous peoples’ culture will have to be added to the three traditional “pillars” of sustainable development;
• Indigenous peoples’ rights to land, territories and resources should be respected and protected;
• The contribution of traditional knowledge should be respected, valued and included; and
• Diverse local economies should be acknowledged with the “Green Economy” supporting an holistic framework to self-determined development.
Forest Peoples Programme will be in Rio to support a delegation of indigenous peoples to participate in the Global Indigenous Peoples’ Conference, parallel events and official negotiations.
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