Dr. Catherine Tinker is a friend and former adjunct professor of Pace Law School.  She directed the first grants for Pace’s Brazil exchange program, and participated in the historic 1992 Earth Summit. She has also taught international environmental law and other environmental courses at a number of law schools in the U.S. as well as Brazil.


I have been working on the aspect of the language affirming the full participation of civil society in the preparatory sessions for Rio + 20, meaning in the policy debates as well as in  implementation and monitoring of compliance with environmental and sustainable development agreements and commitments.  Today (June 20, 2012) in the Plenary, President Dilma Rouseff of Brazil noted that “global civil society was here hand in hand with us” and cited as one of the gains of this conference that there was an “expanded role of civil society in decision-making processes in the UN.”  Rio + 20 is the largest UN conference ever for the involvement of civil society and social movements in active, meaningful ways throughout the process.  The President of the UN General Assembly referred in his remarks to alliances with civil society that were spurred by UNCED in 1992 and now involve the major groups in the social, environmental and economic dimensions of sustainable development.


During the negotiations on the text of the Outcome Document, language that would expand the level of participation of major groups has been contentious and has been bracketed, indicating lack of consensus, at the same time that major groups have been active in every stage of policy formulation and negotiations throughout the preparatory processes in New York and here in Rio. The frustration felt by many here is that there is a regression occurring, weakening the language of commitments made by governments twenty years ago, on this principle of participation as well as other issues, like women’s reproductive rights language from the Beijing Declaration. In the consensus document presented by the Government of Brazil on June 17, 2012, which has not yet been adopted by the governments here in Rio, the language on major groups and civil society participation falls short of the expectations and
demands of these non-state actors. Approximately 1000 signatures have been collected so far on a petition called “The Future We Don’t Want” that is being circulated on-line by a number of major groups here at the conference.


Today in the plenary, when each of the major groups was given the floor for a representative to speak, the NGO major group representative urged that the member states delete any  reference in the opening paragraphs that the outcome document was with the full participation of civil society, since so many do not agree with the contents of the document on this point of participation in policy as it now stands.


A side event on June 20th “Sustainable Development in an Unequal World” featured high-level participants including Mary Robinson, UN Commissioner for Human Rights; Michelle Batchelet, head of UN Women at the UN; Gro Harlem Bruntland, who chaired the 1972 Stockholm conference on the human environment and produced the Brundtland Commission Report; the head of UNICEF and a representative of the OECD. This panel communicated the urgency and inspiration lacking in many of the speeches and meetings and negotiations.  The speaker from the International Trade Union Conference, Sharon Barrow, noted the inequality facing workers compared even to twenty years ago, the need for investment in green infrastructure that would create jobs, and the need for a social protection floor.  She acknowledged there were dialogues with civil society, but still the major groups are not at the heart of the Social Development Goals and the major groups must be involved to rebuild the trust of the citizenry in governments and implementation of commitments.  Mary Robinson, noting that these eminent speakers were all “ïnsiders”, still called for pro-equity proposals and striving for a just society based on equity so all groups feel they belong, calling this a people centered approach which needs to link climate change, human rights and equity, including intergenerational equity. She called on us to mobilize after the Rio conference because it’s not being done here. In 1992, the Earth Summit changed the way of doing things, created conventions, and led various countries to create departments of the environment.  Here the states are merely “ünderscoring”or “reaffirming”. She urged instead a new paradigm of development and political leadership to address inequalities and injustices on a global scale.


Gro Harlem Brundtland critiqued the outcome document at this stage for failed to refer to “planetary boundaries” or tipping points being reached, and the environmental and social costs of unsustainable consumption and production are not reflected.  She called for women and girls to be placed at the center of attention with an end to persistent discrimination, noting that women’s participation in the economy is needed, with equal access to land, markets and credit. She said the single most important step towards sustainable development is the mobilizing and investing in women and youth, as the Global Sustainability Panel concluded. The costs of inaction on sustainable development with irreversible harm to ecosystems and people, are higher than the cost of actions proposed.