From COP-17 to Rio+20

While COP-17 is the negotiation about who should pay for climate change, Rio+20 will set the tone for sustainable development in the 21st century. Although Rio+20 is different from COP meetings in that it is intended to achieve a political agenda rather than a legally binding form, the two meetings are quite similar in essence.

Green Economy and Institutional Framework are supposed to be the two major topics for Rio next year, but last week in New York intersession, country delegates spent much more time on other topics than the two idealistic terms.

Different countries interpreted Rio+20 in dramatically different ways, although similar ways as they did in Durban. EU promoted a road map for green economy, doesn’t that sounds familiar? US emphasized civil society engagement, which corresponds to its stance on private sector contribution to Green Climate Fund. On the other hand, we heard missions representing “G77+China” stated that Rio+20 should deliver “concrete results” on financial support, technology transfer and capacity building, again the same stance as they had in Durban.

The beauty of these international conferences, however, is exactly the diversity of priorities. Don’t assume everybody understands green economy the same way as we tree huggers do (I’m a proud tree hugger by the way). As one delegate stated, different countries have different development status, and there is no universal formula. After the meeting, a Myanmar delegate told me that their priority is still poverty alleviation, and “green economy” is still too far away for them.

With different priorities, countries fight each other, which essentially created international politics, whether you like it or not. In politics, negotiation is not as straight-forward as businessmen bargain their prices. It’s not always about money, but also political priorities and beliefs. Vague principles and norms are already hot-spots for fighting, which will happen in Rio next year. Don’t underestimate the power of vague norms, just think about “common but differentiated responsibilities”, a powerful weapon used by G77+China on climate change.

But after all the political processes, everybody expects a deal in the end. The interesting part is how different parties meet each other in the middle. Here I have some thoughts about China. China, which means the “Middle Country” in Mandarin, has a sophisticated culture of the “middle way” that goes back to the time of Confucius. At this moment in history, China sits exactly in the middle position between developing and developed countries. On the one hand, China has already become a global superpower in many ways, but on the other hand, more than half of the Chinese are still living as the rural poor. China is a combination of the developing and developed worlds in itself. At Rio, with the rich and poor countries disagreeing with each other, China has a good chance to apply its definition of sustainable development on a global scale.