Greetings from Mars (actually, inside the negotiations)

I’m Naazia, the TF for the Environmental Diplomacy Practicum, and I’ve been in Rio as a member of the Marshall Islands delegation observing and keeping tabs on the negotiations since June 13. It’s been a long ride to get here: I worked on Rio issues for the small island states (SIDS) through last summer and fall, and it’s been a bit disheartening watching the text get progressively weaker and weaker. Last summer, SIDS had a long list of items that we attempted to include – our own submissions were a good 20 pages. We chose to engage by submitting these items to the G77 and entrusting them to negotiate them for us in the larger setting, which meant they had to go through two sets of consensus to make it into the final outcome document. With a text that initially started at 80 pages, and with the US, Canada, and Australia (among others) trying to keep the text to 5 pages, it was inevitable that many things would be cut.

On the bright side though, SIDS able to close all the text we wanted (that is – get it agreed to) with respect to what does remain: there are provisions for special implementation of commitments to SIDS, as well as acknowledgment of the unique challenges and specific vulnerabilities faced by SIDS (such as ocean acidification, which damages the corals that protect many of the islands, or sea level rise). It may not seem like much to say that the text acknowledges the danger of ocean acidification, and many countries are hesitant to acknowledge new dangers for various self-serving reasons. However, those aside, an official statement in the text is a first step towards taking actual steps to solve the problem. Unfortunately, those steps will take years: likely a sequence of reports, follow-up reports, suggestions, etc. But that is the nature of the UN process: slow and lumbering.

And that brings us to the main point: the text is certainly weak, and RIo+20 will not have the great steps forward that were evident at the original Rio, but given the process, that is to be expected. The environmental movement is in a lull, but we have to have confidence that it will revive itself over the coming years. In the meantime, this is probably the best we can hope for.