Cross post: Rio+20 fails to deliver on Health and Migration issues


-Cross posted from the International Centre for Migration Health and Development (ICMHD) at

Rio+20 fails to deliver on Health and Migration issues


As the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development, also known as Rio+20 or the Earth Summit, wrapped up at the end of last week, responses from experts, media and civil society ranged from lukewarm notes of voluntary commitments made by some countries on the side to outright rejection of the outcome and the conference itself. Overall, world leaders and governments failed to come to a strong agreement that would ensure a safe and just future through a post-2015 sustainable development regime. Instead, they largely spent time hammering out trade agreements and making noncommittal statements about the importance of a broad range of issues.

In terms of migration and health, the Rio outcome document titled “The Future we want”, delivered very little new progress. At the original Earth Summit in Rio in 1992, leaders were committed to developing better modelling and research on migration and the environment, new policies and programmes that would address environmental migrants and displaced people, and stronger capacity to address the needs of environmental migrants. Since then, progress has been mixed, positive examples include the annual Global Forum on Migration and Development and the Global Migration Group, two organisations that improve data, consolidate information, develop strategies, and encourage best practices on links between migration and development.

However, most of the progress made and research done on migration and development has been from a strictly economic perspective. This prioritises working conditions and remittances, which are important, but fails to see migration for what it is: a cross-cutting issue that needs to be addressed in a wide range of sectors, like health. A cross-sectoral approach to migration would allow for a more comprehensive understanding of all the work that needs to be done to protect this often highly vulnerable group of people.

Health outcomes were little better, Health and Population are at least considered a thematic area in the framework for action and follow-up, but the outcome was weak overall, with fewer than half of the paragraphs using “commit” as operative language, favouring weaker language such as “recognise,” “emphasize,” and “reaffirm.” Thankfully, the text did commit countries to consider population trends, including migration, in development planning, though it neglected the important ties between migration, development, the environment, and health.

Language concerning reproductive health, though present, was not as strong as it should have been, largely due to strong objections by the Vatican, an observer state in the process. In her closing remarks last Friday, US secretary of state Hillary Clinton said “while I am very pleased that this year’s outcome document endorses sexual and reproductive health and universal access to family planning, to reach out goals in sustainable development we also have to ensure women’s reproductive rights. Women must be empowered to make decisions about whether and when to have children. And the United States will continue to work to ensure that those rights are respected in international agreements.” Reproductive rights are a fundamental precondition for sustainable development, and migrant and refugee women need special consideration as they face their own unique sets of circumstances that strongly influence their reproductive health.

Despite the failure of the world’s governments to come to a robust agreement last week in Rio, important work on all of the issues of sustainable development, including migrant health, is still being done at a range of different levels.

-Graham Reeder


Sustainable Development And The Political Treadmill Of No Will

By Julian Velez

Rio+20 was supposed to renew political commitment to Sustainable Development (SD) and poverty eradication by integrating the social, economic and environmental “pillars,” or dimensions. It was a conference that was supposed to build on previous agreements to bring the Sustainable Development agenda to the next step. But the spotlight of the conference was taken by the Green Economy initiative, which hijacked the conversation, and took all the energy away from Sustainable Development. The European Union (EU) along with Korea strongly pushed for the Green Economy. The EU wanted to reinforce the environmental pillar through economic policies that would reactivate their economy with the opening of a new green market strategy in the developing world, based mostly on private investment of green products and technologies in the developing world. To protect  nature, it was argued that the solution was to commodify  nature, in order to value its ecosystem services and create a framework for its  privatization. This strategy, framed as inclusive for all nations, actually undermines the economic reality of the developing nations. It would force the developing world to depend on the corporations of the developed world given that that they do not have the infrastructure to support the transition towards a “Green Economy.” Some barely have the infrastructure to support the socio- economical well being of their nations within the old/dirty economic development roadmap.

The developing world does not have the technology, capacity or finance; therefore it would depend on the developed corporations to sell these services, products and technologies in the developing world. This concept of  “A Green Economy” as the road for all nations did not include a concrete plan to support the developing world in the transition towards a GE. It also avoids targeting the issue of overproduction and overconsumption, which addresses quantity not only quality, a fundamental point in economies and lifestyles of excess that that exist mainly in the developed world. The main problem with this plan is that it undermines Equity. The underlying discussion spun around weather the principle of Equity was going to be respected or not.

The EU wanted three main things to reboot their economy: The Green Economy as a one size fits all concept that would become the central path to follow towards the achievement of SD; the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) as a universal set of goals, that were focused on the Environmental dimension soley to support both in principle and with timeframes the GE road map. This would not properly include the social and economical dimensions binding all nations to equally fulfill these goals with out questioning the reality of these other dimensions in the developing world. And third, the upgrading of the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) to a Specialized Agency that could formulate GE policies and enforce them as the authority in the global environment agenda.

This GE trinity would have weakened the SD agenda that is based on the integration of the three pillars through the framework of the Rio Principles. This outcome would have bound the developing world to a new form of dependence, to an accepted “green” market structure that would further the inequitable and unjust neocolonial structures that exist within the neoliberal economic system. It would have created trade barriers and conditionality’s for the developing world for its lack of “green” products and technologies. Basically it would have completely undermined the principle of Equity.

There were several factors and political realities that shaped the outcome document “Our Common Vision:” The unity of G77; the fact that the EU is dealing with a financial crisis and probably had some restrictions on putting money forward to leverage their positions; and the positions of Canada, USA, Japan, New Zeland and Australia that did not appear interested in any real outcome or package from this conference other than lessening the developed world’s commitments and responsibilities to Means Of Implementation (MOI), protect Intellectual Property Rights (IPRs), not recognize basic human rights and undermine the Rio principles, in particular Common But Differentiated Responsibilities (CBDR), these where factors that formed the which is short sighted outcome document. It is the vision of a dog that chases its tail and never gets anywhere. We are biting our own tails with this outcome, the need for ambition is greater that ever.

The GE trinity was to a certain degree tamed in Rio+20. The Green Economy, is framed as “Green economy in the context of sustainable development and poverty eradication” it is framed as an available tool for achieving sustainable development and that it could provide options for policy making but should not be a rigid set of rules. Now it’s referenced as Green Economy policies instead of “A” or “The” GE, taking away the one size fits all perspective from it

Apart from the EU, initially the support for the idea of an upgraded UNEP came mainly from Kenya, the host nation for UNEP, who must have assumed it would bring prestige, jobs and greater finance opportunities. However G77 kept a strong stance against these proposals, understanding the awfully detrimental implications for the developing world. They also took a firm stance on strengthening the Rio Principles to bring Equity to the heart of the talks and reaffirm and further the previous unfinished commitments to Means Of Implementation. The G77 withstood attempts to divide their group, and was able to stand united till the end, which is a rare and exceptional task. The G77 was able to bring Kenya and the Africa Group to the rejection of the trinity of proposals on the basis of their broader repercussions for the developing world.

UNEP got strengthened as an authoritative advocate for the global environment, with secure, stable and adequate funding from the UN budget and as the body that will formulate UN system-wide strategies on the environment. It did not receive specialized agency status with enforcement power.

The SDGs will fully respect all Rio Principles, taking into account different national circumstances, capacities and priorities, build upon commitments already made and will incorporate in a balanced way all three dimensions of sustainable development and their inter-linkages. This will build on the Millennium Development Goals rather than dwarf them and will integrate Sustainable Development as a whole.

Behind all of this, the underlying quarrel was around weather this high level summit with heads of state would recognize and respect Equity and CBDR and whether these principles would guide the SD agenda. All the decisions made at Rio+20 will be used as an outcome from which other UN regimes will draw from to inform their decisions.

The real fight over Equity and CBDR continues in the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) where countries are dealing with a legally binding treaty and  with a universal and all encompassing issue that is threatening the integrity of life in this planet. It is in the UNFCCC where governments have to decide weather they will comply through Equity and CBDR.

In the fight for Equity, the outcome reflects some positive steps, which is crucial because if this principle had been buried in Rio it would have been really hard to dig up in other UN conventions.

In this regard there was a win at Rio+20 in the struggle against climate change –governments agreed to protect the climate system on the basis of equity and in accordance with their common but differentiated responsibilities and respective capabilities. There was a recognition of the need for funding to support nationally appropriate mitigation actions, adaptation measures, technology development and transfer and capacity-building in developing countries.  And governments where urged to fully implement their commitments to the Kyoto Protocol, which addresses the historical responsibilities of countries. While no ambitious steps where taken to do anything additional to deal with one of the worlds biggest challenges.

Nevertheless the EU will keep forcing the Green Economy in the Sustainable Energy for All initiative and in Climate Change through private investment with very specific terms and conditions and market strategies.

Now here we stand with an outcome that through contentious discussions only reaffirmed previous agreements; an outcome that does not recognize the rights of nature, that barely acknowledges the right to water and that recognizes the right to access to food not the full recognition of “the right to food”. It was a long 20 year walk that left us in the same place. Above all the text reflects inaction, lack of political will and commitment to Sustainable Development, the eradication of poverty and the well being of our planet. MOI has no concrete or ambitious commitments. The 10-Year Framework of Programmes on sustainable consumption and production has been adopted only on voluntary terms.

We clearly need to raise the capacity and status of the SD regime, it is evident that we cant pretend to create solutions to all the social, economic and environmental problems  of the world with a text from the Commission on Sustainable Development, which meets once every year and has no priority or power in the UN structure. It is obvious that it needs to be upgraded to the Council on Sustainable Development , instead of the alternate proposal of the upgrading of UNEP, as there is a immense lack of vision and interest in regards to SD. There is a need for a strong UN structure that can properly integrate the three pillars of Sustainable Development and that has weight in domestic policies.

As I said we are biting our own tail with this outcome, our government representatives are unwilling to look beyond their present political interests. And the developed world is not willing to step up and show some responsible leadership for the inequitable and unjust reality that they have shaped around lifestyles of excess and exploitation of the people and nature of the world for 500 hundred years.

Also the governments of the developing world work to protect their middle to high class, and hide behind the red line or bottom line needs of “poor countries” in order to not compromise the lifestyle of their elites and continue the miss care of their poor.

The poor cannot live with this political agreement, their life rather than lifestyle is at stake; their red line, their bottom line for a dignified life is being buried.

Please! Let us not sit and watch comfortably in our safe little couches as the consumption machine devours our natural environment through its gluttony mentality of growth that propagates injustice and oppression in our planet. We need to leave the jaws of the machine, we need to cleanse our selves of its slime and mock. This moment has shown a clear signal a clear message that it is the time for us to take action, all of you and all of me, governments wont. It is the time to embrace our responsibility as creatures of this earth and take action, to take care of the other sentient beings of this planet and challenge the structures that undermine the right to a dignified life.


The Game of the G77

By Lara Shirley

The negotiating strategies employed by the G77+China are very interesting. They are a political entity, and thus have to be highly conscious of the image they project not only to their fellow negotiators but to the wider global community of civil society and media.

The G77 negotiators tend to use precise and sophisticated language, often being the only ones to explicitly demonstrate depth of knowledge on various issues. Their negotiators are highly articulate and educated, and make more of an effort to appear so than their US and EU counterparts. They have more of a need to appear intelligent: Their colleagues from the global North have much more economic and political power outside of the negotiating rooms, so less effort is needed within them.

At the same time, the G77 negotiators will also criticize this language and the process as a whole. They openly say that this dancing around language and meaning is silly, that negotiators should say what they really mean. They call upon fellow delegates to give the true reasons why they want to remove certain text, or even to give any reason at all (which countries don’t always do). They seem to expose the farcical nature of the whole negotiating charade.

They will also often remind their audience that they come from the developing world. For example, at the ’92 Earth Summit, in response to the Northern desire to have a short and “inspirational” Earth Charter that every child could hang above their beds, the G77 pointed out that many children did not even have beds. They pose themselves as a direct opposite to the global North that wants to abuse people and the environment – as advocates for justice and equity.

All of these traits are very appealing to onlookers. Appearing intelligent makes the G77 more respectable, more trustable. Denouncing the process strikes a very strong chord with all the frustrated observers watching people in suits bat semicolons between each other. Harking the unjustly exploited, ditto. They seem to be decent folks.

It’s depressing to realise that these tactics, which ring so close to my heart, are in fact nothing more than that: Tactics. They are tactics because these people are negotiators, they are not simply good people fighting an unjust system, they are people who work within the realm of politics, people whose job it is to negotiate. Tactics are used to push points forward, and those points are not always as morally upright as we would like to think they are.

Apart from the somewhat inevitable contradiction of speaking on behalf of a poverty they have probably never lived through, the G77 negotiators also criticize diplomacy and negotiating strategies only to turn around and work in the exact same way. They avoid mentions of human rights, of civil society, and of environmental conservation. They claim to be talking for their people and environment – but negotiators work for the interests of the governments that pay them, and not necessarily for the masses of hungry people or polluted ecosystems.

That doesn’t mean they don’t have valuable contributions to make. They definitely do, and I find myself supporting their contributions far more often than those of the US or the EU – but it is essential to keep in mind that the G77 position doesn’t necessarily want the best for everyone.

The After Taste Of Non-Wins

By  Julian Velez 

Civil Society, represented by Major Groups (MGs) within the conference, could not come to an agreement —  in informal consultations there where two attempts to create a united MG statement that fell apart because the perspectives of what was needed and the level of ambition that was required were very varied.

The organization of the conference here at Rio increased the confusion of the already disorganized civil society. With last minute changes in schedules, a paperless conference that sometimes had text but no electronic backup (and which civil society had no access to), and the constant closed bilateral meetings and informal negotiations alongside the Sustainable Development Dialogues, it was not till the looming end of the conference that everyone began to come together under one voice given the evidently unsatisfactory state of the negotiations.

Afterwards, there was a pretty much agreed text to present to heads of state and ministers for the three day high level summit, Rio+20. It was very clear that the big battles over language on the text were over and it was now a question of whether high representatives would endorse it.  The text reflected compromises both from the developing and the developed nations but it failed to express ambition in eradicating poverty, in implementing sustainable development and in expressing true commitment to take action in the face of the environmental, social and economic crisis.

Seeing that the text was essentially locked down, a group of youth that felt the need to very clearly express that a political agreement does not necessarily mean something positive, and that in this case the outcome completely failed to meet what was needed from governments. Governments said: “we can live with this." The youth organized an action inside the convention center (Rio Centro) to say: “no, we cannot live with this, the people in the front lines of poverty, climate change and hunger cannot live with this." The youth, alongside some NGOs and other members of the major groups such as the Women and Indigenous major groups, raised their voice to say to governments, media and the rest of the world that Rio was a failure, that we cannot pat governments' backs for reaching a political agreement to continue the conversations in the multilateral process for another 20 years. To say that we need concrete commitments to actions, and that governments, especially in the developed world, have shaped their political agendas around the lobby of corporate interests and are taking steps backwards on previous commitments. Commitments that have not been met, commitments to support sustainable development in the developing world with Means Of Implementation (MOI), through public initiatives of tech transfer, capacity building and finance. It is more than clear that if the developed world does not help the developing nations and if they don’t recognize their historical responsibility and follow through with the corresponding steps, sustainable development will not happen.

The actions within Rio Centro and the people outside in the People Summit helped shift the broader discourse that is very present in these international negotiations: That a political agreement means progress or success and that blocking or rejecting it for bad or lack of content is blocking progress. The general disappointment of civil society in their governments was evidence that even when governments reach consensus, it does not necessarily reflect the ambition that is required. On one side the governments in the developing world are pushing to avoid the Green economy initiatives that threaten to tie them to a new form of neoliberal dependence and on the other, developed nations push to avoid meeting their commitments of publicly financing the shift towards sustainable development with MOI.

Civil Society is left with a sour aftertaste of constantly fighting against something instead of having victories and taking steps forward. Rio+20 was supposed to deliver ambitious solutions to the problems of the world. We were all fearfully expecting a Rio-20, but we are left with a general sentiment of a tasteless text form the multilateral process that barely achieved incremental progress: What we have a is Rio+0 non-win that wasted this unique opportunity for governments to change the course of the boat in time and allows the continuous of the ever drowning condition of those below deck.

The Point of It All

Point of No Return

By Mariana Calderon

Sitting back in a bed in a hostel in Rio de Janeiro, trying to regain some sense of normalcy through regular sleep and regular meals, I hardly dare to think back on the last two weeks – or the last 20 years – just yet. Some time to recover, please.

Unfortunately, time is something we don’t have much of anymore. In the halls of the Rio Centro convention center, the atmosphere differed depending on the crowd: While frustration abounded, the sense of urgency you might expect from such a reputedly important moment in history was lacking in many rooms. It seemed as though few participants had any real grasp of the situation; in negotiating rooms, delegates showed little of the ambition necessary to address as huge an issue as sustainable development. Compared to other meetings, such as those for the UNFCCC, the theatrical dramatics were missing. It is a strange way to put it, but while at the climate COPs, negotiators are constantly bombarded with the responsibility to save humanity and the earth before time runs out, here in Rio the feeling of momentous occasion was lackluster, enough that media were starving for interesting shots and swarmed around children at the conference center (our future!). Negotiations felt staged, simply a ritual which representatives had to go through to show that they had tried – and the more governments insist on holding ritualistic meetings without real substance, the faster we run out of time.

Perhaps I am being unfair. Certainly, there were States championing the rights to water and food (even as others strove to weaken or eliminate them) or fighting against a “green economy” that would commodify and privatize nature as well as human life, but I am pondering the long term effects of this gathering and all those before. Why didn’t this conference, and the many preparatory meetings that came before, or the last twenty years work?

If I’m going to be completely fair, one answer is that sustainable development is huge. It could be called The Next Big Thing. After all, it should be all-encompassing. It needs to mention climate change, and biodiversity. It must address poverty eradication, how to bring it about, and how to do so while protecting the environment and traditional ways of life. It has to guarantee basic human rights for all. It needs to fix our economy and create a framework under which all of this will be done. It also should address the various issues we care about, including gender and reproductive rights, youth unemployment, the use of science, protecting oceans and forests, and just about everything else that we, as humans within and as part of our environment, have to interact with and decided to throw into the mix. Therein lies our problem. Sustainable development is the Next Big Thing that no one really knows how to deal with. It is an issue that no one person could possibly begin to fully comprehend – sustainable development deals with everything. True sustainable development, a kind that would acknowledge, respect, and take into account social, economic, and environmental issues as part of a larger whole, is an ideal.

So it’s really no surprise that it hasn’t worked so far. After all, when you’re talking about everything, a two-page inspirational statement would be next to useless. A cumbersome 49-page document could be more useful, but no one wants to look at it, and anyways, 234 paragraphs still isn’t everything. There was no sense of urgency because no one would know where to go with it. So why the meetings? Why the thousands of flights to Rio de Janeiro, dozens of shuttle buses, and “recycled material” installation artwork full of styrofoam? I can’t answer to the styrofoam and plastic bottle art on Copacabana, but I do still see a point to these meetings. They could work, but first, the people need to get angry. Angrier.

Sustainable development may be huge, but collectively, we understand what needs to be done. I’m not talking about negotiators understanding, or Heads of State, but everyone else. The solutions are right in front of us, and civil society can see them. Some things, like affordable renewable energy, need to be ironed out. Figuring out how to feed the world without relying on genetically modified organisms and monocultures is difficult. Conserving biodiversity when developing countries need the natural resources is complicated. But we know enough to start. In fact, we know enough that we could get a running start, punctuated by leaps and bounds. It could be done, but only with a united effort. This is where we run into problems. For the most part, the way in which we currently try to collectively address global issues would involve governments taking lead. Clearly, this is not working well. So the question we must ask is why? Why are our governments not taking lead?

We have one huge problem: Our governments no longer represent us. They no longer (if they ever did) have our best interests at heart. If millions are hungry, forests are being razed, and the oceans are being emptied, and we know that it is possible to change all this, shouldn’t it be done? Yes, it would be difficult – incomprehensibly difficult – but, if there is to be a focus on human well-being by governments (the rights of nature non-withstanding, we know most governments hardly like to hear about inherent values to biodiversity), then our governmental bodies should be working harder to listen to our solutions and put them into play. They are not.

This is where we get angry. What do governments do at these meetings? Many come into the game full of empty promises and empty pockets – they left all their accountability behind when they started to put the interests of large corporations before the interests of people. Money shouts loudest. It’s that simple. I may be biased. After all, supposedly, the US government is representing me. In the halls of the UN, I am often ashamed of this. The US government has consistently tried to take the right to food out of the text. I have the right to be furious. But are other governments any better? In small ways, perhaps. But small ways do little when what is needed is larger collaboration. Small gains in the text – on human rights for example, are more symbolic than practical when there is no one to read all 234 paragraphs of text and check on governments to see if they are adhering to them. And governments won’t adhere to them. Not completely. Some countries simply can’t, just yet, and those who can often resist assisting them.

But I should come back to the anger. We have to be angry. The reason is this: Sustainable development is an ideal. Multilateralism is an optimistic sort of idea. It seems like we’re striving for utopian perfection; it’s so utterly far away. But, the more we strive to reach it, the further we’ll get. And with millions dying of something so simple as hunger, we have to reach as far and long as we can. We won’t get there with optimism or defeatism, practicalism, or realism. To get there, with governments who don’t represent us, and who are stubbornly stuck on the modern world as it stands, we need anger.

The reason we couldn’t hope to achieve sustainable development right now is because most people, most governments, are looking at it as a way to alter our current system. We’ll make our billions of cars green with biofuel, drink fair trade coffee from a continent away, buy reusable plastic tote bags for our groceries, and this will work just fine, we say. But we know better. The system isn’t working. Sustainable development will never fit in, neatly, or otherwise. The shift must be bigger. It has to be huge. The world has to change, and to do so, we must change who our governments listen to and work for: Not for big corporations – they work for us, and we have to remind them. We’ve been trying to do it nicely for a while. Some have given up on being “environmentalists,” forsaking the world of environmental policy and multilateral agreements for local and grassroots efforts centered on changing communities. This is necessary as well – change has to come in two directions, which is why I still place value on multilateralism.

For practicality’s sake, the United Nations makes sense. The issues the world faces are global, and global discussions and action are needed to address them. There is an institution available, ready to facilitate that. It is a resource, and should be used. If this multilateralism isn’t working, it is because UN meetings are driven by those who drive the negotiators. Negotiators are driven by their government offices. Those governments are too often, and increasingly, driven by corporations and big polluters. To get the shift we want, we must drive the governments ourselves. It’s that simple. But first, we have to make them listen. There must be action outside of the UN, as well as inside. I will continue to work from the inside even as others work from the bottom up. I am privileged enough to have some sort of voice inside negotiations. I’m going to use it to make delegates, negotiators, and representatives look twice at the large groups in their complexes denouncing their false work. We can show them that we have solutions, and can come to them in a truly consensus-based way. We can provide the ideas and values, and the words to frame them, that they are too cowardly to put into writing themselves. They will leave with that uncertainty hidden in the back of their minds, and then they will go home, patting themselves on the back, and they need to find movement back home as well. We’re at a point of no return. We have to be angry enough to be loud enough to show our governments that 1) They need to put our interests before those of polluters, and 2) That if they don’t, they will be losing the power we had given them. We will demand a future and take matters into our own hands.