Analysis of the most recent text on food security

By Nimisha Bastedo, Anna Odell, Clara de Iturbe and Lara Shirley

Having watched the development of the issue of food security in the negotiating text from the original release of the Zero Order Draft to the current negotiating text, we have identified some key areas that are particularly relevant and/or contentious in the facilitator’s suggested text. We have examined the text in depth, and below we have analyzed some of the key issues of the text by paragraph. Through this process we have examined the past text, and explained why we believe it is a noteworthy issue.

The suggested text addresses the right to food which should be a given, and yet it has been discussed and contested over and over throughout this whole negotiating process. As it currently stands, the first paragraph reaffirms commitments regarding the right to have access to safe, sufficient and nutritious food, consistent with the right to adequate food and the fundamental right of everyone to be free from hunger. This is a step up from all other versions of the texts that did not directly acknowledge this right, however the slightly convoluted wording may undermine the essential message. They also included food and nutrition strategies, which had been originally introduced in the May Co-Chairs’ text.

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Why send a group of students half way around the world to Rio+ 20? – because the future needs them there.

By Ken Cline

Language pertaining to the interests of future generations is found in dozens of international agreements and proclamations.  From the original definition of sustainable development in the Brundtland Report to the treaties signed in Rio 20 years ago, safeguarding the interests of future generations has been a central tenet of international environmental law and sustainable development.  Sometimes expressed as the concept of “intergenerational equity” – this sense of trusteeship is key to international environmental law.  But how do you adequately represent the interests of people who, by definition, only exist in the future?

One of the big battles in the current negotiations in Rio is the idea of creating a High Commissioner for Future Generations within the UN system to act as an ombudsman for the interests of the unborn.   I have thought about the challenge of representing future generations a lot over the years and although I think an ombudsman is great start, it is going to be difficult to obtain and will only partially solve the problem.   However, we already have a good proxy for future generations – youth.  More than anyone else alive today, they can best represent this particular stakeholder’s interests.  Youth has a special stake in the future that most of the negotiating delegates simply do not have – they will be there to live it.  This fact was well captured by the t-shirts at the Copenhagen climate negotiations that read “How old will you be in 2050?”  Almost none of the negotiators will be around in 2050, but today’s youth will be and they will be living with the consequences of the negotiator’s inaction and that is something not to be overlooked. 

That is why it is especially important to empower youth to participate in these international environmental meetings – their future is what is at stake and as a result they articulate concerns that aren’t necessarily understood or conveyed as powerfully by other groups (no matter how sincere their intent.)  I believe that I am pretty empathetic, but no matter what I may intend, I simply will not be around in 50 years to bear the consequences of the decisions we make or fail to make today.  My stake is an abstract one; theirs is real.

Are youth a perfect spokesperson for future generations?  No.  Their personal horizon is limited to the next 70 years (at most) and we need to be thinking about 700 or 7000 years from now.  There are also questions of agency and legitimacy – why do these 15 COA students get to speak for the several billion youth in the world?  They are not elected, nor are they representative of the diversity of youth views on the planet.  They are well-informed, however, and they have the humility to recognize that they cannot speak for all youth, let alone all future generations.  But they do represent some youth, and in their humility they engage and listen to other youth from around the world.  The discourse is all the richer because of their contributions, questions, and concerns.   It is also enriched by their boldness and urgency.

So Earth in Brackets is coming to Rio because the world needs us to put a face on the abstract concerns of future generations.  Maybe their lobbying in Rio Centro will end up getting us a UN High Commissioner for Future Generations.  In the meantime, the students are bringing the future to the table.  Along with girl guides, SustainUS, Rio+Twenties, youth delegates, and other youth groups in the halls of Rio Centro, the students are here to make sure that their future is not compromised.  As someone who thinks a lot about our obligation to future generations, I am glad that they are.

If I were a delegate….

by Maria Alejandra Escalante

If I were a delegate at the UN Conference on Sustainable Development, I would not be the kind of delegate I saw at the negotiations on Sustainable Consumption and Production, Water and Climate Change during Prepcom III. I would not be like them because they induce morbidity, disengagement, lethargy and utter silence. A silence that betrays the people these delegates are supposed to be representing. People who, in the miraculous chance of being here would most likely shout, claim, participate, at least collaborate (in the case this restrictive institutional venue opened wide its doors for all those at the People’s Summit). These people would be anything but silent. A prolonged silence in a negotiation that pretends to bring all nations together to talk about solutions on the world crisis is useless. 

These silences that produce anxiety within us, the observers, pressed (literally) in the non-spacious rooms of negotiations, are eventually broken. But, guess what? They are broken generally by three, maybe, with really good luck, by four delegations. Which ones? The United States of America, the European Union representative and the G77 representative. Maybe New Zealand, in case it is convenient to delete UNFCCC from the Climate Change section. Maybe Japan, in case it is better not to include too many elements regarding water management and infrastructure in the Water section. What happens with the other fifty delegates in the room? Their silence prevails, maybe because if they exposed their thoughts the whole process would be chaotic, or maybe because they have conformed to the idea that they must unite under the G77 to get closer to getting heard by the other UN members (big flaw of the system, again).  If I were a delegate I would not let three delegates have a conversation over the world’s resources. If I were a delegate I would not dominate the negotiations, but rather encourage other nations to participate. 

Having seven days left for the final discussion of the outcome of Rio+20, I would not suggest deleting two whole paragraphs (6 and 7) from the Water section of the negotiating text just because it is too dense, too heavy to deal with now. But the G77 representative believes it is a good idea to stop addressing the need for infrastructure in order to achieve sustainable water management, which is proposed in these two paragraphs. Instead, I would do anything and everything in my reach to make sure that months of preparation and huge amounts of time and financial investments are not simply bracketed and suppressed at this final stage. Especially when what is at stake is the human right to water. 

If I were a delegate I would not raise the doubt that this Conference, a platform for change in theory, cannot deal with adopting the 10 Year Framework of Programmes on Sustainable Consumption and Production (YFP). The US delegate stated that “this conference is not delegating authority to another institution to take control over this topic”. If such a congregation of member states is not able to commit to a document already agreed and signed, then what are they doing sitting down in those chairs? Waiting for someone else to take control over problems they are expected to resolve? Extending the action on an imminent catharsis? Hanging out until the world’s resources are depleted so that the levels of consumption and production are unavoidably decreased? The chances of someone being on top of the current excessive consumption and production are low without the adoption of the 10 YFP.  If I were a delegate I would believe in the capacity and potential of the organization I work for. 

If I were a delegate, simply for the sake of coherence, I would not bring a plastic Coca-Cola bottle to the Water negotiations at Rio+20. I would know that Coca-Cola Company uses up a gigantic volume of water while paying an insignificant amount of money in proportion compared with what household residents pay. I would also know that it is polluting water sources all over the world in this massive over production. 

If I were a delegate I would use my words and actions to call for justice, equity, and for human rights. I would represent the interest of my people and the world population. I would work for the future we really want. I would not be like the delegates I have seen. 

Delegates drinking Coca-Cola at the negotiations room. Theme: Water. Great. 

Urgency and Emergency

A conversation with a delegate

By Jivan Sobrinho-Wheeler

The shuttle to the UN conference center only stops in front of the major hotels, where the important country delegates are staying.  Hot air rises to upper-income accommodation.  After the walk or taxi ride to the nearest hotel, it’s another hour by bus to get to the convention center.  Most days I think that time will probably be occupied by sleep, but today I happened to sit next to a country delegate from a small island nation.

After a little exchange he asked with what the youth perspective was on the conference.  I said unfortunately it wasn’t going to be like the transformative outcome we had from the original summit in 1992.  A lot of civil society expected the negotiation to be a complete failure so if there was some sort of major agreement it would bring a lot of excitement. In turn he explained the context was different this time around.  In 1992, the Soviet Union had just fallen, the economy was okay, and there was bounty of goodwill between nations and shared hope for a more united, progressive future.  This time it’s different: the EU is on the rocks, the US is eking out a recovery, and developing countries are more than willing to assert their power on the world stage.  There is always urgency at environmental negotiations, but if there is an emergency as most youth at the conference believe – is up for debate between nation-states.    

Nobody is going to say no to the green economy, he pointed out, even if no one is really sure exactly what a “green economy” is, or what it would mean.  For the poor countries, it means development, and for the developed countries it’s a way to kickstart growth in their struggling economies.  His country is prepared to agree on a vague concept with the knowledge that it will be fleshed out by the UN later on.

The two of us began to move beyond the text.  He said, people would be surprised when you talk to a delegate one-on-one, like we were doing on the bus, how open they are about what needs to be done to reach international cooperation on a better future for all.  But when they’re representing their country on the floor they push the process in every way they can to exploit the peculiar agenda of their country.  That is the way international negotiations work.

To flesh out his point a little more he spoke about his time a diplomat as his country’s mission in New York.   When he was in that city he was amazed at how a person gets ripped off at every corner, nickel-and-dimed.  When he visited Washington D.C. once, they told him the museums were free, and he made them repeat this four times to be sure he understood.   Because in New York he had to pay for everything.  It was also in New York he saw a battery powered car that was built in 1914 when he was invited to visit the Rockefeller’s mansion.  The technology was never pursued further because oil was so cheap and corporations like the Rockefellers were making a lot of money from its sale and distribution on a massive scale.  But this is how negotiations between countries work, pushing hard for each and every one of your negotiating points and get every concession you can from your fellow countries.   And often the power and money is concentrated in the hands of a few and they guard it fiercely. 

The nickel-and-diming and the hoarding, the costs and the calculations, the history and the hope.  It may be worth staying awake on that bus ride.  


Khristian at Rio Centro

Earth in Brackets’ address to the Co-Chairs on behalf of MGCY

We reiterate our concerns about the slow pace of the negotiations, and about the lack of urgency from Member States to express real commitment in the outcome text. We want to call attention to the 10-Year Framework of Programmes on Sustainable Consumption and Production, which could be a cornerstone achievement of Rio + 20. Member states have to be held accountable for this agreement by delivering a text that includes the CSD-19 agreement on the 10YFP on SCP as an addendum to The Future We Want. A further concern relates to the text on water issues. Member states are backtracking from existing international agreements that recognize the importance of international cooperation for water resources. 

We want to remind the Chairs that as we speak paragraphs on education and employment are being discussed. Regarding education, we would like to stress the importance of reopening the negotiations to include informal and non-formal education in the text. In addition, regarding the jobs sections, we call for green jobs to be included as an indispensable component of a sustainable economic system. 

Finally, we call for more urgency in the IFSD negotiations. There cannot be sustainable development if the right structures for governance are not in place. Participation is key for sustainable development therefore we would need to continue to commit to protect civil society participation in all proposals stemming from Rio+20.

Thank You