By Lara Shirley
The New Zealand delegation started the informal-informal negotiations off with a bang on Monday morning, agreeing with the G77 on a variety of issues.
They first did this regarding the title – Japan proposed changing the title of the document to “Rio Commitment towards Green Economy”, the G77 stated that they would prefer “The Future We Want” and New Zealand promptly backed them up, earnestly explaining that Japan’s title would not be suitable because it insinuates that sustainable development is a green economy, which New Zealand firmly insisted was not the case. The US suggested merging the two suggestions. Later, New Zealand supported the G77’s language on poverty, both on the point that it was urgent and that it was a priority necessary for sustainable development.
The New Zealand delegation was refreshingly honest and egregious: they noted that it was important to keep Section 1 paragraphs as short as possible, “since this is the only part that people might actually read.” The delegation also made their points concise and focused. Although this may seem superfluous, I think that this is a great strategy: it makes the delegation seem less hostile and thus the other delegations are less defensive and more receptive to comments and collaboration. The negotiations become more enjoyable and less tense.
However, there was a notable shift in New Zealand’s position in the afternoon session that continued on to the evening session and today. New Zealand almost completely stopped siding with the G77 and instead were much more vocal in their opposition, aligning more with the agendas of the US, EU, Canada, Norway, and Switzerland. Much like the other developed countries, if anything remotely threatened their current lifestyle and economic situation, they proposed deletion of it: References to common but differentiated responsibilities, under the pretense that focusing on CBDR was unequal and not fair to the other Rio principles; proposals that developed countries initiate sustainable consumption and production, under the pretense that they were too strong; and even concerns that the green economy cannot allow developed countries to renege on past commitments, under the pretense that this was not “positive” enough.
Of course, it must be noted New Zealand was not completely supportive of the G77 in the morning either. They pushed for text on human rights, which China opposed. They also proposed the deletion of a paragraph by the G77 regarding the three pillars of sustainable development, the urgency of implementing mechanisms for implementation and common but differentiated responsibility. This was supposedly because it was repeated later on in the document, but the paragraphs New Zealand cited as already covering that content regarded various past programmes and declarations and mentioned implementation only in passing. This is a tactic often employed (especially by the US, the EU and Canada) whereupon they state that they are making the document more coherent and concise by removing repetitive paragraphs. However, those paragraphs – while similar – contain key differences that those delegations attempt to eliminate.
Why did this happen? Of course I don’t know with certainty, but I could comfortably imagine that, in one way or another, the New Zealand delegation was reminded that it is a developed country. Its priorities do not lie in supporting anyone that is less fortunate than them. The pressing question for me is not why New Zealand shifted from defending the G77 to attacking them, but rather why they were sticking up for someone other than themselves in the first place. Perhaps their delegate actually had some empathy and honesty, before being forcibly reminded that things here don’t work like that. This is particularly depressing considering how progressive New Zealand is for a developed country – their treatment of the ‘indigenous’ people is (relatively) excellent, none of their energy is nuclear, 31% is renewable, and there is very limited censorship of political expression. The fact that any real chance of change actually happening – that is, those with power supporting those who need it – gets stamped out so quickly is a depressing facet of the UN that we have come across time and time again. The mere act of a developed country somewhat siding with the G77 was radical: a breath of highly welcome fresh air in the stale, crusted environment of the UN negotiating room. It will be missed.