HII Reports on Rio+20: A Collection of Reactions to the Zero Draft

Included below are links to and summaries of select reactions to the Zero Draft forRio+20 from the Human Impacts Institute. The Human Impacts Institute is working on compiling these summaries and links to facilitate dialogue and knowledge-sharing among diverse groups for and effective Rio+20 process and beyond. If you are interested in including your group or organizations’ response, please send them ATT: Mariana Orozco to Info@HumanImpactsInstitute.org and please do feel free to distribute the information below. Read the full Rio+20 Zero Draft here.

Summaries below include reactions from:

  • Stakeholder Forum, Analysis of Zero Draft Submissions

  • Rio+20 Portal

  • CIVICUS: World Alliance for Citizen Participation

  • Green Economy Coalition

  • European Economic and Social Committee

  • Future Justice

  • From the Bureau

  • Natural Resource Defense Council

  • Major Group of Children and Youth

  • NGO’s

  • Scientific and Technological Community

  • Third World Network


A) Stakeholder Forum, Analysis of Zero Draft Submissions


A thorough analysis that isolated the most common concepts and summarized the most relevant findings – a must-read. This document served as the basis for the Zero Draft, and helps find common interest among groups.

Pros: Health and Well-being had the most interest by a larger margin. Good health and well-being is a key outcome of sustainable development and fundamental to this aim is the second highest ranking term: Poverty Alleviation/Poverty reduction/Poverty Eradication.

Cons: The acknowledgement of our finite planet and its health are quite low. The other core element of sustainable development, social equity and justice, is also underrepresented in the Zero Draft submissions.

B) Rio+20 Portal


Includes comments from John Vidal, as published in the Guardian, and Tariq Banuri.


- Quotes Ruth Davis, chief policy advisor at Greenpeace:

“There are certainly important and useful proposals here – not least, the plan to negotiate a new agreement on protecting oceans – which could see an end to the wild-west plundering of the high seas.”

A few innovative elements in the text:

  • The provisions on access to information (WRI’s contribution),

  • Sustainable development goals (SDGs),

  • Voluntary initiatives and partnerships,

  • Green GDP,

  • Proposals on oceans


  • Demonstrates a dismal lack of urgency in tackling the issues.

  • For Rio to be more than an elite talking shop, world leaders need to inject some ambition into the negotiation, right now;

  • Several major weaknesses.

  • It has abandoned all efforts to match rhetoric with intent. There is no indication of a recognition of the complex inter linkages between the different challenges highlighted here and there.

  • There is no effort to link the proposals with progress made in other contexts.

  • The word equity does not appear in the text.

  • Energy has received very little attention–only 2 paragraphs, with no indication of what precisely needs to be done.

C) CIVICUS: World Alliance for Citizen Participation


Emphasizes the importance of democratic freedoms to obtain Sustainable Development. Includes specific ‘Adds’ to each paragraph found lacking.


  • Falls short in acknowledging civil society space and participation, democratic freedoms and specific commitments for engaging multi-stakeholders.

  • Lacks urgency, commitment and legally binding agreement

  • Lacks recognition of current economic policies that have exacerbated income inequality.

D) Green Economy Coalition

1. Grade B: Good Effort, but really MUST try harder


2. Full Analysis of Zero Draft in terms of the Green Economy


Gives a grade to several areas of the Green Economy, points out shortcomings, and asks a series of questions to the UN to stimulate further reflection on the Zero Draft.


  • All governments have underscored the need for green economy to be nationally owned and defined, and view it as a means to achieve SD.

  • Some popular practical global asks:

  • Sustainable Development goals

  • Alternative metrics to GDP

  • Focus on job creation mechanisms

  • Natural capital to be valued in economic decision making

  • Renewed framework for sustainable consumption and production


  • Notable for their absence:

  • Natural capital management schemes

  • Global financial market reform

  • Explicit proposals to finance the transition

  • Few concrete proposals focused explicitly on the underlying causes of poverty rather than merely the symptoms.

E) Rio+20 – We need more flesh on the bones

Comment by Staffan Nilsson, president of the European Economic and Social Committee


Emphasizes the role of civil society in demanding big promises.


  • A good starting point for subsequent negotiations.

  • Recognizes the limitations of GDP as a measure of well-being.


  • Still falls far short of the hopes and ambitions of organised civil society in Europe for what could and should be achieved by the Rio process

  • Does not yet adequately address the social and equity agenda.

  • Not much to say about strengthening the national machinery, or the crucial role of government, business, social partners and other sectors of civil society.

F) Future Justice



  • Reference to proposal with the ‘establishment of an Ombudsperson, or High Commissioner for Future Generations, to promote sustainable development’.

  • Engaging Major Groups takes attention, as does access and involvement of civil society


  • The wording of the document is weak and entirely ambiguous.

  • This first draft continues to consider issues in isolation

G) From the Bureau


Comments from the 21st meeting on January 9th, in New York.


Kim Sook, Bureau Co-Chair: “the zero draft addresses the priorities of all member States and political groups.”


  • Needs stronger language

  • More attention for:

  • The economic and social development pillars;

  • Foreign occupation;

  • International action regarding green economy;

  • Access to sustainable energy for all;

  • Resource efficiency;

  • Integration and implementation;

  • The Rio Principles;

  • The political will of developed countries;

  • Reforming the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC)

  • The added value of establishing a Sustainable Development Council (SDC);

  • Means of implementation, including the Green Climate Fund,

  • The role of the private sector;

  • Gender issues and the role of youth and education.

H) Natural Resource Defense Council – NRDC

1. The Greatest Challenge and 2012 – Jacob Scherr’s Blog


2. Oceans and the Zero Draft – Lisa Speer’s Blog


3. Can the Earth Summit deliver an Action-oriented “Rio for twenty-somethings”? – Michael Davidson’s Blog



  • Indicates that presidents and prime ministers will be expected to come to Rio+20.

  • The very last paragraph calls upon the Secretary General to create a registry of Rio+20 commitments as an “accountability framework.”

  • The draft text would commit governments to negotiate a new treaty to protect almost 2/3rds of the world’s oceans, and half the planet’s surface – that is, the ocean beyond national jurisdiction,


  • Provides little promise that the gathering of world leaders will fulfill the UN’s desire to generate political will.

  • Already has too much jargon and repetition and too many abstract incremental promises and far off goals.

  • The 9 short paragraphs comprising the oceans portion of the draft negotiating text are underwhelming.

  • Few hard commitments to do something about the immense problems facing our oceans – overfishing, pollution, ocean acidification, marine debris.

I) Children and Youth

If this is the Future we Want, we Need Stronger Actions

Ben Vanpeperstraete and Olimar Maisonet-Guzman on behalf of the UN-CSD Major Group of Children and Youth



  • Tries to capture a diversity of views from Members States and civil society

  • Recognizes the importance of including Major Groups in the deliberation process,


  • It falls short in the proposal of solutions and a plan of action for sustainability challenges.

  • Diagnoses existing problems, rather than putting forward concrete solutions for overcoming them.

  • Still fails to propose integrated solutions. By addressing each sector individually, we will not facilitate the transition to a green economy.

  • Weak language for the need for a specialized UN agency and the Ombudsperson for Future Generations

J) NGO’s

1. Zero Draft – Zero Ambitions, from the Newsletter of the NGO Major Group


2. iisd – NGO’s respond to Zero Draft


Includes observations from Greenpeace, Third World Network, Green Economy Coalition, Stakeholder forum.

3. Euro NGO’s on Sexual and Reproductive Health



  • Lacks any sense of urgency, any capacity of analysis, any idea how to solve the problems, no targets, no concrete actions, no glimpse of leadership.

  • The word “equity” is not even mentioned in the text.

  • The text is neither consistent nor coherent. You cannot ask continuous growth, and in the same time recognize ecological limits.

  • The document contains no reference to reproductive health and rights, and very limited focus on population and gender dynamics.

K) Scientific and Technological Community

Scientists scrutinize first draft of Rio+20 agreement, from SciDev.net



  • Contains more references to science than was expected by the scientific community.

  • Calls for “the scientific basis for decision-making to be strengthened across the UN system and that the interface between science and policy-making should be enhanced”.

  • Recognizes the importance of S&T and innovation in promoting sustainable development.

  • Proposes to strengthen international cooperation to ease “investment and technology transfer development and diffusion”.

  • Proposes that governments should

  • “Facilitate international collaborative research on green technologies involving developing countries”;

  • “Support developing countries’ scientists and engineers, and scientific and engineering institutions; and foster their efforts to develop green local technologies and use traditional knowledge”,

  • Encourage the creation of centres of research and development excellence.


  • Falls short on the specifics and avoids mentioning some critical, science-related issues.

  • Absence of emerging new technologies, such as synthetic biology or geoengineering, and their regulation.

  • Fails to mention an intergovernmental panel on science that would help make decisions.

  • A major limitation is its focus on green economic growth without discussion of the concept of the natural limits of the planet.

L) Third World Network



  • The main outcomes of the internationally agreed sustainable development agenda under the UN auspices are reaffirmed throughout the document


  • The implementation aspect of the zero draft is weak.

  • The priority areas identified in para.107 are environment-heavy and do not adequately address the human rights aspects and socio-economic sustainability.

  • If the Sustainable Development Goals are to be comprehensive then the systemic economic issues need to be addressed.

  • Does not directly deal with the structural flaws and instabilities of the current international economic system.

  • Suffers from the same lack of common understanding of a “green economy.”

  • The private sector has been instrumental in unduely influencing domestic policies and laws, but the zero draft looks to the private sector as a key player in achieving sustainable development.

  • Silent on technology assessment, an issue that is gaining concern around nuclear power, genetically modified organisms, geo-engineering etc.

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