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Difficult negotiations in advance of Rio+20

Bern, 04.05.2012 - Progress at the preparatory negotiations on the results of the UN Conference on Sustainable Development to be held in Rio de Janeiro in June (Rio+20) was halting. The industrialised and developing countries remained very divided in their positions during the second round of negotiations, which were held from 23 April to 4 May 2012 in New York.

The international community aims to renew the political commitment to sustainable development at the Rio+20 conference, which will take place in Rio de Janeiro (Brazil) from 20 to 22 June. The themes of the conference are the green economy in relation to sustainable development and the eradication of poverty, and reform of  the UN institutions responsible for sustainability and the environment. The creation of Sustainable Development Goals and the adoption of a set of measures for the promotion of sustainability will also be discussed.

Preparation for the Rio conference is being carried out at the preliminary negotiations. A Swiss delegation dispatched by the Federal Council and led by Ambassador Franz Perrez, Head of the International Affairs Division of the Federal Office for the Environment, also participated in the second round of negotiations in New York which ended on 4 May 2012.

Green economy - a controversial issue

Switzerland is committed to the balanced consideration of all three dimensions of sustainable development and made concrete proposals in this regard, which provided stimulation for the discussions. However, the developing countries would like to focus the negotiations primarily on the topics of poverty eradication and development. Moreover, they remain very sceptical in relation to the green economy.

Regarding the institutional issues, the delegations are basically unanimous in the view that the Commission on Sustainable Development, which was established after the Rio conference in 1992 to supervise the implementations of the resolutions adopted there, has not functioned as desired. However, consensus is still lacking in relation to the concrete measures required to reform the institution. Switzerland introduced the idea of creating a Council for Sustainable Development at an early stage in the discussions and is working on the further development of this proposal with like-minded countries.

Switzerland has also made concrete suggestions for the reform of the United Nations Environmental Programme (UNEP): for example, the introduction of universal membership or the introduction of an environment strategy for the UN system. It is unlikely, however, that it will be possible to make the necessary change in legal status to transform the UNEP into an organisation. Due to the slow progress of the negotiations, at present these suggestions are mainly being discussed by an informal contact group led by Switzerland.

Support for the Sustainable Development Goals

The proposed definition of Sustainable Development Goals is broadly supported. However, a number of issues remain open, including the question as to how the process for the renewal of the Millennium Development Goals should be combined with that involving the Sustainable Development Goals. Together with Colombia and Barbados, Switzerland is trying to facilitate the establishment of a consensus on this issue between the most important groups.

The Rio+20 measures for the promotion of sustainable development cover various relevant topics, for example agriculture, natural hazard prevention, health, chemicals and waste management, mountains, and equality. Switzerland advocates the adoption of concrete objectives in these areas.

Halting progress

Overall, the progress achieved at the negotiations was halting. The negotiation process is not being managed with sufficient clarity, and the vision of the host country Brazil has not been much in evidence to date. Hence, Franz Perrez, the leader of the Swiss delegation at the negotiations, assesses the situation as difficult: "The differences in the views and interpretations of the concept of sustainable development are clear and the desire to engage in a serious quest for solutions on fundamental issues is still too weak". Nonetheless, thanks to its goal-oriented commitment and active cooperation beyond the negotiating blocks, according to Franz Perrez, Switzerland succeeded in helping the preparatory negotiations to become more positive in a number of areas. The outcome of the Rio conference remains completely open at present.

The final formal round of negotiations will take place from 13 to 15 June in Rio de Janeiro, shortly before the conference. Whether an additional round of negotiations before that will be required has yet to be decided.

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Media Section
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Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation
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Federal Office for the Environment FOEN
Internet: http://www.bafu.admin.ch/en
Federal Office for Spatial Development
Internet: http://www.are.admin.ch
State Secretariat for Economic Affairs
Internet: http://www.seco.admin.ch
Swiss Federal Office for Agriculture
Internet: http://www.blw.admin.ch
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