Twenty years after Rio, a not-at-all revolutionary summit has been held, unlike the first one. Governments recognize, with a sigh of relief, that this agreement represents the maximum that they could have obtained at this time, yet it is completely separate from the challenges.
Twenty years later, we live in societies all over the world that are a lot more unequal, with enormous quantities of pubic resources dedicated to saving the financial system, we have a much greater knowledge of the environmental damages and we are a lot more aware that the we are surpassing the planet’s limits and that we do not have more than one window of temporary opportunity to change things. And for now, governments from all over the world have decided to ignore this.
The first Rio summit aimed to change the theoretical development framework, and managed to agree precisely on that, a framework for change. Rio+20 should have been a summit of action. But it has not turned out that way. It is true that the document is a lot more to the point when it comes to social issues, in terms of recognizing the role of the world of work and the creation of decent work, compared to the first Rio document. A large part of this effort is thanks to the work of trade union organizations from all over the world, our joint work in recent years. The document acknowledges the importance of decent work, of labour rights, of social protection, and this is done in a more adequate and coherent manner than twenty years ago. Nonetheless, the document does not include concrete commitments on this issue, nor on any others.
At the international summits of recent years one cannot get away from the rhetoric –better or worst-, without managing to advance on global commitments, on concrete actions, on international governance. There are no dates, no goals, and no binding instruments. The economic system is still exclusively based on the very profit that destroys lives and ecosystems, yet governments refuse to modify or regulate it; all this in spite of the rhetoric.
Furthermore, Rio+20 seems to worryingly endorse growth as the only idea, environmental solutions have been weakened, the foundations are not laid for the internalization of environmental and social costs, and short-termism is what prevails.
Decency for employment but no investments in sectors to save the Planet
Employment was intended to be a fundamental issue in the Rio discussions, due to the effects of the financial crisis on employment in many countries. One of the proposals that trade unions and international organizations had presented was the creation of green jobs, a proposal that comprised the urgency to create employment along with environmental protection. Unfortunately, despite its possibilities, the discussion on green jobs ended up confined in tensions around green economy that divided countries, representing one of the main reefs in the negotiation.
Although the green jobs agenda is an agenda with an essentially national character, linked to the creation of jobs through investments in sustainable sectors, the negotiators´ ignorance of the policies and labour realities, as well as of certain countries´ opposition to the advancement of the environmental agenda, resulted in an overall timid reference to this concept. Beyond Rio+20, there is a promising future for the green jobs agenda, and it is called upon to be one of the fundamental instruments for the change in paradigm.
Thankfully, Rio+20 advanced resolutely in the recognition of the type of rights that work should entail to be more sustainable from a social and labour point of view. The decent job agenda is, in fact, completely integrated in the final document, along with a specific mention of fundamental rights, social security and protection, including occupational health and safety. Worth noting is also the acknowledgment of informal workers and of non-remunerated work, particularly that which women carry out toward advancing sustainable development, the need to guarantee the rights of migrants and the launch of an ILO strategy on youth employment.
We should congratulate ourselves for having improved so much in recent years when it comes to the understanding of the importance of work in the sustainability agenda, and because the work carried out in the past years has borne fruit in Rio. Within the limits of the Rio+20 outcome this chapter adequately outlines the main concerns of the trade union movement.
Opposition to Green Economy and absence of other environmental solutions
The debate on green economy that has transpired in recent months has nonetheless impeded a rigorous discussion on what type of economy is necessary to ensure environmental sustainability. On one hand there fears of the peasant and indigenous movements of losing control over their natural resources; new attacks to privatize them; the presence of the role of the private sector; the progressive commoditization and speculation of our economies, and the insistence on market mechanisms, have generated a legitimate rejection of some of the green economy proposals. On the other hand, the lack of will of many countries to advance the environmental agenda, has encountered in this rejection, the perfect excuse. In the end, there are no commitments in Rio+20 to advance on environmental regulation, on what type of fiscal policy could create fairer and greener societies, nor on how to incorporate the environment as part of a more just and solidary economy.
Social and environmental protection: The immediate implementation of the social protection floor slips away.
In recent years governments as well as trade unions have recognized the absolutely essential value of social protection systems in a country’s development. The strengthening of existing social protection systems and the setting into motion of the so-called Social Protection Floor (SPF), are defined as the tools that ensure a protection based on rights and that avoid “patchy” systems, which are much more unfair and ineffective in economic and social terms. In fact, the International Labour Conference of the ILO, through Recommendation 202, agreed on a regulatory framework that establishes conditions that should cover national basic social protection policies.
This was one of the issues with the greatest level of repercussion in the high-level dialogues organized by the government of Brazil, which recommended its full implementation by 2030. At these dialogues, like at the Trade Union Assembly, the need to progressively incorporate the environmental component in these systems was recognized. Countries such as Brazil, India and South Africa, that have shown some of the best results in terms of poverty reduction and economic growth, have set into motion policies in this area. Nonetheless, much more work is still needed. Numerous states, for example those affected by climate change, could not pay for social protection systems, if global social protection measures are not taken. Furthermore, the Brazilian delegation launched the novel concept of socio-environmental protection. Both of these policies must therefore be ambitious and should be coordinated.
The Rio+20 text calls for a global dialogue on social protection systems that adequately integrate environmental, social, and economic needs. However, what is lacking yet again is a decision that translates this desire into action in the short-term. In trade unions´ opinion, we are witness to an historical moment and we cannot allow for it to slip away. We must find the will and create alliances to achieve it. It is time for the implementation of the Floor.
Without resources for sustainable development, without the means there is no way.
At a time when every day we read in the news about how governments decide to spend huge amounts of public funds in order to maintain the banking and financial system, which have demonstrated that it does not work, the Rio+20 negotiations have been characterized by the lack of will on behalf of the very same governments, to offer funds for a sustainable social and environmental development. This lack of will has been one of the main reasons behind the lack of ambition of the agreement.
Trade unions continue to call for a deep fiscal reform that levies the wealthy, high incomes, and also the use of natural resources and pollution, while reducing social taxes. Rio+20 has been a lost opportunity in terms of agreeing on a global tax, know as the Financial Transactions Tax (FTT), due to deadlock from a couple of countries against the common good. The tax would be a way, on the one hand, to obtain resources for sustainable development, and on the other, reduce financial speculation.
In any case, the document launches a negotiation process for the financing of sustainable development that evaluates the financial needs as well as the existing financial instruments and frameworks in relation to sustainable development.
Far from strengthening international governance
The discussions on what institutional framework is necessary for sustainable development have been one of the areas where the discussions have been seen as the most stunted. We need an international governance, meaning that international norms and standards need to be agreed on, but also that these are implemented and fulfilled, that they ensure that the countries do not surpass the planet’s natural limits (water consumption, climate change, loss of biodiversity, etc.), that guarantee the compliance with human rights, that adequately protect citizens´ health, that green and decent employment opportunities are guaranteed for all, as well as gender equality, and education.
As a consequence of this lacking international governance, the most threatened pillar is the environmental one. Rio+20 has only agreed to strengthen the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) with an agreement on universal membership. Several countries were opposed to converting the Programme into the United Nations Organization for the Environment, due to a fear that would establish new environmental conditionalities for received sustainable development funds, and that it would also open a door to new trade barriers.
But in terms of global problems and to counteract the havocs of globalization, a stronger, more democratic international governance is needed, where all countries are represented. Multilateral organizations have to change in order for poor as well as small countries to also see that their interests are defended. In environmental terms, it signifies a strong organization, a well-trained and well-informed interlocutor, with the capacity to adequately integrate social and labour necessities. We hope that in the coming years, advances are made in this respect.
In addition, we need more democracy, participation and access to environmental justice for the global citizenship of sustainable development. If in Rio+20 the principles are recognized, we are far form a global convention on the right to information and participation, and proposals such as the ombudsman for future generations, have ultimately been ruled out.
Now what? The sustainable development goals
The Rio+20 outcome has agreed to launch a second negotiation process with the aim to agree on the so-called Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) inspired the idea of the SDGs, which aimed to focus countries poverty reduction efforts at a global level.
The aim of the SDGs is similar; to direct countries´ efforts to advance the sustainable development agenda through a selection of a limited number of areas of action. Trade unions hope, as stated in the text, that employment creation with rights and the appropriate integration of the environmental variable, as well as the promotion and strengthening of social protection systems, all form part of these Goals.
Other sectoral decisions
In large part, in terms of sectoral management, governments have reaffirmed and committed to fulfilling previous agreements, already agreed back in 1992 in Rio, or 10 years later in Johannesburg. Unfortunately there are very few additions to what has already been agreed. Those of special importance area are highlighted:
The supply of secure, clean and accessible water as well as basic health services, are recognized as a human right. Also recognized is the need to scale-up efforts for a sustainable management of this resource. The text however does not acknowledge the fundamental role of the public system and the social control of this management.
Working in order to ensure access to modern sources of energy for more than 1, 3 billion people who are lacking this, is recognized as a principal objective. Nonetheless, priority is not given to the supply with renewable energy sources in new energy installations versus fossil energy sources. The type of energy sources that are developed in the future will be fundamental in order to ensure the capacity to address the climate change challenge.
One of the chapters that also includes a very good description of the current problem as well as of the rhetoric on what measures should be taken is the chapter that covers gender equality and the improvement of women’s situation. Similar to the chapter on employment, governments recognize the need to give priority to measures that promote gender equality in all spheres of society, from equality in participation in the areas of decision-making, to the need to achieve equality in positions of leadership. Nonetheless, in this context the text is also missing any type of action to improve the life of women in the short and medium term. One of the most controversial decisions of the negotiations is related to the absence of the recognition of women’s right to reproductive health. Various countries, under the clear influence of the Vatican, opposed the reiteration of this right that had previously been recognized by other United Nations organisms.
The International Labour Organization (ILO) organizes the International Labour Conference (ILC) annually. Among other agenda items, general discussion at the 102nd session will take place on "Sustainable development, decent work and green jobs
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The decision was adopted in response to EU Commission consultation on unconventional fossil fuels in Europe