Rio+20: We need more flesh on the bones

DISCLAIMER: All opinions in this column reflect the views of the author(s), not of EURACTIV.COM Ltd.

European institutions should work together to come out with a compact programme that would allow EU negotiators to hold the leading role in the forthcoming Rio Earth Summit, says Staffan Nilsson, president of the European Economic and Social Committee, and EU consultative body.

Staffan Nilsson is president of the European Economic and Social Committee (EESC). The following was first published here.

"The "zero draft" summarising key issues forming the basis of the Rio+20 final agreement is a good starting point for subsequent negotiations. But it 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. We look to the Council, the Commission and the Parliament to be equally resolute in pressing the case for a stronger and more purposeful programme to be created at Rio, and to give our European negotiators a powerful mandate to settle for nothing less.

There was one sentence in the blog article by Stephen Hale in the Guardian recently which really resonated with me and our work on Rio+20 here at the EESC:"global summits don't make big promises unless civil society demands it". I agree that we need to unite to tackle common problems. The EESC is striving to formulate a strong joint message from civil society organisations across Europe to European and world leaders about the change we need the Rio+20 summit to drive.

We are organising a conference on 7-8 February whose message is "Go sustainable, be responsible!" and whose goal is to voice and bring together European civil society's contributions for preparing the UN Conference. Now we also want to gather comments on the 'zero-draft', cleverly entitled "The future we want". We have started up a virtual conversation within the European civil society community where all stakeholders can comment on the zero draft or simply answer the one question I also keep asking myself: What would you advise our leaders to commit to on behalf of our children and grandchildren?

I'm happy to see that the zero draft recognises the limitations of GDP as a measure of well-being. Of course, proposals for alternative measuring tools involve widespread public dialogue. So we are holding a hearing on "GDP on the road to Rio+20: Civil society's involvement in the development of complementary indicators" on 26 January. We want to use this event to put forward ideas on ways to allow for effective civil society involvement in this very technical, but highly political debate.

We want to put across a strong message to European leaders and to the world about what Rio could and should achieve. We need a suitable programme for greening the global economy that is essential for bringing about a real and sustainable recovery from the current economic problems. For instance, the zero draft does not yet adequately address the social and equity agenda. Neither has it much to say about strengthening the national machinery, or the crucial role of regional and local government, business, social partners and other sectors of civil society.

The EU has an essential part to play over the next six months in taking forward this cause. Even in these troubled times, the world looks to European experience, European skills and technologies and European resources to show the way forward.

Much still needs to be done to put more flesh on the dry bones of this first draft and create an agreement and a new global programme of action that is commensurate with the sustainability challenge the world is facing."

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