President Obama stayed home but 40,000 environmental activists (members of “civil society”) went to Rio+20 to where negotiator produced “a modest agreement that compels the parties to do little, if anything,” according to Thomas Bollyky, a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign relations. David Bosco asked if would be a “telethon“?
Bruce Jones notes that in face of no major negotiating breakthroughs “multilateral fora at their best can be just a bit more than the sum of their parts; on the environment, the parts are awful.” He sums up the takeaways: No new environmental agency at the UN (D+ for the Europeans), improvements to the existing UN Environment Program (A- for UN reformers), a new process to negotiatiate a development version of the MDG’s (B+ for civil society)
He delves into the major critique of these types of multilateral summits–that they don’t work. But first, what are we trying to achieve? Theses events, as the UN knows well after spending the 1990’s in a decade of regular summitry on issues such as women, human rights, population, development, youth, urbanization and other issues take a regular beating.
Again, Jones writing in Foreign Policy helpfully explains that expecting too much from these events is a common problem.
Tough problems are, well, tough, whether it’s a government, private sector, or multilateral actor working with the issue. The best forum and best process can help policy achieve policy outcomes, but they don’t create silver bullets. As former U.S. national security advisor Brent Scowcroft so wisely said last week — of another incredibly tough process generating hyperbole and excess expectations, Syria — “just because there’s a problem doesn’t mean there’s a solution.” Realism rules the roost in analysis of statecraft and state-based negotiations; it’s just as important in assessing multilateral action, be it at the G-20, Rio+20 or another summit run amok.
If you’re still scratching your head about Rio+20, here’s the bottom line:
What this summit will be remembered for is for initiating the process of negotiating the sustainable development goals. It remains to be seen how significant that outcome is. It may well be that this summit is just the latest in a series of high profile summits to produce little in terms of tangible agreements or consensus that can hold the interested community together.