Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Mountains in the ‘Zero Draft of the outcome document of Rio+20’

in the
 ‘Zero Draft of the outcome document of Rio+20’

- Tek Jung Mahat

I have been closely observing preparations of one of the most awaited conference of this decade, the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development (UNCSD) also known as Rio 2012 or Rio+20 or Earth Summit 2012, hosted by Brazil in Rio de Janeiro, as a 20-year follow-up to the historic 1992 United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED) that was held in the same city. Organised by the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs (UNDESA), this conference is talk of the town ever since decision to hold the conference was made by UN General Assembly Resolution A/RES/64/236 on 24 December 2009. There are many high hopes associated with Rio 2012 as it is expected to redefine sustainable development options and strategies based on review of what has been achieved over last two decades, critical analysis of the new challenges evolved since then (including climate change, biodiversity crisis, social exclusion and disparity etc.) and consider also alternatives for Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), that expire in 2015. In short, Rio 2012 is seen as a big thinking and a re-shaping of current processes.

Looking back and connecting the dots (Rio 1992 to Rio 2012):
There are some obvious expectations from Rio 2012 as Rio 1992 was a huge success with participation of 172 states, with 108 sending their heads of state or government; some 2,400 representatives of  NGOs and other 17,000 people at the parallel NGO Global Forum, that opened for signature three important legally binding agreements (UNFCCC and CBD in 1992 and UNCCD in 1994); issued Rio Declaration on Environment and Development and Forest Principles; and adopted  Agenda 21 - a global plan of action, to ensure sustainable development through integration of environment and development issues and reflects a global consensus and political commitment at the highest level on development and environment cooperation. This important conference recognised for the first time significant place of mountains in environmental discourses (at the highest level) and that was formally included in the outcome document as a separate chapter ‘Managing fragile ecosystems: sustainable mountain development - SMD’ (Chapter 13, Agenda 21). This had cascading effects in mountain development communities over next decade that led to birth of Sustainable Development of the Andean Ecoregion (InfoAndina) in 1992, Asia Pacific Mountain Network (APMN) in 1995, Euromontana in 1995, Mountain Forum in 1996, European Mountain Forum in 1998, Mountain Research Initiative (MRI) in 2001 among others, through several regional and global consultations. This also enhanced, increased values and made visible works of other existing organisations like International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD), African Mountain Association (AMA), Andean Mountain Association (AMA), International Commission for the Protection of the Alps (CIPRA) and The Mountain Institute (TMI). Similarly UNCED follow-up discussions provided fertile ground to celebrate International Year of Mountains (2002) and Bishkek Global Mountain Summit (2002), and preparation of Bali Document (2002) that opened way to establish International Partnership For Sustainable Development In Mountain Regions, a.k.a. Mountain Partnership (MP) in 2002 as the Type 2, non-negotiated outcome of the WSSD. These arrangements and processes as well as the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment Synthesis Report ‘Ecosystems and Human Well-being’ and IPCC AR4 have taken mountains at next level of global debate, which will have to form concrete frame at Rio 2012 to maintain its legacy and tap new opportunities the year 2012 will start offering soon.

Preparing Mountains for Rio 2012 (April-October 2011):
There are several institutions around the globe who are found to be advocating Mountain Agenda in the context of Rio 2012 ranging from ‘States’ to ‘Intergovernmental Organisations’, ‘NGO/CBOs’ to ‘Major Groups’ like ‘Youth’, ‘Women’, ‘Farmers’, ‘Indigenous Peoples’ and ‘Scientific and Technical Community’. On the top of this list are the members and supporters of the Mountain Partnership Consortium (MPC), that include countries in the Hindu Kush-Himalayas, Andes and Alps, Carpathian, Caucasus, Balkan etc. and development agencies like Austrian Development Cooperation (ADA), Centre for Development and Environment (CDE), Consorcio para el Desarrollo Sostenible de la Ecorregión Andina (CONDESAN), Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), ICIMOD, International Mountain Society (IMS), Mountain Partnership Secretariat (MPS), MRI, Sultan Qaboos University (SQU), Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC), United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), University of Central Asia (UCA) and Zoï Environment Network (ZOI). Following are few important events/arrangements implemented prior to 1 November 2011 – official deadline to provide input to Zero Draft of Rio 2012.

Organised by
Key outputs
E-conference on SMD in HKH
Synthesis report and draft HKH Assessment Report
Virtual Consultation on SMD in South and Central Asia (Youth Perspective)
Synthesis report
June ‘11
E-conference on SMD in South East Asia and Pacific (SEA-P)
Synthesis report and draft SEA-P Assessment Report
Aug ‘11
Asia Pacific Youth Meeting on Rio+20 (AP Youth Forum) 2011
- Asia Pacific Youth Declaration on Climate Change and Sustainable Development
- Asia Pacific Youth Position paper on Rio+20
Aug ‘11
Regional Sharing Workshop on Assessment of Challenges and Opportunities in the Asia Pacific region for Rio +20
Finalization of structure and contents of Regional Assessment Reports on Rio+20 in HKH and SEA-P.
International Conference on Green Economy and SMD
Green Economy and Sustainable Mountain Development: Kathmandu Declaration
Lucerne World Mountain Conference
- Mountains for the World: Call for Action
- Presentation and discussion on SMD Assessment Reports in Andes, Central Asia, Africa, Eastern and South-Eastern Europe, HKH, Middle East and North Africa, Mesoamerica, SEAP and Alps
- Presentation and discussion on global SMD reports on Green Economy and Institutional Framework

As a result of above activities and number of others, mountains received enormous response when it comes to submissions made to the UNCSD Secretariat. Of total 677 submissions uploaded on UNCSD website 49 submissions were made in favour of Mountain Agenda. Submitters included countries like Bhutan, Nepal, Serbia, Spain-Terual and Switzerland; intergovernmental organisations like ICIMOD and FAO/MPS, youth groups, green coalitions, academia, and research institutions.

Establishing linkages between climate change (UNFCCC process) and Rio 2012 (November-December 2011):
Last two months of 2011 were particularly important in linking global climate change debate with Rio+20 process in every sector, and mountains were not an exception.

Bhutan Climate Summit for a Living Himalaya was successfully convened in Thimphu in November 2011 with the aim of promoting technical cooperation among four participating countries – Bangladesh, Bhutan, Indian and Nepal. Apart from developing and agreeing a road map for adapting climate change in the Himalayas, the event was also useful in furthering debate on Green Economy in the region.

Organised by ICIMOD, World Bank, Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) and other MPC members, first ever Mountain Day at UNFCCC COP17 on 4 December 2011 didn’t only broke scientific understanding about climate change in the Himalayas but it also convened higher level policy debate on SMD in the context of climate change and Rio 2012 in presence of Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Chair, Environment Ministers from Bhutan, Costa Rica and Nepal, and several other senior bureaucrats/policy makers, development agency representatives, scientists interested on mountain climate change. The event formally concluded adopting a ‘Call for Action to Protect Mountain Ecosystems and People’, that establishes strong connections between Climate change and Rio 2012 and urges global community to work together to ensure mountain sustainability and make best use of Rio 2012 process to benefit mountains and people.

Organised by FAO/MPS, UNEP and the Missions of Italy and Switzerland to the UN, the Mountain Focus Group convened in New York on 14 December 2011 sought to forge a common understanding on including mountain development in Rio 2012. The meeting focused on the outcomes from the Lucerne World Mountain Conference and its potential input to the UNCSD, the latest developments in the UNCSD preparatory process and ensuring the proper inclusion of mountain issues, and the role of the MPS leading up to the UNCSD in June 2012. Topics addressed included the need to communicate both the challenges and benefits of mountains, approaches for outreach on mountain issues, potential partnerships, and the sustainable development of mountains as a cross-cutting issue.

Rio+20 Zero Draft Agenda presented - MOUNTAINS find a separate paragraph in the main text (January 2012):
The much anticipated Rio+20 Zero Draft Agenda was made available to the public on 10 January 2012. Entitled as ‘The Future We Want’, the 19-pages long draft is broadly organised under five sections - Preamble/Stage setting; Renewing Political Commitment; Green Economy in the context of sustainable development and poverty eradication; Institutional Framework for Sustainable Development; and Framework for action and follow-up. The report is further organised with respect to different themes, issues, groups and approaches which are presented in total 128 paragraphs. Interestingly, MOUNTAINS find a separate paragraphs (94), which appears as below:

“We recognize that mountains are highly vulnerable to global changes such as climate change, and are often home to communities including of indigenous peoples, who have developed sustainable uses of their resources yet are often marginalized, sometimes with high poverty rates, exposure to natural risks and food insecurity. We recognize the benefits derived from mountains and their associated ecosystems. We also recognize the need to explore global, regional, national, and local mechanisms to compensate and reward mountain communities for the services they provide through ecosystem protection.”

However the most important thing to ponder at this point is - Is the statement above realistically presents beauty, richness, challenges and opportunities mountains truly deserve? Is it enough to renew political interest and commitment of mountainous (and non-mountainous) countries and other development communities? If not, what are the next steps?

Next steps...
It is quite clear that mountains will need much more attention going far beyond climate change and ecosystem services and that is possible only through making significant contributions in the upcoming meetings in the Rio 2012 process (Initial discussions on the zero draft of outcome document – finalisation of the ‘Zero draft of the outcome document’, 25-27 January; 3rd Intersessional Meeting of UNCSD, 26-27 Mar; First round of 'informal-informal' negotiations on the zero draft of outcome document, 19-23 March; 3rd Preparatory Committee Meeting UNCSD, 13-15 June and the main UNCSD Conference, 20-22 June 2012), which again needs to be sought through partnerships among mountainous countries, think-tank institutions, relevant major groups and other stakeholders. For the success of securing better position of mountains it would be critical to influence countries and other stakeholders through various means, including development and dissemination of ‘Policy Briefs’, ‘Call for Actions’, ‘Appeals for Mountains’; meetings of knowledge providers and mountain advocacy groups with the countries; and sensitizing the Rio 2012 delegates and give agreed talking points to country, IGO and Major Group representatives through organisation Side events on ‘Highlighting the Critical Role of Mountain Ecosystems’ in the context of Rio 2012 at 3rd Intersessional Meeting in March in NY, 3rd PreCom meeting in June in Rio and at the main Rio 2012 Conference. In between these processes it might equally be useful to have a dedicated session to development on Rio+20 priorities at the Ministerial Meeting of Mountainous Countries planned by the Government of Nepal in April 2012.

Information provided in this article are taken from various websites and publications and wherever possible the source is quoted. These are personal views of the author and do not represent views of institutions he is affiliated to.

About the Author: Tek Jung Mahat is an Environmental Science graduate from the Tribhuvan University, Nepal. He is working on issues related to environment, sustainability and climate change in Asia for many years. He was one of facilitators of Nepal’s Mountain Initiative, Bhutan Summit preparation, Mountain Day at COP17 and Rio+20 preparations in the Hindu Kush-Himalayas and South East Asia Region. In the capacity of APMN Manager, he managed MF activities and facilitated MP initiatives in the Asia Pacific region from 2007-2011. Currently he leads Asia Pacific Youth on Rio +20 (Earth Summit 2012); Youth for Sustainable Mountain Development (Y4SMD) and Media engagement in SMD (M4SMD) initiatives. He pioneered e-dialogues and e-networking among environment professionals in Nepal by establishing the Environment Professionals Group in 2005 and established Climate Himalaya Initiative - an independent, informal, and informative network of climate change professionals in the Himalayas in 2007. Furthermore he runs a blog Realising CHANGE aiming to inform and empower early and midcareer professionals working on sustainability issues.)

Citation: Mahat, T. J. (2012) Mountains in ‘Zero Draft of the outcome document of Rio+20’.  Blog entry on Realising CHANGE. Available at


Parth Sarathi Mahapatra said...

It's very well compiled. Thanks.

juliangreenfield said...

Rio has turned into a hub for peace and unity. This change is being whole heartedly welcomed.

Drum Sets