The Public is Clear: End Fossil Fuel Subsidies

Negotiations here at Rio+20 appear to have come to a standstill.  Member states can’t seem to agree to much of anything; the multilateral process, intended to promote ‘cooperation, compromise and dialogue’, has turned into a frantic scramble to produce ‘some’ nay ‘any’ kind of tangible outcome of the conference. So far, ‘compromise’ has meant the deletion of entire paragraphs of text that countries have been unable to agree upon.  There is a real threat here that this enormous global opportunity could be wasted.

At this crucial moment delegations would do well to take heed to civil society groups, who have had no trouble coming to consensus on some of the most important outcomes from this summit, namely ending the nearly $1 trillion annual subsidy for fossil fuels.

Over the last several weeks thousands of people around the world have voted online for their sustainable development priorities as part of the Rio-Dialogues process.  The No.1 response was “take concrete steps to eliminate fossil fuel subsidies.” In the lead up to Rio, Avaaz.org, 350.org and many others collected over a million signatures against these regressive handouts and yesterday on Twitter #endfossilfuelsubsidies was a top trending topic worldwide; while hundreds of youth and their allies marched through the Rio Centro complex to highlight that incentives for atmospheric pollution and outdated technologies are not part of the future we want. 

 The World Business Council for Sustainable Development, as part of its Vision 2050 report, said that by 2020 governments must “remove subsidies that encourage over-consumption and resource degradation.”   The Trade Union Assembly on Labour and the Environment, held last week, articulated a very different vision than the business community on many issues.  However, the two groups agreed on the importance of “fair and environmentally-sound tax policies” with labor calling for a “just transition” away from fossil fuel dependency.  Over 170 NGOs have co-signed a letter calling for a socially equitable phase out.  Similar calls have been made by other major groups for the scientific and technological community, youth and women , to name just a few.

Yet, despite all of this, over the past few days the text on subsidies has gotten increasingly weaker.  We must ask why.  One explanation is that civil society has not been given an appropriate space to voice the importance of this issue.  In an attempt to move these negotitations forward, the Brazilian government took energy negotiations behind closed doors at the beginning of the prepcom.  They facilitated discussions that included only a few key states and no representatives from civil society.  While this could be seen as a pragmatic move, ECO must dissent.  Fossil fuel subsidies are clearly a critical issue for civil society globally and must be brought into the center of deliberations in the coming days. Bringing in more voices, particularly those who have already come to consensus across ideological divides, enhances the credibility and productive potential of this process.

The Brazilian Presidency and the UNCSD have an enormous opportunity but they need to act fast.  By bringing fossil fuel subsidy reform into the heart of negotiations they can demonstrate a commitment to responsive leadership,and to the global mandate they have received.  This would significantly improve the actual and perceived legitimacy of this process and would be an important first step toward advancing a more ambitious agenda.

There are no guarantees that subsidy reform will make it into a final text.  However, there is a strong case to made that by discussing it openly we can find language acceptable to all parties. For example, it appears that some countries are worried that a phase out would undermine their ability to develop or would create a domestic political backlash.  These concerns can be assuaged by discussion that includes actors like Switzerland, Costa Rica or Ethiopia.  These delegations will surely be happy to talk about how their countries have removed perverse energy incentives and found more effective ways to protect the poor and reinvest in projects that drive positive feedbacks for sustainable development.  Civil Society groups can offer enormous insight based on their research and experience in affected communities.

We have an important choice to make.  We can continue grasping at straws over issues that are stuck in the mud or we can directly tackle one of the largest obstacles to achieving a green economy that alleviates poverty and strengthens opportunities for development.  Civil society has provided a path, now leaders need to take it.

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SDGs or MDGs the goal AND process is one and the same

Governments came together in Rio to agree on basic principles and process forward for the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). One of the foundations for the process is that it should not divert attention, funding or other resources from accelerating progress towards the current set of 2015 Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). This MDG process and the related MDG review process are one track for the time pre-2015.

Reviewing the 2015 goals is good, but we need to also plan for the future. The post-2015 process aims to design a global development framework to succeed the MDGs in 2015. This thinking obviously needs to happen now, rather than after 2015. The UN has already set these wheels in motion even before the SDGs appeared on the horizon. Last year they appointed a UN task team on post-2015 that produced a report on the post-2015 roadmap which will be published shortly. A UN high-level panel on post 2015 was appointed with three co-chairs and further members to be announced after Rio+20. Further, the UN SG appointed a Special Advisor on post-2015, and post-2015 stakeholder consultations have already begun to take place.

From its onset, the SDGs were meant to be part of this post-2015 track. Columbia was clear about that and so was everybody else. SDGs are meant to ensure that the post-2015 development framework, the new set of goals, will genuinely integrate environment and poverty concerns.  Hence it is paramount that Rio+20 indicates clearly how and when the SDG process will be integrated into the post-2015 track.

This is where it gets tricky. At the moment Rio+20 runs the risk of setting up a third track. This should be avoided at all costs. Having one SDG process in addition to the existing post-2015 process would be a waste of time, effort and resources and will lead to duplication, confusion and delays. And after all, creating a third track poses very real risks of distracting from achieving track one, the current set of MDGs.

 

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How to Finance the Green Economy? End Polluter Handouts.

It comes as little surprise that some of the biggest sticking points in this Rio+20 process concern on Means of Implementation. There have been numerous proposals for ambitious new goals, but what good are they if there is no new funding provided? Securing stable funds for development is always a challenge, but it seems particularly difficult at Rio due to the current stress on western economies following the financial crisis.

With painful cuts being made at home, how can these countries be expected to commit money to programs that will have only indirect benefits for their own citizens? The challenge is daunting and it drives much of the cynicism that surrounds Rio+20 both in the media and in quiet conversations at Rio Centro.

This cynicism can become a self-fulfilling prophecy, but as Mr. Sha has reminded the conference “failure is not an option.” ECO agrees, funding for sustainable development must be found. And we have a suggestion.

Over a million global citizens have already thrown their support behind this incredibly obvious solution: stop giving money away to polluters. Nearly $1 trillion is spent on fossil fuel subsidies each year. If countries are at all serious about tackling the challenges of sustainable development, these subsidies are the first thing that needs to go.

The window for action on climate is closing, yet we're still pouring public money into this deadly industry. Rich nations claim austerity and continue spending billions in subsidies to oil, gas, and coal producers. You can't build a green economy on a dirty foundation.

Fossil fuel consumption subsidies, primarly in developing countries, also do not generally help the poor. the IEA has shown that only about 8% of consumer subsidies go towards the poorest 20%. And numerous reports have shown that fossil fuel subsidies are ineffective ways to promote energy access or provide social safety nets.

Clearly, this trillion dollars of dirty money could be better spent and should be viewed by delegates as one of the best sources of alternative finance.

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G77 earn Fossil of the Day as they oppose language to foster civil society participation

Today's first place fossil goes to Algeria!

Algeria on behalf of the group of G77 was awarded the third ever Rio Fossil of the Day today. Moves to oppose language in relation to effective civil society engagement and participation in implementing sustainable development have earned them the top spot.        

Today’s Rio Fossil was chosen through a vote by representatives of youth networks and hundreds of global NGOs organized in the Climate Action Network CAN.                          

The Fossil presentation text reads as follows:

“Algeria is receiving the fossil on behalf on G77 for opposing language in relation to effective civil society engagement and participation to implement sustainable development. 20 years ago, Principle 10 of the Rio Declaration recognised that the best environmental decisions are made  with the involvement of the public. That includes civil society groupings such as NGOs, women, trade unions, youth and others. We agree that referring to stakeholders in the outcome document should be avoided as some private interest groups, such as big corporations, do more harm than good.

However, in many ways civil society groups are the best allies parties have at the international level, especially developing country parties, whom we often support by providing increased capacity and advocacy efforts. We have a huge range of expertise and experience that adds real value when we are able to participate in decision-making at the local, national and international levels. Our ability to participate also ensures the legitimacy of decision making and helps translates decisions into real world outcomes. This is the only way to genuinely achieve sustainable development. We know that only a very small number of G77 members are resisting language that would help us play our role more effectively. The rest of the G77 should not allow this minority rule."

The Rio Fossil Awards will be presented daily throughout the negotiations highlighting the country or countries who do the least to support progress (or the most to block it) on issues relevant to climate change, such as energy, forests, and the green economy. Fossil of the Day ceremonies take place every day at 18:15, in the corridor leading from the negotiating rooms in Pavillion 3 into the main  crossroads towards the courtyard in the center of RioCentro.

Region: 

G77 earn Fossil of the Day as they oppose language to foster civil society participation

Today's first place fossil goes to Algeria!

Algeria on behalf of the group of G77 was awarded the third ever Rio Fossil of the Day today. Moves to oppose language in relation to effective civil society engagement and participation in implementing sustainable development have earned them the top spot.        

Today’s Rio Fossil was chosen through a vote by representatives of youth networks and hundreds of global NGOs organized in the Climate Action Network CAN.                          

The Fossil presentation text reads as follows:

“Algeria is receiving the fossil on behalf on G77 for opposing language in relation to effective civil society engagement and participation to implement sustainable development. 20 years ago, Principle 10 of the Rio Declaration recognised that the best environmental decisions are made  with the involvement of the public. That includes civil society groupings such as NGOs, women, trade unions, youth and others. We agree that referring to stakeholders in the outcome document should be avoided as some private interest groups, such as big corporations, do more harm than good.

However, in many ways civil society groups are the best allies parties have at the international level, especially developing country parties, whom we often support by providing increased capacity and advocacy efforts. We have a huge range of expertise and experience that adds real value when we are able to participate in decision-making at the local, national and international levels. Our ability to participate also ensures the legitimacy of decision making and helps translates decisions into real world outcomes. This is the only way to genuinely achieve sustainable development. We know that only a very small number of G77 members are resisting language that would help us play our role more effectively. The rest of the G77 should not allow this minority rule."

The Rio Fossil Awards will be presented daily throughout the negotiations highlighting the country or countries who do the least to support progress (or the most to block it) on issues relevant to climate change, such as energy, forests, and the green economy. Fossil of the Day ceremonies take place every day at 18:15, in the corridor leading from the negotiating rooms in Pavillion 3 into the main  crossroads towards the courtyard in the center of RioCentro.

 

 

Region: 

Climate crisis - what crisis?

Most of the world’s leaders will be here in Rio in a few short days to assess (non-)progress in sustainable development and to address the accumulating environmental and social challenges that threaten our well-being, security and even very survival.

Oddly enough though, the one issue that world leaders have said is the most serious environmental crisis facing humanity, with potentially catastrophic impacts on communities and the planet, is almost invisible here. Only 4 paragraphs out of the current 80-page text are devoted specifically to climate change. Even this short text that fails to go beyond earlier commitments is at risk of sinking under the rising tide of ignorance, shortsightedness and abdication of leadership. While it is good that the dangerous gap between what governments have promised to do and their concrete actions is recognized (i.e. that their planned emission cuts will not keep us below 2 or 1.5 degrees C of warming), no commitment is made to address this gap with faster and bigger emission cuts. Of course climate change is intimately linked to many of the other issues addressed, like sustainable energy and green economy, but without a strong climate change section, the message coming from Rio will be that this issue is not a priority for the world right now.
 
Rio+20 offers the world a chance to assess the progress (or lack thereof) made in limiting and reducing global emissions – a promise governments made 20 years ago when signing the Climate Convention in Rio – and to make a clear commitment to make up for lost time with stronger and faster emissions cuts. The details will of course have to be negotiated under the UNFCCC, but a clear commitment from leaders here in Rio could help to put some urgency and focus back in the climate negotiations.
 
If world leaders in perhaps their largest gathering ever will fail to address the greatest threat to humanity, it would be a serious abuse of the trust the world citizens have placed in them, if not an act of sheer cowardice.

 

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