Junianto James Losari & Luciana Silveira
From Wednesday until Friday, Brazil will host the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development. Rio+20 will welcome participants from governments, the private sector, NGOs and other stakeholders in the field of sustainable development. This is a landmark event, marking 20 years since the Earth Summit held in Rio in 1992. It was then that countries adopted a blueprint to rethink economic growth, advance social equity and promote environmental protection.
The major goals of this Rio+20 are to assure political commitment to sustainable development, to evaluate the progress made so far and to assess the persisting gaps in the implementation of the main results from previous summits.
The conference will discuss the green economy within the context of sustainable development and poverty eradication. It will also focus on the achievement of an institutional framework for sustainable development.
As reflected by the consistent participation of Indonesia and Brazil in the past UNCSD summits, both countries believe that global sustainable development can only be achieved through the multilateral cooperation of all countries.
But it is widely known that although countries are willing to commit to sustainable development, the diverging interests of developed and developing countries has gotten in the way of reaching common ground.
One of the reasons is the countries’ concern regarding the negative impacts of such commitments to international trade, as well as development. But in light of the conflicting interests, countries may have to think of a bigger picture.
For Brazil, Rio+20 is a chance to challenge the existing economic development model, which includes concerns about social development and environmental protection. With the ultimate goal to enhance and disseminate the concept of a “green economy,” Brazil has proposed the concept of an “inclusive green economy.”
Countries will need green economic policies tailored to their needs, priorities, development and politics. Rio+20 should be a knowledge-sharing platform to promote sustainable development.
Countries should not forfeit their past commitments in reducing the greenhouse gas emissions in pursuing their economic development.
Indonesia has committed itself to reducing green house gas emissions by 26 percent by 2020. This has been implemented through the Reduced Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD+) a mechanism in which countries will be paid for keeping their forests intact.
At the previous summit in Copenhagen, the former president of Brazil announced similar commitments to reduce CO2 emissions by 36 to 39 percent, and to cut deforestation by 80 percent, both by 2020. The Brazilian government has initiated the Program for the Endorsement of Forest Certification to stimulate sustainable forestry practices for pulp and paper production.
One of the concerns regarding potential roadblocks on international trade is with respect to governmental and private standards. Recently, the United States issued a draft policy on renewable fuels produced from palm oil. In light of this policy, palm oil produced in Indonesia may not qualify as a renewable energy source and thus is not entitled to certain incentives.
At the same time, the growth of private environmental standards may also become a trade barrier. This is mainly because private standards are not subject to the rules of the World Trade Organization. Different standards, either governmental or privately, may hamper the ability of countries — mainly developing ones — to meet all the necessary standards.
To address this issue, an international harmonization of environmental standards might help prevent arbitrary action by any government or private party. Moreover, such standards should consider the capabilities, progress and status of the developing countries.
Another concern is about the liberalization of trade in environmental goods and services. The liberalization may widen access to goods and services, which in turn may help the mitigation of climate change. However, it has been argued that this process may benefit only developed countries that produce such sophisticated goods and services.
At Rio+20, countries should be able to find a middle ground and reach an agreement that would be beneficial for developed and developing countries. For example, creating modalities of environmental services such as sustainable eco-tourism would interest both Indonesia and Brazil. Additionally, it would be significant if developed countries could provide technical assistance and aid-for-trade for developing countries in order to enhance their capacity to produce and offer environmental goods and services.
A final concern is related to the subsidies for environmentally-friendly products, a sub-category of environmental goods. While some developing countries argue that subsidies are critically needed to support research and development of EFPs, some developed countries argue that such subsidies are not consistent with the rules of the WTO.
Thus, having this subject included in the Rio+20 will enrich the debate and help world leaders make informed decisions. For Indonesia, such subsidies might be important as it may support the development of EFPs, like locally-produced hybrid cars.
President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono in 2009 initiated a four-track strategy to pursue national development: helping the poor, stimulating growth, creating jobs, and protecting the environment.
Similarly, Brazil sees poverty eradication as an essential element to achieving sustainable development. So for Indonesia and Brazil there is a lot to gain in terms of sustainable development at Rio+20. Both support the idea of a green economy while eradicating poverty, but the concept should also be flexible because countries will always have their own national priorities and capabilities.
Junianto James Losari works at the Office of the Special Staff of the President for International Affairs.
Luciana Silveira is an international trade lawyer at LOB-SVMFA in Brazil. The views expressed here are those of the authors.