Richard Weaver – Tearfund's Policy Blog

June 22, 2012 by Richard Weaver

22 June, Rio Centro

There has already been much comment on whether what still appears to be final agreed text from the Rio+20 really represents ‘O futuro que nós queremos’ (the future we want).

Some of us who followed the UN climate talks and COPs for a number of years started to develop a theory that locating the COP in a place with beaches and hot and sunny weather helped ensure a good outcome for the COP summit whereas if it was cold and dark much of the time the outcome was not so good to say the least. The theory seemed to hold with COP 14 Poznan (cold, mostly dark) in 2008 making almost no progress and leaving so much to be done in 2009, COP 15 Copenhagen (cold, mostly dark) in 2009 almost universally seen as a disaster in terms of the failure to agree a new international treaty on climate change, COP 16 Cancun (hot and very sunny, lots of beaches) in 2010 with an outcome cheered to the rafters by delegates in the final plenary with almost all countries agreeing a text – no mean feat after the fall-out from Copenhagen, and then most recently COP 17 in Durban (hot and very sunny, lots of beaches) where countries agreed to negotiate for a new climate deal by the end of 2015 to come into force by 2020 – only 8 years after the deadline we had for this in Copenhagen but hey!

So what do you get when you are in the most stunningly beautiful country and city famed for its beaches and sunshine even in mid-winter (as we are now)? Well, the final day of the summit dawned with pouring rain again here in Rio after a brief respite yesterday and you appear to get this – agreed by countries on Tuesday night and seemingly unchanged since –

And you get this excellent reaction from civil society given to the plenary on Wednesday by the Director of the Climate Action Network (CAN) International –

And you get a fantastic inspiring speech to the plenary also on Wednesday from Brittany Trilford, a 17 year old from Canada –

As with all international negotiations the political context for the discussions here at the Rio+20 summit was of enormous importance – with an ongoing economic crisis for many countries, a US election later in the year, and controversial forest code discussions here in Brazil – and the influence of all these and many more political factors can not be discounted. Nor can you underplay the importance of how well or not each summits’ hosts chair and steer and cajole countries with different priorities and red lines towards an agreed outcome. And the Rio+20 summit is also no different in that what happens after the summit in terms of national and regional implementation in the end becomes much more important than any agreed text – however strong or weak.

I have been inspired by the actions and thinking of Tearfund partners and others as part of Igrejas Ecocidadas here in Rio (a photo of just some of those involved in this movement is at the top of this post) – and less so by those of many of the governments and heads of state here… So if nothing else the Rio+20 summit should be a further call to mobilise and in everything we do to seek the future we want for the planet and its people.

June 22, 2012 by Richard Weaver

22 June, Rio Centro

It’s the final day of the Rio+20 summit and today it feels that everything is fizzling out a bit with heads of state, ministers and in some cases just the civil servant heading the delegation making their countries’ plenary speeches. No-one is expecting fireworks in the final plenary when countries will finally decide whether to adopt the text and sitting here in the media centre there is a real sense that journalists here are not sure what the story for today is… On the other hand there have been plenty of fireworks most nights coming from the favelas on the hills above where I have been staying these past two weeks.

Many of those still here not in the plenary room or media centre seem to be using the enormous food court as a base for the day – where at least the super-strength and excellent Brazilian coffee is keeping some very weary people going. So after drinking several large espressos myself I took some pictures of the various food and other businesses here in the conference centre all keen to stress their sustainable credentials and here they are below. From the top they are of a major supermarket chain, a national government owned savings bank, Coca Cola and a major Brazilian energy supplier. The UK and many other governments have rightly stressed the importance of involving businesses and the private sector in discussions on sustainability.

In his speech to the plenary here Nick Clegg said: “we need to involve businesses more. Government cannot do this alone. There is increasing recognition among major companies that using resources sustainably is in their own interests. That is why it is so important that Rio has recognised the role of business sustainability reporting. There is a market demand for this. Companies have been asking for it, investors need to know, consumers want to make informed decisions, and this should eventually lead to a global framework.”

However some would say that in seeking to involve businesses much more and get them on board governments have allowed them to have much more influence on the final text than NGOs were able to have here in Rio….

June 21, 2012 by Richard Weaver

20 June, Rio Centro, Rio+20 summit

It is raining heavily here in Rio on the first day of the Rio+20 summit – and for the first time in the 10 days since I arrived. The current official text is almost devoid of ambition and does not show even the hoped for progress in some areas such as fossil fuel subsidies and sustainable development goals. So perhaps the weather today with the arrival of leaders from more than 100 countries is a perfect example of pathetic fallacy where in Thomas Hardy’s ‘Far from the madding crowd’ you knew something bad was going to happen to Gabriel Oak or Bathsheba Everdene because there would be a storm brewing and heavy rain would begin to fall!

However if you were a farmer in Ceará or Pernambuco or anywhere in northeast Brazil where there is currently the worst drought in 50 years and where 57% of the land is in drought conditions you would be looking to the sky for rain bearing clouds and would be overjoyed to experience the heavy rain falling here in Rio.

So is the rain a sign of something bad or something good about to happen in Rio? Civil society here is generally furious about the current text – and to mix up the metaphor – want world leaders to raise a storm to improve the current text. But will they? Ban Ki-Moon, UN Secretary General was honest in his assessment today as you can see in the photo above – where in his speech to leaders he lamented the lack of ambition in the current text and after a strong push from civil society today seems to indicate that it would still be possible to revisit the text currently seen as agreed by countries.

Ministers and leaders have mostly given no indication that they are keen to negotiate further on the text – some feeling that just having international agreement of the current text between all countries on environment and development is a good result and also fearing that to open up the text may lead to it being further weakened… If heads of state are not going to try to make the text better here in Rio then what on earth are they going to do? Well Rio certainly has plenty of attractions – Corcovado, Pao de Acucar, Copacabana, Ipanema – to name just a few – but I suspect that in these times of economic crisis spending three days sightseeing would not go down well with their electorates – or at least it shouldn’t.

So what are our leaders going to do in Rio? – the next 72 hours are vital.

June 21, 2012 by Richard Weaver

19 June, Rio de Janeiro

‘Often people come to Brazil for football and often for Carnaval – and that’s fine. But this time people have come to Rio for the environment and that’s great!’ – Marina Silva, ex-Brazil environment minister and ex-Presidential candidate speaking at the Cupola dos Povos today.

It’s 10 in the morning and the sprawling venue for the Cupola dos Povos (People’s summit) is abuzz with people from Brazil’s many indigenous groups moving across the park, protest marches, and the sound of samba drums to attract people to the many seminars happening on justice issues and the environment, including the final side event (of 7 over the past 3 days) organised by Igrejas Ecocidadas (church eco-citizens). Tearfund supports this movement of Christians in Brazil around the environment and climate change and this side event here discussed the campaign they have organised over the past few months which has led to more than 4000 people sending campaign postcards to President Dilma and more than 1200 emails sent in just the last month alone.  This campaign ahead ahead of Rio+20 is very much the first step in getting the church in Brazil much more involved in practical actions such as recycling and conserving water as well as campaigning for better policies at city, state and national level. Tomorrow members of the movement will be making the journey to Rio Centro, the venue for the Rio+20 summit.  The photos below show some of their hopes and perspectives.

The distance – both physical (2 hours by bus if the traffic is bad as it has been most days) and in the nature of the discussions – between this summit and the official negotiations at Rio Centro is immense.  The distance between what so many people want and need from the Rio+20 summit and the low ambition of the official negotiations is also far too great. And it looks like we are heading for a final text with low ambition far away from the ambitious outcome that the world’s poorest people and the planet needs.

In seeking to understand Brazil’s approach to the Rio+20 negotiations it is important to think about the Brazilian political context coming into this summit. Discussions over the controversial forest code legislation in Brazil over the last months  revealed damaging divisions in Brazilian politics. This means that it is very difficult for Brazil to show the leadership needed here in Rio+20. Even so there have been concerns on Brazil’s approach in seeking an agreed text even when some countries wanted further discussion to increase the ambition.

Brazil is now the world’s 6th largest economy and the direction this country takes will be crucial to global efforts on climate change and the environment.  And whatever the final agreed text is from this summit the government of Brazil will be well aware that the Igrejas Ecocidadas movement will provide a strong and distinctive civil society voice in discussions in the coming crucial few years if we are to avoid catastrophic climate change.

June 18, 2012 by Richard Weaver

I am here in Brazil for the Rio+20 summit with a group of inspiring organisations that Tearfund works with in Brazil. It has been great getting their perspectives on the discussions and joining with them in some fantastic side events at the Cupola dos Povos (more later on these).

As well as everything else that Brazil is well known for, graffiti, both good and bad, also seems to be everywhere in Rio and is even taught in some schools. The photos below are of political graffiti just round the corner from where I am staying here in Rio for the two weeks of the summit, Cupula dos Povos and other events.

The graffiti is to highlight a Brazilian expression for the way of political discussions – vai acabar em Pizza (it will all end up in pizza). In Brazilian politics discussions are often not as they generally are in the UN  where countries disagree vehemently with each other but in a very quiet and measured way – as they did in the final prepcom ahead of Rio+20 leading to a very long text only 28% agreed after 3 long days.

In contrast, in Brazilian politics there is often a really big fight in Parliament, accusations flying, loads of media interest… but then sometimes nothing happens as people perceive that the politicians are all friends really and would all much rather go for a pizza together at the end.  So with discussions on the Rio+20 text now in the hands of our Brazilian government hosts there is still the opportunity for a high ambition outcome on new sustainable development goals, ending fossil fuel subsidies – or we may well have an outcome that has made little progress and which has wasted the opportunity presented by this summit 20 years on from the ground breaking Earth Summit here in 1992. So will it all end up in pizza here? – we have only a few days to ensure this summit doesn’t…

December 14, 2011 by Richard Weaver

This year’s UN climate talks held in Durban ended (eventually) with the ‘Durban Platform’ – an agreement amongst all countries to agree a plan on global emissions reductions by 2015 at the latest, with legally binding targets for all countries to kick in by 2020. Timing, ambition and equity were key concerns during COP 17 and looking at the outcome through these lenses, the final commitments are weak and leave too much room for interpretation. The outcome could result in average global temperature rises of 3-4 degrees C – at least double the ceiling of 1.5 degrees C that many believe to be the maximum to avoid catastrophic change.

Despite hopes that adaptation would feature more strongly at this ‘African COP’, there was again an insufficient sense of urgency. On Finance, the Green Climate Fund was operationalised which was good progress. But this fund can not support developing countries with adaptation and mitigation if it remains empty. Countries failed to move ahead with measures to raise long term finance from new sources such as international shipping and there was agreement only on a work plan ‘to progress’ work on finance by the next talks in December 2012 – a small step when agreement is needed urgently to avoid a gap in climate funds for developing countries once the fast start finance period runs out at the end of next year.

For more detail please do have a read of the Tearfund policy briefing