The Rio+20 is the United Nations conference on sustainable development. It brings together world leaders, government officials, the private sector, NGOs and other civil society groups with the aim of talking about poverty reduction, how to advance social equity, environmental protection and ‘the future we want’.
Whilst the two main themes of the conference are ‘the green economy’ and ‘intitutional frameworks for sustainable development’, Australia has chosen to focus on ‘sustainable mining’. Read our response below:
Dear Minister Carr,
Re: Need for a New Approach for Rio+20
We are pleased to be able to write to you in your new role as Australia’s Foreign
Minister, and hope that you are free to re-orient Australia’s negotiating stance at the
United Nations Conference on Environment and Development, the Rio+20 Summit.
The final outcome of the UN draft negotiating text, the ‘Future We Want’, is of
critical importance in shaping what the Green Economy will look like, and most
importantly, who it is for. While the Rio+20 summit has the potential to chart a just
and sustainable agenda for the next two decades, several key issues promoted by
Australia at the UN in January undermine the current UN draft. We are very
concerned that at this critical juncture, the Australian government could be taking us
There are three key questions arising from Australia’s negotiating position at Rio+20.
Each concerns the government’s prioritising of Australia’s economic interests over
Australian and global sustainability.
1. Why is Australia promoting mining but not action on climate change?
The UN document charts a ‘low carbon development’ model with clear targets to
double energy efficiency and the share of renewable energy by 2030. Australia’s
Rio+20 position on climate change contains no action items.
Australia calls for sustainable mining based on managing mining for markets,
transparency, local benefits, and environmental clean-up. However, mining is by
definition unsustainable. Mining always involves the exploitation of a non-renewable
resource, causing irreparable earth, water, biodiversity, and atmospheric impacts.
Both in Australia and internationally, mining displaces local communities,
undermines food security, and critically damages social sustainability.
Australia’s proposed ‘sustainable energy’ policy likewise bypasses climate change,
referring only to the need to ‘reduce global energy intensity’ and expand renewables.
As citizens we believe climate change is the key sustainability issue – our ‘greatest
moral challenge’ – and expect to see this expressed in Australia’s position statements,
2. Why is Australia promoting market mechanisms against UN efforts to secure
government action ?
The UN defines the right to food and water as central to sustainability and equity.
Australia’s submission focuses on ‘efficiency and pricing’, ‘elimination’ of barriers in
food markets and extended ‘markets in water access rights’.
The UN Draft ‘reaffirms the right to food’, and the ‘the right to safe and clean
drinking water and sanitation as a human right that is essential for the full enjoyment
of life and all human rights’. Nowhere does the Australian position acknowledge that
access to food and water is a fundamental human right.
The UN document calls for ‘practices that contribute to the stability of food prices
and domestic markets; ensure access to land, water and other resources; and support
social protection programmes’. Australia’s food security policy fails to acknowledge
how food shortages are exacerbated by commodity speculation, by monopoly agri-industry
and trade distortion, and by land grabs and threats to social protection.
The UN draft calls for action to restore fish stocks, and focuses on the needs of Small
Island Developing States (SIDS) facing ‘increasing adverse impacts of climate
change… fuel, food, and financial crises, combined with inadequate international
support’. Australia’s proposed policy for the ‘blue economy’ centres on sustainability
of marine industries, rather than ocean sustainability. It offers measures to manage
adaptation and promote resilience rather than address the causes of ocean degradation.
3. Why is Australia advocating aid to promote private financing, against UN
efforts to protect sustainability?
The UN draft states that Rio+20 must not ‘impose new conditionalities on aid and
finance’, nor ‘restrict the policy space for countries to pursue their own paths to
sustainable development’. In addition, the UN draft reasserts the obligation of
developed countries to commit at least 0.7% of national income to overseas aid; the
Australian position suggests a commitment of only 0.5%.
Australia’s proposals on ‘financing sustainable development’ signal the use of aid in
‘enabling policy settings, regulations and incentives (such as innovative market-based
tools) to catalyse private finance in sustainable investments’. At the same time, it
favours the use of aid ‘creatively to leverage private capital through risk-sharing’.
We recognise that a vision of social rights, shared ownership, and sustainable
provision has been promoted by representatives of social democratic parties such as
yourself, over many decades. So as a matter of urgency, we request that you, our
Foreign Minister, reconsider and address the issues discussed above so that Australia
can promote a position consistent with international principles of human rights and
We look forward to receiving your considered response to the problems raised here,
and to seeing you and your team play a positive leadership role at Rio+20 and after.
Dr James Goodman, Dr Ariel Salleh and Rebecca Pearse, for Friends of the Earth
Dr Brett Hennig, for Quit Coal Victoria
Bryant and Liz Barrett for AidWatch