RioCentro Conference Center, Rio+20. A posse of well-appointed individuals leisurely stroll by, their security detail and a gaggle of media in tow. They seem important and unconcerned. They walk slowly.
The work of the 3rd Preparatory Committee, tasked with negotiating the text of the so called “zero draft,” is important. Today is the last day of negotiation listed on the schedule and yet a sense of urgency is strangely absent.
The “zero draft” with zero speed
The 3rd Preparatory Committee is negotiating the text of the zero draft. The text of the draft can be divided in four sections: renewing political commitment, green economy, institutional framework (i.e. “upgrading“ UNEP) and the framework for action and follow-up (including specific topics like food or education).
Negotiations are not proceeding in sections or paragraphs or even sentences. Rather, representatives are struggling and fighting through this comprehensive document one word at a time. It’s a gruelling, combative and tediously slow process. Observing the negotiations here in Rio is like observing a crippled tortoise trying to cross a highway. There is little doubt that diplomacy has its place and requires time and patience; however, yesterday’s progress was laughably small. Nor is this an independent observation: delegates to Major Group Representatives have confirmed the uncharacteristically slow progress.
In many working groups, a blockade created by different opinions about specific words and paragraphs has brought work to a near standstill. Unsurprisingly, a major divide has developed between the G77 nations and those represented in the G20, primarily the US and the member states of the European Union.
The toothless lion
Concern is rising about the fussy and creeping progress of negotiations. However, the main concern among experts is not the slow progress or even the prospect of not having a full document ready for the UN CSD, when politicians will arrive to approve or reject the document. The real worry amongst experts and commentators is that a last-minute rush will weaken the document to a hollow shell of rhetoric. Civil society representatives are particularly concerned that there are those who would prefer a weaker document than a document that requires reaching a binding compromise.
There is still time to produce a meaningful zero draft but negotiators must be willing to act quickly and make concessions. After all, the entire point of a negotiation process is to trade concessions in order to reach an agreement that is perfect to no one, but acceptable to all.
Michael McCullough contributed to this article.