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Rio+20 - Big Decisions Avoided

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05 July 2012

Big international meetings shy away from big decisions

Over the last week, global leaders have discussed debt, Greece, Sustainable Development Goals and jobs.

The headline outcomes were not big and bold, rather they tended to go over old ground.

But in case you missed some of the non-headline decisions, there were some positive moves on issues that affect poor communities...

In Los Cabos, Mexico, where G20 leaders met, there were a few positive steps amidst the fluff of pronouncements.

Food security: The UK, Canada and Australia took first steps to increase investment in research and development to benefit smallholder farmers.

Tax: Leaders have encouraged all countries, including tax havens, to adopt a convention which would make it compulsory for them to share financial information.

Transparency: The Anti-Corruption Working Group was given an extended mandate but there was nothing new on transparency in extractive industries e.g. oil, iron ore, copper)

So, not much to cheer, but that means we have to keep leaders to account.

You can find out the commitments of individual G20 nation here.

Days later, a huge gathering of leaders from politics, business, unions and NGOs gathered in Rio. It was another lackluster affair full of sound but signifying little. The positives for the least powerful people and nations could be summarized under two headings.

Sustainability: Leaders have committed to create a new set of sustainable development goals (SDGs) which will set the direction of global development work from 2015. The SDGs could help take the best aspects of the MDGs and add aspects that take into account sustainability of the world’s resources. This is a first step to life after the MDGs.

GDP+: There was broad agreement that measuring economic output with an emphasis on growth is not adequate. well-being and the cost of any growth on our natural resources needs to be measured. Jeffrey Sachs, respected economist put it this way in the Guardian, “Money matters and especially for the poor. But once you reach a certain level of wellbeing, the additional gains are very small and perhaps not there at all. The US has tripled its per capital GDP over the last 50 years but there has not even been a twitch of the needle in raising wellbeing.”

So it was a disappointing week for optimists and a satisfying week for pessimists. The economic woes of wealthy nations pushed everything else from the spotlight. Small steps but no giant leap for mankind.

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