Rio+20 African Delegates meet in New York to Discuss ‘One Voice for Africa’

19/03/2012
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African negotiators to the forthcoming Rio+20 conference on sustainable development, to be held in June, gathered in New York last week for a training session on negotiation techniques.  The African Development Bank (AfDB) supports six of the negotiators from its African member states.

Distinguished personalities at the training day on 15 March on the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development included: Mr. Henri Djombo, Minister of Sustainable Development, Forestry Economy and the Environment, Republic of Congo and Coordinator of Africa’s Common Position for Rio+20; Mr. Maged A. Abdelaziz, Vice-Chair of the Bureau for Rio+20 and Permanent Representative of the Arab Republic of Egypt to the United Nations; and Mr. Charles Thembani Ntwaagae, Vice-Chair of the Bureau for Rio+20 and Permanent Representative of the Republic of Botswana to the United Nations.

A common thread that ran through all the sessions was the need to ‘speak with one voice’. It was acknowledged that Africa has come a long way.  It was also noted  that it was only when Africa acted collectively that tangible results were achieved.  Examples given included Africa’s participation at the COP 17 environment conference in Durban.

At the moment, Africa seems the only continent with a collective approach to putting its interests at the table at  Rio+.  This is generating interest from partners  and ‘competitors’ alike.  Other regions such as Latin America and Asia have attempted unsuccessfully to emulate Africa.  Negotiators were encouraged not to lose the key strength they have – the collective voice of all Africa and their heads of state and governments solidly behind them.

However, having a collective voice is just a beginning not the end. A key recommendation from the meeting is that Africa needs to decide what it wants to achieve in Rio,  and most importantly to reflect on what it wants the post Rio+20 development landscape to look like.

How, for example, can the sustainable development goals (SDGs) likely to be proposed, interface with commitments to achieve the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) which are still so important for Africa. Also, having expressed its commitment to the Green Growth paradigm (although Africa still continues to dialogue on its framing within the sustainable development concept), what form of support do African countries expect in order to facilitate their transition to green economies?  

short, what will be an acceptable outcome from Rio+? Should Africa, rather than resisting the green economy agenda, not use this opportunity to define what it should mean to the continent?

The strategic positions of other regions were discussed, and it seems that there are common aspirations which can be built upon. However, it was also observed that each region has its own interpretation of what it accepts to be green growth.  Africa still has to define its interpretation of the green economy/growth concept.  

Although there has been recent discussion to break away, it was recommended that the G77+China should remain the platform through which the continent articulates its aspirations – the tricky part is to convince other members such as China on the pertinence of any of Africa’s aspirations that may be considered less of a priority by other regional blocks.

With regards to the Zero draft of the Rio+20 outcome statement, it was recognised that the African position paper (African Consensus Statement) does not elaborate on some key areas.  Africa’s perspectives on  these areas will have to be articulated in  future negotiations and associated documents.  

The process of having an airtight position for Africa is very complex and over the remaining weeks the negotiators have a mammoth task through which the distinguished persons present have committed their support.

Dr Anthony Nyong, manager of the AfDB’s Compliance and Safeguards division, provided and insight on the importance of a successful outcome from Rio+ from the perspective of the Bank as Africa’s leading development institution, the institution’s expectations from Rio +20 and beyond, and on where the Bank is best placed to assist its African member countries for a successful Rio+20 negotiations.