Diplomats from more than 190 countries agreed on a draft text on green global development on Tuesday to be approved this week at a summit in Rio de Janeiro, but environmentalists complained the agreement was too weak.
The summit, known as Rio+20, was supposed to hammer out aspirational, rather than mandatory sustainable development goals across core areas like food security, water and energy, but the draft text agreed upon by diplomats failed to define those goals or give clear timetables toward setting them.
It is “telling that nobody in that room adopting the text was happy. That is how weak it is,” EU Commissioner for Climate Action Connie Hedegaard said on social network Twitter.
Expectations were low for the summit because politicians’ attention is more focused on the eurozone crisis, the US presidential election and turmoil in the Middle East than on the environment.
Heads of state and ministers, including Russian President Vladimir Putin, French President Francois Hollande and US Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, were scheduled to meet with diplomats representing other nations from yesterday for three days to discuss the text and possibly make some changes to its wording.
Observers do not expect major amendments.
US special envoy for climate change Todd Stern told reporters on Tuesday he did not expect the document to change much after heads of state meet to discuss it.
“We do not have anything that we are expecting to try to drive into the document that is not there yet,” he said.
Environmental groups criticized the text, saying it omitted or watered down important proposals and challenged heads of state to act urgently to respond to climate change.
The draft text omitted a clause calling for governments to phase out fossil fuel subsidies, which have nearly tripled since 2009, despite a pledge by G20 countries to eliminate them.
Phasing out fossil fuel subsidies by 2020 would reduce annual global energy demand by 5 percent and carbon dioxide emissions by nearly 6 percent, according to the International Energy Agency.
An eagerly awaited decision on a governance structure for the high seas was also postponed for three years, after the US, Japan, Canada, Russia and Venezuela opposed strong language to implement it.
“There is no commitment — it’s like telling your girlfriend you promise to decide in three years whether or not to decide, whether or not to get married,” said Susanna Fuller of the High Seas Alliance, a coalition of NGOs.
Others were slightly more optimistic.
“The document represents a positive step forward. While it is not the major breakthrough we had 20 years ago it puts us on the pathway to sustainable development,” Barbados diplomat Selwyn Hart said.
Separately, in a meeting of big-city mayors at an old fortress in Rio, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg and colleagues from around the world sought to show how cities can make progress even if a multinational agreement is not possible.
Cities are responsible for up to three-quarters of global greenhouse gases.
Measures already under way in major cities, the mayors said, are on track to reduce their combined emission of greenhouse gases by 248 million tonnes by 2020, an amount equal to the current annual emissions of Mexico and Canada together.
The measures, the mayors said, include everything from better waste management to more efficient lighting and would include biofuel and electric-powered municipal transport.