Stockholm+40, Rio+20, or Rio20+? Where is compliance and enforcement?

 Over the past month or so I have attended a number of meetings or conferences where the forthcoming World Conference on Sustainable Development (dubbed Rio+20) in June 2012 has been a high priority item on the agenda.  To some, it is an opportunity to reflect on the various successes and failures since the United Nations Conference on the Human Environment held in Stockholm in 1972 (hence Stockholm+40)—and yes there are still some people actively engaged who remember this event.  To others, it is a time to look back at Agenda 21, the Rio Declaration, the various conventions and agreements reached in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil in 1992, and the subsequent Johannesburg Plan of Implementation and the various partnerships reached ten years later in South Africa in 2002.  Others have stressed the need to look forward and address the next 20 years or longer, with a fresh plan of action for achieving a green economy (in the context of sustainable development and poverty eradication) and addressing the institutional framework for sustainable development (hence Rio20+).  For a number of countries worried that the climate change negotiations are proceeding at a snail’s pace, there is also a strong push to have the world’s oceans and the “blue economy” added to the agenda in Rio in 2012. 

It has been surprising, to say the least, that all the backward and forward looking pundits have really failed to capture the centrality of vastly improved compliance and enforcement in the preparations for Rio+20.  The fanciful belief that changing the United Nations Environment Programme into a United Nations Environment Organization or the Commission on Sustainable Development into a Sustainable Development Council will address the globe’s governance reform needs is indicative of an ostrich-like approach to compliance and enforcement.  The 500 or more multilateral environment agreements (MEAs) have not failed because there was something wrong with the principles that were agreed but rather because the agreements did not contain workable compliance and enforcement mechanisms. Because the MEAs could not be enforced, this reality was reflected in national efforts to enact laws or regulations to implement the MEAs at the national or sub-national level.  The few MEAs that do have an appropriate balance of incentives and sanctions, such as the Montreal Protocol to address the ozone hole, have been effective.  AECEN members, therefore, should call on their national negotiating teams going to Rio in 2012 to demand a thorough review of the MEAs and the corresponding national implementation measures to redress this failure and ensure that all future agreements, including the climate change negotiations, incorporate effective and efficient incentives and sanctions.  Carrots and sticks work with reluctant donkeys, but they also work with governments too.

 Dr. Peter King