Transcript of Conference Call - Ambassador André Corrêa do Lago
Thursday, February 16, 2012
9:00 A.M. EST
Operator: Good morning. The Brazil Rio+20 Briefing Call will start momentarily. A replay of this call will be available toll-free at 1-800-358-3474 or at 1-303-590-3030 until the close of Saturday, February 18. Please enter conference ID 4514943 to access the correct conference replay.
Speaker: Thank you, and good morning everyone and thank you for joining us for today’s briefing call with Ambassador André Corrêa do Lago, Director of the Department of Environmental and Special Affairs of the Ministry of External Relations, who is the Chief Negotiator for Brazil at Rio+20. Now I would like to turn the call over to Ambassador Corrêa do Lago, sir.
Ambassador: Good morning to all. It’s a pleasure to be talking this morning on Rio+20, which is a conference that is I think very significant because it is the kind of conference that only happens every 10 or 20 years. So first of all we have to understand that this is not like the climate change conferences that you have every year in the context of the UNFCCC. Rio+20 is a conference that is exceptional by the fact itself that it only happens in a very long period of time. So, why is it different at our conference? Because these big conferences like Rio 1992 was the Earth Summit, now it’s known as the Earth Summit, or the Stockholm conference in 1972, or the Johannesburg Summit in 2002, these are conferences that tried to bring some long-term sense to issues that are being more and more delved in the short-term. Rio+20 has its name because it’s 20 years after the Earth Summit, which was in Rio in 1992, but also because it refers to the 20 years ahead. What we are going to discuss in Rio is: what is the kind of world we expect to have in 20 years, so that we can adjust everything we are doing in the short-term towards that objective. So this is a conference that has all the countries of the United Nations as participants. It will have three different moments: In the first three days it will be the last meeting of the Preparatory Committee, which is dealing with the texts that are being negotiated as the outcomes of this conference. Then after these three days, we’re going to have four days that we are calling the “Sustainable Development Dialogues” in which the international civil society—not governments and not UN—is going to get together and discuss some of the key issues for the future to make sure that these issues are heard by the Heads of State and government. And the third stage of the conference, which is the last three days of the conference, is a High-Level Segment. It’s a moment in which we are expecting to receive a very large number of Heads of State and Heads of Government to make the final decisions regarding the future of sustainable development. So why this theme, “sustainable development”? Because this concept is the result of many, many years of negotiations among nations in the United Nations. It is the kind of development that we all agreed that we want to have, which is the development that balances the economic, the environmental and the social side of development. Some people say that sustainable development doesn’t mean anything. In fact, the 193 countries that belong to the United Nations agree that sustainable development, yes, has a definition. It is a development that balances environments, economics and social issues. The conference in Rio this year is going to strengthen that concept, and we are going to deal with not only the substantive way we’re going to deal with this issue, but also with the necessity of creating an efficient, multilateral bureaucracy. What we call the International Governance on Sustainable Development is strong enough so that in the next 20 years we can reach a world that is much closer to what we want.
Speaker: Thank you, Ambassador Corrêa do Lago. We will now open the call for questions and answer.
Operator: Our first question comes from Nadia Pontes from Deutsche Welle.
Nadia Pontes: Thank you, Ambassador. I would like to ask how Brazil as a host country sees itself in 20 years, and whether the country has already the money to finance its sustainable development?
Ambassador: Very well. Thank you. Well, as you know, this is a very positive phase in Brazil’s development and we have a government and, I believe, the civil society that strongly believes in balance between the three. But Brazil is still a developing country with lots of challenges ahead. But we see ourselves in 20 years probably as a country that has succeeded to eradicate poverty, that will have a significant middle class, and a middle class that will contribute significantly for the world to understand that we cannot have unsustainable behaviors since we are more and more people in the world. So Brazil sees itself in 20 years as a country that will really try to be something like demonstrations that sustainable development is possible; that we can balance the economic, the social and the environmental dimensions of our development. We believe that we should not have this vision that there is a difference between sustainable development and development. If there is money for development, this money should go to sustainable development. What does that mean? We should not think that we have some sectors that are not going to be sustainable and other sectors that are going to be sustainable. We have to make sure that we think economically, we think of the economic management, always taking in to account these two other issues. So it’s not the traditional way of thinking, “Well, we’re going to give some money for the development of industry, but let’s give also some money for the protection of the environment.” That’s not the idea. All the money that goes to the industry has to take into account the social and the environmental dimension of this investment, and in that context, since we believe that Brazil is a highly attractive country for investment because of its growing middle class, we have to make sure that all investments in Brazil take into consideration the three pillars.
Operator: Our next question comes from Gabriel Elizondo from Al Jazeera.
Gabriel Elizondo: Thank you. I have a very simple question, sir: Could you please define how Brazil would define success at the end of Rio+20?
Ambassador: That is a very good question. I believe that there are many interpretations of what success can be in Rio+20, but I believe that there are two or three key points for us: One of them is that we believe that this conference has to have an impact in three basic dimensions. The first one is on the multilateral system. Since this is a United Nations conference, we have to have results on the way that we are achieving these issues multilaterally. And then we have a second dimension which is absolutely key, which is how this conference will impact the way countries manage themselves, how countries really will incorporate sustainable development as the paradigm for their development. And the third dimension is the civil society: how civil society will agree that this agenda is the agenda that will bring a better future—because if we don’t have the civil society with us, governments will not be able to pursue the path of sustainable development in the right way. So, for Brazil, the success will come if we have strong results in those three dimensions, and strong results, to put very clearly, is to have the economic sectors understand that sustainable development is not an environmental issue. Sustainability is not only environmental sustainability; it is economic sustainability, it is social sustainability. Because for developing countries, if you have a brilliant solution from the environmental point of view and from the social point of view but you cannot afford it, it is not sustainable because it is an impossibility for a developing country to do something. So one key issue at Rio+20 is that the economic sector, not only business but also economic ministries, all the economic sector understands how important it is to incorporate sustainable development as its paradigm. Because this is the only way things can happen. It relates a bit to my first answer. If the solution does not make economic sense, it will not happen. So we have to make sure that the environmental and social issues become mainstream. This is one thing that we would love to see after Rio+20; it would be all the key economic actors dealing and talking about sustainable development understanding it means the balance between environment, social and economic. It’s very different to talk about what most economic ministers and others speak about, which is “sustained growth”. This is a very different thing from sustainable development. Sustained growth is what we want to happen, growth that sustains itself year after year, that is a balanced growth. Another thing is sustainable development, which is that balance between the economic, the social and the environmental, and we hope that after Rio+20 is the absorption of this idea, of this paradigm, I think this we can call a big success.
Operator: Our next question comes from Henry Mance from Financial Times.
Henry Mance: Ambassador, thanks, I was interested in the interview in Valor this morning where you seemed to strike quite an aggressive tone with respect to European countries, and I wondered whether you still saw the great divide in these types of negotiations as a divide between rich countries and poor countries because at other environmental negotiations that hasn’t been the case, in fact the European Union has been on the side of some of the developing countries.
Ambassador: First of all, coming back to the fact that it’s not an environmental negotiation because it has to incorporate the three dimensions, this idea of the divide between developed countries and developing countries is much more complex today. The first thing is that there is a huge divide inside countries. If you take a developed country and you see the opinion of its Ministry of Agriculture, its Ministry of Trade and its Ministry of the Environment, you are going to see a very strong divide. This happens in most countries in the world so there is a key issue there, that if you send to a meeting a minister of the environment, he is going to say something about an issue that probably if they had sent the minister of agriculture, he would say another thing about the same issue. So the idea of sustainable development is exactly the idea of giving a balance in how governments treat issues that have a very strong impact on countries so that you have a more unified, a more logical thing that really takes into account very important but disparate interests inside all countries. So this is the first divide. This is the divide inside the country. Then you have, in fact yes, some kind of divide in international negotiations. We used to talk about the North-South divide; I think it’s more complex than that because it depends very much on the circumstance of the country. You see for instance in negotiations such as climate change, you have some developing countries that feel that they are more threatened by climate change who may or may not have views closer to the European Union than to the other countries in the group of 77+China, so there is that kind of divide. But there is also a divide in the positions from developed countries. You could see that very clearly in climate change too, between the difference of the European Union position and the difference of Canada’s position, or the difference of Japan’s position. So I think that it is an oversimplification to say that you have simply a North-South divide. What is really appearing today very strongly is that developed countries have achieved their development through a long process in which they first dealt with the economic issue, then years and decades later started to deal with the social issue in the 19th century, and then years, decades after that, started to deal with the environmental issue. They did this during the very long period of time. What happens today is that developing countries have to deal with the three agendas at the same time. We are struggling for the economic, for the social and the environmental at the same time. So you cannot compare the way that we are dealing with this issue and the way it was dealt with before. The other issue that I think is very important is what in some negotiations we call “historical responsibility”, which is how these developed countries reach their level of development to date. We all know that it was true, a very unsustainable past. We don’t think that we have to come back completely to zero and to compare the exact things all the time, but one key point is essential— that there is a very strange perception that the efforts regarding the greening of the economy have to be done from now on, the idea of green growth. We have to be green from now on. This is something that for developing countries is interpreted in a very negative way. Why? Because what has to be done from now on is mostly in developing countries, we think, and so the burden for the good of the world and the good of the planet would be in the hands of the developing countries. This is only part of the issue. There is an absolutely key issue that developed countries have an enormous difficulty to deal with, which is what they have already done. Developed countries have 90%, for instance, of their population already in a comfortable situation but their energy, their consumption of products, the way they are behaving are extremely unsustainable and this has to be corrected. Developed countries have to look at what they have to do more than look at what the others have to do. For instance, in the case of unsustainable patterns of production and consumption, if developed countries come first, if they create new standards of production, new standards of consumption, I think this is the way which will make sure that as China, Brazil or India or other countries start to build a huge middle class, this middle class will start at the new level of sustainable production and consumption pattern. I think the most worrying divide is that developed countries are absolutely convinced that it is developing countries that have to do the things that are necessary instead of looking at what they can do and what they will do will have an enormous influence. Look at the middle classes. They are all trying to have the standard of life of developed countries’ middle classes, so if developed countries’ middle classes are unsustainable, our middle classes are going to be unsustainable. You cannot ask rich countries to be allowed to have unsustainable middle classes and developing countries cannot have unsustainable middle classes.
Operator: Our next question comes from Juliet Elperin from Washington Post.
Juliet Elperin: One thing I was wondering when you’re talking about your goals for the conference, it’s a little unclear to me of whether you see this conference as essentially making an intellectual and moral argument that all aspects of society are going to adopt, or whether you’re pushing for firm commitment and the idea that governments will put in mandatory policies that will lead to this vision of development you’re talking about, particularly given exactly what you were alluding to before, this issue of how much are developing countries going to have to do in the future and how much are developed countries going to do? Can you give a sense of, again, is this conference really a process of pushing an intellectual idea and hoping that everyone takes it to heart, or is it pushing for concrete policy outcomes that are going to impose requirements on industry as well as others in developing and developed countries?
Ambassador: Thank you. There is obviously an intellectual dimension but the most important probably is not that one. It is the objective dimension that I think has to be the strongest, which is that we have to have realistic objectives that make economic sense. We cannot have declaratory positions that are not possible to be realized. We are talking here about really something that can be extremely stimulating for economic recovery, that can create lots of jobs, that can have a very positive impact on basically all the economic activity, so we have to make sure that it is not interpreted as an intellectual exercise and I am afraid—and you are right to point it out—because some people think that this is just an intellectual exercise. Not at all. We have to make sure that people understand that every day they make choices and that their choices have an impact on the economy, have an impact on social issues, have an impact on the environment. And so everybody has much stronger power than they believe they do have. So there is already a single person dimension that is very important. People are making thousands of choices per day and depending on their choices, they are favoring sustainable development or they are simply helping to continue in an unsustainable path. Then we have to have very realistic solutions. If we don’t have the business sector, if we don’t have the civil society believing that this path is the path that will make economic sense, social sense and environmental sense, this is not going to be the exercise it should. So it has a very objective dimension that people have to understand that everybody makes a difference, that every company makes a difference, and every country makes a difference. But it is not an idealistic conference. We are not going to say that we are saving the planet through ways and measures that we know are not going to be taken seriously. That’s why the economic dimension is absolutely key. If it doesn’t make economic sense, things will not happen.
Operator: Our next question comes from Pilita Clark from Financial Times.
Pilita Clark: Thank you. Ambassador, we’ve seen calls from a number of people and bodies, including the UN Secretary General’s high level panel on global sustainability, for the phasing out and elimination of fossil fuel subsidies perhaps as early as 2020. I wonder how likely you think it is that this will be an outcome from the conference?
Ambassador: Well this is an issue that is being dealt with in the G20 also, and this is an issue that has been around for many years and this is an absolute key issue because we all know that we are going to need fossil fuels for many more years. And we all know that we have to concentrate on how to use more intelligently fossil fuels – more intelligently from the point of view of technology so that we can lower their emissions, but also more intelligently, which is stimulating other energies to enter some markets. We know that through subsidies, other energies cannot enter many markets because the fossil fuels are too inexpensive. But the great evolution of recent years is that by the growth of developing countries, we know that there will be always a market for fossil fuels. There were some fears in the 90s that this was a whole conspiracy against fossil fuels; this is not at all what it is. What we need is to have an intelligent use of fossil fuels. So the elimination of subsidies is one of those steps that will make sure that fossil fuels will be better used and that we can introduce other energies more sustainable as much as possible and in as many countries as possible.
Operator: Thank you. Our next question comes from Richard Black from BBC. Please go ahead.
Richard Black: Twenty years ago we were here in Rio again with a very similar agenda trying to, if you like, bring sustainable development into the mainstream; trying to make it the way that the world basically does business, with limited success. What lessons do you think, looking back to Rio in 1992, what can that tell you about what needs to be done differently this time?
Ambassador: Well yes, I agree with you that the agenda seems very similar but the world has changed enormously. The first dimension is that, if you remember, in 1992 there were very few environmental ministries in the world. So when in 1992 sustainable development became consensus in all countries of the United Nations, there was a massive creation of ministries of the environment all over the world. And these ministries of the environment were the ones that tried since 1992 to convince the world about sustainable development. That’s why in a certain way it is so much associated to the environmental dimension and not so much to the two others, to the social and the economic. So in a certain way it became the biggest card that the new ministries of the environment could play after 1992. What we have today is that environmental issues have become central issues; they are not any more these things that people don’t take seriously and that seem very far away. The issue of climate change by itself has transformed the world’s perception on how the economy has to be run, so we have a completely different world now. In a way, maybe it took too much time for the social and the economic sectors to adopt sustainable development, but this is the moment. In Rio+20 what we want is sustainable development not to be any more associated only with the environmental dimension, but with the other two, and to become the paradigm of the social and the economic sectors so that we really achieve what we tried to do in 1992. Probably it was just too early because the environment was still a very secondary worry. Now that it is at the center, I think there should be absolutely no fear that expanding that concept to be used by the economic and social sectors does not in any way diminish the importance of the environment. In the opposite, it makes sure it becomes mainstream.
Operator: Thank you. Our next question comes from Yana Marull from AFP. Please go ahead.
Yana Marull: I would like to understand a little bit what’s on the table or under debate for governments. I understand that there has been a proposal to approve an international agency on environment and that Brazil doesn’t accept this idea, not fully. I would like to understand a little bit better what’s under debate right now and the importance of it.
Ambassador: This is a very important point. When these issues of environment started to be discussed multilaterally in Stockholm in 1972, the focus was very much on isolating environments. That’s why the UNEP was created; the United Nations Environmental Program; was created in 1972. Developing countries already in Stockholm were absolutely keen to associate environment to development because there was a huge development agenda in the United Nations and we thought that they had to be together. So the United Nations Environmental Program went ahead and has done a very good job, but it is true that the UNEP does not have the size, the money and the status it should have since it is a very important point. But on the other side, during these 40 years since Stockholm, the discussion of environment was definitely tied to these other two dimensions, to the economic and the social dimensions. So what Brazil thinks and most developing countries believe is that when we create now a new structure of governance, it has to concentrate on sustainable development. It has to concentrate on the balance between the economic, the environmental and the social. We think that it is to go backward to isolate again the environment with a world environmental organization. We think that what is looking ahead is having a very strong governance structure that makes sure that it is sustainable development that is the focus and not environment in an isolated way. This does not mean that Brazil doesn’t want to strengthen UNEP; on the opposite. We are totally favorable to strengthen the environmental pillar of the discussion of sustainable development, but we think that we have to create something that is above these isolate issues, above the economic, the social, the environmental. We believe that we should have a structure that coordinates these three, makes sure that these three are treated in a coordinated way at all levels in the multilateral dimension and at the same time we can strengthen the environmental pillar because it is true that the environmental pillar has to be its strength.
Operator: Our next question comes from Colin Sullivan from Greenwire.
Colin Sullivan: Thank you, I had a follow up on that previous question: Does that mean you support a world environmental organization or not? Your answer was great, but does it mean that you would support it going into the conference?
Ambassador: No. The idea of a world environmental organization is a proposal mostly from European countries, and we think that we have to have a debate in the preparation of Rio+20 and in Rio+20 to know the format that this institution should have. So the European position is that it should be a world environmental organization. We think that this depends on the level of importance of the organization we’re going to create for sustainable development. So, if we are very ambitious of the institutional structure of sustainable development, we can be ambitious in the environmental dimension; but we have to be more ambitious in the sustainable development dimension, and we have to make sure that this sustainable development dimension is above the economic, the environmental and the social structures.
Operator: Thank you. The last question comes from Paula Alvarado from TreeHugger. Please go ahead.
Paula Alvarado: You were talking about sustainable development a lot and countries in Latin America are very proud to announce their growth in GDP numbers, which depend usually on rampant consumption from middle and lower classes. I was wondering if there is any intention to discuss the way growth is measured in countries regarding sustainable development.
Ambassador: Yes, this is a very important point. Although GDP is almost automatically the way that we measure how a country is, we are so conscious today that GDP does not explain how people in that country live and how the distribution of wealth is in those countries. So we are absolutely convinced that we need to have more intelligent ways of measuring the development of the countries. The idea of new indicators is very much in the agenda of the conference, and obviously some countries are worried about that because some countries believe that if we create new indicators, maybe these indicators will be used against the country. For instance, if you see that a country doesn’t have a good performance, then this country is not going to be supported in some of its policies, et cetera. I think that we can do a good job in that area. This is a key issue of the conference and I am sure that there is very wide support of international civil society to have a way of measuring countries in another way than in the very simplistic GDP perception. Thank you very much, all of you.
Moderator: Thank you very much Ambassador Corrêa do Lago. If you have additional questions, please feel free to contact the news bureau team with whom you have been in touch, or most directly Sophia Hitti at Sophia.Hitti@Fleishman.com.
Operator: A replay of this call will be available toll-free at 1-800-358-3474 or at 1-303-590-3030 until the close of Saturday, February 18th. Please enter conference ID 4514943 to access the correct conference replay. Thank you.