With too much to decide and little time to deal with sticking issues, negotiators are streamlining the draft of resolutions and replacing decisions by a framework for future negotiations. It is very likely that the strategy negotiators are now pursuing at Rio+20 will be very similar to the one adopted in Durban, at the climate change talks in COP17.
In Durban delegates devised a “platform”, i.e. guidelines for a process of negotiation to be closed in 2015 with an agreement on commitments to start by 2020. The design of such a solution has had the active participation of Brazilian negotiators, the same who are leading negotiations at Rio+20. In practical terms this strategy means to use a longer time frame as a means to create more space for conflict resolution.
In Rio they’ll probably not call it a ‘platform’, but ‘processes of negotiation‘ with the aim to agree on sustainable development goals, the corresponding means for their implementation, and the institutional framework for multilateral governance of sustainable development. On governance the only concrete decision remaining on the text would be to give UNEP universal membership and thereby enabling it to convene ministerial level meetings.
Whether these negotiations will lead to a future agreement on sustainable development goals only time will tell. Negotiators will claim that the “Rio resolutions”, or whatever they’ll call them, will inaugurate a new paradigm for multilateral talks about sustainable development. But whether or not there will be a paradigm shift to deal with sustainability issues at the multilateral level will be determined by future negotiations far away from Rio de Janeiro.
The only thing we can say for sure is that diplomats will find an impressive name for the Rio resolutions, one that is sufficiently strong to help to conceal their gaps of substance and of immediate consequences.