Negotiations over an outcome text to frame expectations at next week's sustainable development conference in Rio de Janeiro were tense yesterday, with disputes not resolved on international technology transfer and finance for green economies in the developing world, among a host of other issues.
Sources on the ground in Rio, where pre-conference talks are ongoing, said the mood surrounding the negotiations is pessimistic about the likelihood that a final outcome document will be agreed to by the end of today, when the "prepcom" meetings are supposed to produce an agenda.
The agenda has been in the works for months, but with U.N. member nations and interest groups having failed to ratify the sprawling document in New York, parties had to schedule rushed meetings this week in an attempt to set the stage for "deliverables" from the conference, which officially starts Wednesday.
Meena Raman, a negotiation expert at nonprofit development group Third World Network, said in an email from Rio that nearly two-thirds of the now 80-page draft is still "mired in disagreements."
"No one seriously believes the official preparatory process will resolve the key contested issues, let alone complete the draft," she said.
The outcome document started several months ago as a 19-page document only to fluctuate between 100 and 200 pages more recently. Ideas have ranged from bold proposals such as establishing a World Environment Organization and ending fossil fuel subsidies to less ambitious ideas like starting discussions on a set of sustainable development goals.
'A 10-ring circus'
Even those who expressed more optimism acknowledged that the talks were not going as smoothly as some would like. Susan Lieberman, director of international policy at Pew Environment Group, said she is hoping for a breakthrough on ocean issues specifically, but she added that progress has been hard to track.
"It is not a three-ring circus," she said during a news briefing from Rio. "It is a 10-ring circus."
If the concerns prove correct and a further postponement of the outcome text develops, that means the Brazilian government will take charge of the talks starting tomorrow, when a series of "dialogue days" is planned in Rio on 10 key issues through Tuesday.
Raman said representatives from interest groups were curious to see how Brazil, as host of the summit, would conduct the consultations. Nongovernmental organizations are hoping to be kept in the loop, but "so far, there has been little information" from Brazil about how the talks would proceed, Raman said.
"In fact, there is still no official word on whether or when the prepcom process will end and if the Brazil-led consultations will take over," she said.
Lieberman said NGOs could be "further marginalized next week," but she believes the Brazilians are up to the task in any event.
"I am confident that Brazil will be able to guide the discussions effectively as soon as they take over," she said.
U.N. officials were being tight-lipped about what would happen if no agreement emerges by the end of today. A senior U.N. official close to the logistics of the talks said it would be "very difficult" to say how the talks will proceed with Brazil in charge or what product might result.
U.S. and E.U. want technology transfer deleted
Soon after the delegates started meeting this week, it became clear that the subject of technology transfer among nations was stuck, sources said.
The United States and European Union have insisted on removing any mention of the word "transfer" from the outcome document, according to Raman, who said the United States in particular has been insistent that the concept "technology transfer" doesn't belong in a sustainable development conversation.