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Reference to water, waste to energy and mining in the Rio+20 Outcome Document needs to be revised

Written By Krishna on Sunday, June 17, 2012 | 11:51 AM


Dr Manmohan Singh
Prime Minister
Government of India
New Delhi

Subject-Reference to water, waste to energy and mining in the Rio+20 Outcome Document needs to be revised


I am writing to inform you that I am deeply disturbed by what is happening in the Rio+20 negotiations. It is unacceptable that a small group of UN member states are pushing an agenda focused on removal of human rights, safeguards and the Rio Principles such as polluter-pays and the precautionary principle.

We are at a critical moment in our history with our impacts on the environment having profoundly damaging effects on people and nature.

I find the focus on the market, corporations and the 'green economy' in 'The Future We Want' to be very divisive and dangerous, at a time when we should be working together to tackle the multiple crisis that are having major impacts on nature and the most vulnerable.

I submit that after many months of efforts it is good that reference the human right to water in the text remains. This is a victory but unfortunately they have removed fundamental parts and weakened the text.

I submit that negotiators here are not human rights experts and they are being told that the current text is ‘previously agreed langauge’, which is false. If something is previously agreed language, it passes very quickly at the UN but this is not and must not be allowed to go forward!

Below I have put the key paragraphs from the current text from Rio, from the General Assembly resolution and from the first Human Rights Council resolution.

You will see that they have removed ‘derived from’ and removed reference to ‘an adequate standard of living’ which is what links the right to the Covenant on Economic Social and Cultural Rights. You will also see reference to commitments that they have not made, if anything they must recognize their obligations!

Current Rio Text

121. We recognize our commitments regarding the human right to safe drinking water and sanitation as inextricably related to the right to the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health as well as the right to human life and dignity, affirming the need to focus on local and national perspectives in considering the issue and leaving aside questions of all transboundary water issues. We also highlight our commitment to the 2005-2015 International Decade for Action “Water for Life.”

General Assembly Text

On July 28, 2010 General Assembly resolution 64/292 stated:

Recognizes the right to safe and clean drinking water and sanitation as a human right that is essential for the full enjoyment of life and all human rights;

Human Rights Council Text

On September 30, 2010 the Human Rights Council weakened the language but still better than Rio text:

3. Affirms that the human right to safe drinking water and sanitation is derived from the right to an adequate standard of living and inextricably related to the right to the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health, as well as the right to life and human dignity;

I demand that references to human rights and equity be strengthened; including demanding a strong water chapter recognizes the human right to water in legally-binding language. Implementation of commitments such as human rights, equity and the Rio Principles should be the focus of the negotiations.

I also submit that the positive reference to waste to energy (WTE) in the 50 page text of the final Rio+20 outcome document needs to be removed. This relevant text is undesirable and uncalled for. It will give tacit approval to dirty technologies and processes wherein financial investment will go towards this area and it will be really difficult to get alternative technology accepted. Some problematic parts of negotiated text as of June 17, 2012 is quoted below.

I submit that there is a need to ensure that from the relevant text: “220. We recognize the importance of adopting a life-cycle approach and of further development and implementation of policies for resource efficiency and environmentally sound waste management. We therefore commit to further reduce, reuse and recycle waste (3Rs) as well as to increase energy recovery from waste with a view to managing the majority of global waste in an environmentally sound manner and where possible as a resource. Solid wastes, such as electronic waste and plastics, pose particular challenges which should be addressed. We call for the development and enforcement of comprehensive national and local waste management policies, strategies, laws and regulations,” the reference to ‘increase energy recovery from waste’ is deleted.

I submit that the reference to mining in the Rio +20 final Outcome Document is a misrepresentation of facts on the ground. Therefore, I demand that from the relevant text: “230. We acknowledge that minerals and metals make a major contribution to the world economy and modern societies. We note that mining industries are important to all countries with mineral resources, in particular developing countries. We also note that mining offers the opportunity to catalyze broad-based economic development, reduce poverty and assist countries in meeting internationally agreed development goals, including the MDGs, when managed effectively and properly. We acknowledge that countries have the sovereign right to develop their mineral resources according to their national priorities, and responsibility regarding the exploitation of resources described in the Rio Principles. We further acknowledge that mining activities should maximize social and economic benefits as well as effectively address negative environmental and social impacts. In this regard, we recognize that governments need strong capacities to develop, manage, and regulate their mining industries in the interest of sustainable development”, the sentence in red should be revised. It should incorporate intergenerational equity, democratic governance and environmental and occupational health justice in the mining sector given the fact that mining is accounts for highest number of deaths and accidents among all the industrial sectors.

I submit that another part of the Rio +20 text reads: “231. We recognize the importance of strong and effective legal and regulatory frameworks, policies and practices for the mining sector that deliver economic and social benefits and include effective safeguards that reduce social and environmental impacts as well as conserve biodiversity and ecosystems including during post mining closure. We call on governments and businesses to promote the continuous improvement of accountability and transparency, as well as the effectiveness of the relevant existing mechanisms to prevent the illicit financial flows from mining activities.” I wish to demand that the erosion of natural capital and the water footprint of mining activities must be included besides its adverse impact of livelihood and biodiversity of the indigenous people.

The Rio+20 outcome document “The Future We Want' appears to be advancing in the wrong direction.

It is noteworthy that the January 10, 2012 the zero-draft of the outcome document which was sent for consideration by Member States and other stakeholders was only 19 pages long. The complete negotiated text as of June 17, 2012 is not available in public domain. TWA demands that it be made public before adoption failing which the negotiations will suffer from the taint of democracy deficit.

Thanking You


Gopal Krishna
ToxicsWatch Alliance (TWA),
New Delhi
Mb: 08002263335, 09818089660


Union External Affairs Minister, Government of India
Union Environment & Forests Minister, Government of India
Cabinet Secretary, Government of India
Secretary, Union Ministry of Environment & Forests
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