What Rio+20 has for the CAP?

20 years have passed since the Earth Summit was organised in Rio de Janeiro in 1992. The United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development (UNCSD) will also be held in Rio this week and the apparent question comes what has happened in 20 years time. Almost nothing, many argue, as global sustainability is more on the table than ever. Increasing emissions and soil degradation, decreasing biodiversity, shrinking water supply and increasing hunger in many areas are just a few of the challenges the world is facing. These problems are partly due to agricultural policy failing to provide the appropriate answer to these challenges.
It seems we were facing almost the same challenges twenty years ago as suggested by the “Beyond the Limits” book managed by Dennis Meadows urging a paradigm shift in global sustainability. It is now the International Assessment of Agricultural Knowledge, Science and Technology for Development (IAASTD) or the Green Economy Report (UN), amongst others, calling for a paradigm shift in global agricultural policy, research and development.
It is now widely realised that sustainable development by its nature is a broad concept and a new attempt to roll these ideas together introduces the notion of the ‘green economy’. Under this new slogan, several agricultural issues will be touched upon in Rio like food security, price volatility, agri-food trade, rural development with improved conditions for small farmers or the sustainable utilization of natural resources, just to mention a few. Besides the complexity of these issues, the major challenge in Rio this week is how to learn from past failures and how to move to the implementation stage by setting concrete targets and arbitrary deadlines. In doing so, it seems increasingly likely that countries will agree a process to replace the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), which expire in 2015, with a new set of ‘Sustainable Development Goals’.
It is not likely that the CAP reform process will strongly be influenced by the Rio+20 meeting as current reform proposals are ‘green enough’ to be approved by any international organisation and would well fit into any global package. Moreover, recent experience (e.g. Copenhagen Conference, WTO Doha Round) shows that it becomes increasingly hard to agree on any global issues these times. The CAP reform will simply go in line with a ‘global vision’ promoting sustainable agriculture as an answer to climate and development challenges.
Although hotel costs in Rio seem to be so high that the EU Parliament announced that it had decided to cancel its participation in the event, the costs of not participating will hopefully be lower for the future CAP.

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