EU Scales Back Delegation to Rio Conference Amid Pessimistic Outlook

BRUSSELS, Belgium

A senior European lawmaker is “pessimistic” that the Rio+20 Conference next month will achieve some of Europe’s main conservation ambitions, and is accusing both the United States and host Brazil of undermining the event.

Gerben-Jan Gerbrandy’s comments follow a decision by fellow members of the European Parliament’s environment committee not to send a formal delegation to the UN Conference on Sustainable Development next month because of what they said were the exorbitant costs of accommodations in Rio de Janeiro.

The decision is a blow to the European Union’s efforts to present a united front for the bloc’s goals that include setting international targets on water conservation, renewable energy and biodiversity. The EU also is leading a fight to strengthen the UN Environment Program’s powers to monitor and enforce conservation treaties.

EU Environment Commissioner Janez Potočnik, who will be among the senior EU officials at Rio, has lobbied African and other developing nations to back Europe’s agenda at Rio. He has also pledged to strengthen EU aid -- which annually amounts to more than $64 billion USD -- to promote sustainable economic growth and to reduce water and natural resource waste.

Gerbrandy told OOSKAnews this week that he and “five or six” members of the European Parliament will attend the conference as observers as well as attending an associated gathering of global parliamentary leaders on an unofficial basis.

The “official” delegation was to have included a dozen lawmakers, and those who do attend will pay expenses from their office travel accounts.

“At the moment, I’m rather pessimistic,” Gerbrandy, a Liberal Democrat from the Netherlands who is vice chairman of the Parliament’s environment committee, said when asked about expectations at Rio.

“The Brazilian hosts are not playing a very constructive role and do not want a very ambitious outcome,” he said. “The United States is paralyzed because of politics and doesn’t want anything concrete.”

He said U.S. President Barack Obama’s decision to forego the conference, which marks the 20th anniversary of the post-Cold War-era Earth Summit, was regrettable. “You can’t have one of the most important countries totally absent.”

While some leading environmental groups criticized the Parliament’s decision on May 8, Environment Committee Chairman Matthias Groote said the expense “is simply not justifiable, especially at a time when many Europeans are faced with economic hardship.”

The lawmakers -- as well as journalists and conservationists attending the event -- have complained of hotel costs exceeding $800 USD per night per night and inflexible minimum stay requirements. In response to such criticism, Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff’s office announced on May 16 that it was taking steps to reduce accommodation costs.

The EU’s formal delegation will include members of the executive branch, the European Commission, while Denmark will represent the 27 members states as holder of the rotating EU presidency. Overall, some 50,000 delegates, lobbyists and observers are expected at the June 20-22 Rio conference.

Meanwhile, the European Commission released its annual European Report on Development in Brussels on May 16.

The report, Confronting scarcity: managing water, energy and land for inclusive and sustainable growth, “is particularly relevant and timely ahead of the UN Rio+20 conference and in the International Year for Sustainable Energy for All,” said EU Commissioner for Development Andris Piebalgs.

“Water, energy and land are crucial resources for development and human well-being and scarcity cannot be overcome by piecemeal actions. Agriculture and energy are already among the Commission's development priorities as set out in our Agenda for Change, and will form a key part of our effort to boost the impact and effectiveness of EU development policy."

The report calls for a new approach to managing water, energy and land resources, with roles for the public and private sectors, and for innovative solutions such as payments for ecosystem services.

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