EU Environment Commissioner Janez Potocnik said Saturday, at the conclusion of the sustainability summit in Rio de Janeiro, that the document ultimately adopted by government leaders from more than 100 nations fell short in many of the European Union's key areas of concern.
But, he noted, it did endorse the concept of moving toward a green economy despite reservations of developing countries that say it may slow growth or impose restrictions on their own plans to grow out of poverty.
"We support the adoption of this outcome document," Potocnik said. "As partners know, there are a number of areas where we would have hoped for a more ambitious outcome, for instance with regard to the definition of concrete timelines for the realization of goals in the priority areas covered by the document.
"At the same time, we welcome the fact that this outcome document acknowledges the important role of the green economy in achieving sustainable development and poverty eradication. This is an important step in the right direction."
The call for a green economy was adopted but the document asserts the goal should only be applied according to each country's "national conditions" and stage of development -- a bow to the concerns of China and other fossil fuel-dependent emerging economies.
Even before the conference, EU leaders lamented such lack of clear targets in the proposed document, which they hoped would call for concrete goals on phasing out public subsidies for fossil fuels and providing food, water and energy security for all.
British Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg blamed China and other developing nations for blocking progress on sustainable development goals, citing a new "neocolonial" world order in which they are more powerful than Europe.
"The political significance of Rio is that the G-77 nations are antagonistic to our European ideas on the green economy," Clegg told The Telegraph last week. "They were worried about some of the process issues around the SDGs."
Potocnik, while vowing to "remain fully engaged in further work on defining and operationalizing the sustainable development goals," sounded some hopeful notes in his closing comments in Brazil.
He particularly praised a passage in which the U.N. Environment Program is to be strengthened, thus raising the importance of the environment leg of sustainable development.
But even that fell short of the European Union's goal of raising UNEP to the level of a full-fledged U.N. agency.
"We welcome the agreement to reinforce (a sustainability framework), and in particular international environmental governance by strengthening and upgrading UNEP," the EU commissioner said. "It will now have universal membership and must become our common home to set the global environmental agenda."
He said Brussels would "continue to work, together with our partners, for the creation of a fully fledged United Nations Environment Organization, to work on an equal footing with other U.N. organizations."
"In substance, we think we have reached quite far," Potocnik told Deutsche Welle last week. "We would have preferred it if there had been clear timetables and commitments in the document. When it comes to the institutions, our wish was to upgrade the United Nations Environmental Program into a full-fledged U.N. agency.
"This was not achieved but we are happy that the word 'upgrade' is kept in the document. And we were happy that our African friends strongly supported the document."
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