by Danielle Kerem
International heads of state, diplomats, and representatives from both civil society and the private sector have descended on Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, for the U.N. Conference on Sustainable Development that runs through June 22. A successor to the 1992 Earth Summit, Rio+20 hopes to deliver an agreement that renews member states’ commitment to the elimination of unsustainable patterns of production. In addition to the Conference’s broader goal of reconciling economic growth with environmental protection, the Conference's Secretary-General, Chinese diplomat Sha Zukang, has underscored the summit’s dedication to addressing issues that include “universal access to modern energy, clean water, and eradication of hunger.”
All three of the abovementioned challenges undoubtedly concern Riyad al-Malki, the Palestinian Foreign Minister and leader of the Palestinian delegation to Rio+20. According to the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs’ March 2012 report on water scarcity in the West Bank, Israeli settler activity has significantly impaired Palestinian access to, and use of, a growing number of water springs. An additional OCHA report detailed the ongoing electricity crisis in Gaza and calculated that power cuts in the Strip remain “as high as 12 hours per day.” Moreover, hunger is prevalent throughout the occupied Palestinian Territories and more than half of Gaza’s population is food insecure.
Yesterday, Dr. al-Malki moderated a side session at Rio+20 and introduced a report titled “Sustainable Development under Occupation: Achievements and Challenges.” Alongside the Palestinian delegation’s attempt to highlight the occupation’s impact on environmental health, the mission -- which is currently assigned observer entity status -- is also seeking full representation as a state at the U.N. Rio+20 summit. "We expect full-status participation because we already have it in UNESCO and we have ties with Brazil and with more than 130 countries,” said Palestinian envoy to Brazil, Ibrahim al-Zeben, in an interview with AFP.
The Palestinian campaign for full representation at the UNCSD complements the more comprehensive Palestinian bid for statehood at the United Nations. The success or failure of the delegation’s efforts will be revealed today, when the Rio+20 convenes a procedural session and votes on the Palestinian request. If the member states decide to apply the resolution that allows the participation of observers as states to Dr. al-Malki and his diplomatic staff, then perhaps the Palestinians can have a substantive say in determining the global agenda on sustainable development and mitigating the effects of environmental degradation at home.