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Another Earth Summit on Sustainable Development in 2012: Leading or Misleading the World through a Green Economy?

11.0pt"">Another Earth Summit on Sustainable Development in 2012: Leading or Misleading the World through a Green Economy?


by Uchita de Zoysa


‘Sustainable Development’ is one of the most defined, interpreted and misinterpreted words on earth. After two decades since the Brundtland Commission Report on ‘Our Common Future’
published in 1987 famous definition of sustainable development as ‘development
that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future
generations to meet their own needs’, the world still appears to be
unsatisfied. To most of us in the South sustainable development would mean
‘achieving an enduring prosperity, wellbeing and happiness for all where
sustainable consumption and production opportunities are ensured in an
equitable world that at the same time keeps the ecosystem in a healthy
balance’. Yet, many Northern Governments, Multinational Corporations and the
United Nations Bureaucracy are not satisfied with the plans already made way
back in 1992 when the first ever Earth Summit was held in Rio de Janeiro to
achieve such world order.


 


The 1992 Earth Summit adopted Agenda 21, a comprehensive global plan of action for sustainable development. A decade later, the Johannesburg Plan of Implementation (JPOI) was adopted
highlighting concrete steps for better implementation of Agenda 21. However,
the progress has been slow in achieving these internationally agreed goals and
sustainable development has now become a greater challenge. Therefore another
Earth Summit to deliberate on sustainable development will be convened in the
year 2012 in the same city of Rio de Janeiro.


 


Do We Need Another Summit?


Why do we need another earth summit? According to Mr. Felix Dodds of the Stakeholder Forum in UK, a UN summit is the best way to draw global attention towards sustainable
development. If not the subject continues to be conveniently neglected by
policy makers and governments and does not get media attention to enable the
sustainability agenda. The main strategist behind getting the UN to declare the
Rio+20 Summit, Dodds draws an interesting point about keeping the sustainable
development agenda alive. He believes this is not the end all be all of
accomplishing the challenges ahead but that it will play a critical role in
what we can or cannot succeed in doing. The conversation surrounding
transforming our economy should focus on seeing a world that is about fairness,
equity and where everyone benefits from the planet, not just a few as our
current system allows. In the past 20 years since the Earth Summit in Rio Dodds
believes we have lost the plot and emphasizes that more people now have less
than two decades ago. As the next 20 years unravel, if we do not commit to
remedying the current state of the world immediately, the years to follow will
see insecurity of water, food, energy and health worldwide. Dodds calls the
world to step up in this small window of opportunity that is presented to us to
work together and use Rio +20 as the final piece to bring the family back together
for a sustainable and secure future.


 


The First Preparatory Meeting for UNCSD


The first preparatory committee (PrepCom-1) of the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development (UNCSD) more popularly known as ‘Rio+20 Summit’ was held in May 2010
in New York at the headquarters of the organization. A rather poorly informed
and rather quietly organized event had already attempted to finalise a
programme for the proposed 2012 Earth Summit. The organizers appear to be in
hurry to conclude the outcome rather early without any sense of responsibility
towards national governments and its people and stakeholder groups. They
framework of the summit also has been decided with four agenda items; Review of
Commitments, Emerging Issues, Green Economy in the context of Poverty
Eradication and Sustainable Development, and Institutional Framework for
Sustainable Development.


 


Why is the UN together with some countries in a mighty hurry to frame another Earth Summit agenda? What troubled the minds of many at the PrepCom-1 was the dominant agenda item called
‘The Green Economy’. While the 2012 Earth Summit is to focus on a Green
Economy, everybody including the top UN officials managing this process kept
asking “what is a green economy?” While many different definitions and
explanations were offered by various interest groups, the closest that the
official process could arrive at to justify the agenda item was to compromise
on wording that read as “Green Economy in the context of Poverty Eradication
and Sustainable Development”.


 


The Report of the Secretary General of the Rio+20 Summit released during the PrepCom-1 of the UNCSD says, “ the green economy approach is an attempt to unite under one banner a broad
suite of economic instruments relevant to sustainable development”. This is
distracting us away from the core strategies of sustainable development as set
out in the agenda 21. Everyone is saying we do not still know what a Green
Economy means. Why then are we not concentrating on what we know after 20 years
of sustainable development discussions and negotiations? All human activities
and human societies are not governed by the economy whether it is black or
green. German social scientist Wolfgang Sachs in 1992 wrote, "In societies
that are not built on the compulsion to amass material wealth, economic
activity is not geared to slick zippy output. The economy is closely bound up
with life, but it does not stamp its rule and rhythms on the rest of society.
Only in the West does the economy dictate the drama and everyone's role in it.”


 


After 18 years since the first Earth Summit in 1992 in Rio de Janeiro, how did we manage to come to a position that we define Sustainable Development under the purview of a Green Economy?
Shouldn’t it be the other way round? Greening the economy was supposed to be a
strategic transition path towards achieving sustainable development. Poverty
eradication too was another strategic pathway. Now the UN once again is
changing the direction of the global evolution of the entire sustainable
development policy focus and turning it upside down.


 


Greening the Economy vs. Green Economy


But now that a summit is to take place, should the focus change from sustainable development towards a green economy? United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) backed by some
Western European countries appear to be the key proponents advocating a green
economy and making a sustainable development summit into a green economy
summit.


 


The Green Economy Initiative of UNEP was launched in 2008 as a response to the economic down turn and is designed to assist governments in “greening” their economies by reshaping and
refocusing policies, investments and spending towards a range of sectors, such
as clean technologies, renewable energies, water services, green transportation,
waste management, green buildings and sustainable agriculture and forests. UNEP
says today we need vision, urgent action and strong political engagement to
direct financial flows and manage markets to deal with the even greater global
challenges of our time. These range from climate change; poverty; job creation
for the 1.3 billion people under or unemployed and accelerating natural
resource scarcity to the need to fuel and to feed six billion, rising to nine
billion people by 2050. A new Green Deal, generating businesses in renewable
energies; clean tech ventures, sustainable agriculture, conservation and the
intelligent management of the planet's ecosystems and nature-based
infrastructure is already underway. Accelerating this transition is at the core
of the Green Economy initiative and the best bet for global, sustainable wealth
and employment generation for 1.3 billion poor people.


 


It is rather interesting to note the comment made by the Co-Chair of UNEP Finance Initiative, Ms, Barbara Krumsiek, who is also the CEO of the Washington D.C. headquartered Calvert
Group Ltd just prior to the PrepCom-1 of UNCSD. She says, "As the economy
and the financial sector begin to recover, we have both an opportunity and
obligation to build sustainability into the way global financial companies do
business. The challenges finance and investment face on the road to the Rio+20
Summit are considerable. It is a critical time to work for progress and develop
the means to deal with the next crisis - which may very well be a natural
resources crisis".


 


While the Business and Industry sector is planning to thrive on the opportunities at Rio+20 by pushing for a green economy, many other stakeholder groups were more pessimistic. Ms.
Leida Rijnhout of the Northern Alliance for Sustainability (ANPED) in Belgium
brings to attention the wording of green economy and claims that it is the
wrong choice of words to be used. Sustainable Development, which was a term
that has taken shape and clear understanding these past 20 years is one in
which we should continue to commit to. There is a need to re-assess our economy
and reshape it in a way that is sustainable and something closer to a green and
fair economy. Rijnhout strengthens this point by pointing to the need for the
new economy to be based on equity and real values that fit with the carrying
capacity of our planet and social needs. The goal she leaves us with leading up
to Rio+20 should not be about greening our greed but about expanding our
thinking to adopting sustainable lifestyles respectful and responsible towards
global equality.


 


Representing the Asian Indigenous Women’s Network, Vicky Tauli Corpuz from the Philippines also believes that the green economy concept is distorting what we have achieved
with the concept of sustainable development. The economic model that has
collapsed and we are trying to resuscitate it based on concepts that will
inevitably result in our environmental collapse. We are talking about growth,
but growth in the current sense is what Indigenous Peoples see as the source of
the environmental problems we are facing. The developed nations encourage the
developing nations to create products that we deem useless in just a matter of
months. As a result those in developing nations, which are the most dependent
on natural resources for survival are the ones suffering. If we continue to
believe this as the process of growth, Corpus argues, we will just continue to
go down in the natural resources that support our planet. She believes we need
a radical restructuring of the entire economic system underpinned by the
concept of sustainable development, but that also ensures the support of human
rights and the respect of mother earth.


 


Another veteran from the first Rio Summit, Ms. Chee Yoke-Ling of the Third World Network (TWN) in Malaysia clearly explains that the call since Rio 1992 Earth Summit was on greening the
economy rather than making an all new green economy. The focus needs to be on
working towards a new global economic system, one in which the ideas of a green
economy are at the centre. Yoke-ling places emphasis on the need for the global
systems to be collaboratively repaired, regulated and combined with a
recommitment to the promises made in Rio 18 years ago. She stress how important
it is to get governments moving as there is currently a strong political will
to not go sustainable. She believes it is not just about Rio but also about all
of the similar bodies and agreements of the United Nations that promote and
work to achieve sustainability. There has not necessarily been a deficit to
devise structures based on sustainable development but that the failure has
come in the implementation of their mandates. 
Rich countries are continuing to run away from their obligations and
responsibilities to the South. As a result there are more inequalities today
that are suspended in outdated agreements, which promote unsustainable
practices that developing countries are obliged to follow.


 


Dr. Palitha Kohona from the Sri Lanka Permanent Mission to the UN in New York agrees that summits are important in getting people to talk about issues but that time should not be
wasted trying to define specifically what green economy means. Sustainable
Development is a term he believes we should continue to work with as it embodies
the idea of the carrying capacity of our planet while preserving enough
resources for future generations. Providing a very raw depiction of the
priorities that plague the South, Kohona says the struggles that exist for
those in the South are of basic survival and immediate necessity. For those in
developing countries, securing food and shelter are of primary concern and to
bombard them with the pressure to green their economic and social activities is
one which cannot be realistically addressed until poverty for them has been
eradicated. He emphasizes our need to look at the green economy in this context
and not to forget that over one billion go to bed hungry every night. This
needs to be remedied before those who live in poverty can begin to focus on clean
air and water. The North can think about the issues of conserving energy and
water because they have the luxury of having reliable sources and are using
them in its excess.


 


New Green Trade Battle


So are these two different concepts? While greening the economy is a process that drives the worlds unsustainable consumption, production and trading process to be corrected, the
object of creating a green economy appears to be focused on creating new market
opportunities in the realization of the down turn of the market based economy.
Greening the existing industrial production system will not help green the
economy. It will not take us towards a carbon neutral society and drive us away
from the wasteful lifestyles. A new green world order has to be more authentic
than making mountains of the green labeling and green procurement business.
Such a new world order will have to make sufficiency based considerations more
pertinent. Sufficiency can firstly reduce greed and want for over- consumption
through a state of adequacy and contentment. It can also innovate on indigenous
knowledge systems to produce without waste, more efficiently, become more
self-reliant, and less dependent on external resources.


 


Are we entering into a new battle between North and South or developed and developing countries? Are we entering into a new phase of a global trading regime that favours the rich and
powerful? And are we using the concepts of environmentalism to green wash the
black industrial economies? And are we heading towards new conflicts and wars
on earth?


 


Main Issues and Proposals for the Rio+20 Summit


Therefore, I raise the following questions from the organizers of the UNCSD Rio+20 Summit. (a) Do we need more convincing to eradicate poverty as a prerequisite to achieve sustainable
development? (b) The so called Marrakech process during the past 8 years has
failed to consult nations and formulate a 10YFP. What do we need? Voluntary
commitments or binding agreements to regulate unsustainable consumption and
production? (c) Can we bring to focus the Climate Change challenge into the
Rio+20 processes? What is the so called post Kyoto challenge in the “Green
Economy”?


 


I have proposed three key international commitments to draw focus on at the Rio+20 UNCSD in 2012 to enable sustainable development on earth.


 


Proposal 01: Poverty Eradication


The first proposal is on poverty eradication. While discussing sustainability for the past four decades, the world has failed in eradication hunger and poverty on earth. Currently half
of the world humanity are under poverty and are desperately struggling to
survive on a daily basis. Poverty is a result of a hypocritical global
governance system. This is a system that has promoted unsustainable production
regimes and over-consuming societies to grow further; a system that rewards
exploitation by a few and obstructs access to resources by the majority; a
system where the unconcerned and non-compassionate continue to decide the
destinies of humanity. If any hope for sustainability is to be drawn in the
development processes in the developing countries where the poor reside,
poverty needs to be eradicated. Development that cannot ensure the wellbeing of
all citizens does not have the capability to sustain itself. That is where the
growth based economic model has failed. While growth has created increased gaps
between the rich and poor, the lack of intent to distribute the wealth has
clearly blocked the progress of development in wellbeing and prosperity.
Northern governments need to recognize that climate change and the emergence of
the new economic powers may well shift the zones of suffering in the world. The
emerging consumer classes in the South have already started to enjoy the power
over their own resources, technological advancement, market dominance and power
in global governance. An emerging world order suggests that the resources for
over consumption in the developed nations are becoming harder to come by the
day and the Rio+20 process should take an early note to address all kinds of
poverty on earth.


 


Proposal 02: Sustainable Consumption and Production


The second proposal is on sustainable consumption and production.  The World Summit on Sustainable Development in 2002, or Rio+10, clearly
declared that one of the greatest barriers for sustainable development on earth
has been the unsustainable consumption and production patterns and that we
should be regulating such activities. While the UNEP lead Marrakech Process for
a 10 Year Framework of Programmes on Sustainable Consumption and Production
which is expected to commence in the year 2012 has failed for the past eight
years to deliver a credible plan, and the Rio+20 fails to recognize such a
programme officially in its agenda that at the same time. At this stage a weak
programme that caters to the political needs of a European dominated agenda is
clearly not what the Rio+20 needs to focus on but to address the Rio+10 call at
the Johannesburg WSSD Summit for means to regulate unsustainable production and
consumption patterns. The prevailing unsustainable consumption and production
system is the largest contributory factor to both climate change and poverty on
earth and thus requires greater emphasis and focus at the levels of
international regulation. If anthropogenic climate change is to be controlled,
then developing a regulatory framework for sustainable consumption and
production must be a priority as well. In very simple terms, unsustainable
consumption and production needs to be regulated on earth parallel to emission
cuts as a solution to both problems of climate change and poverty. This may not
be the easiest to achieve, but if the UN Rio+20 Summit plans to follow-up on
the Rio and Rio+10 commitments, it will then have to stop playing the hide and
seek game that the so called Marrakech Process has been playing to formulate a
10 year frame work of programmes. The true value of the other agenda item for
Rio+20 as in Sustainable Development Governance would mean that the new
institutional mechanisms will be more forthright and fair in its approach
towards designing and implementing sustainable development programmes for its
member nations.


 


Proposal 03: Climate Sustainability


The third proposal is on climate sustainability. The continued failure by the UNFCCC lead climate negotiations to derive a global agreement is driving the world towards a
climate catastrophe of magnitude that threatens the mere existence of humans on
earth. Climate change is no longer a possibility but a larger reality that has
already commenced its ascending. Prof. Mohan Munasinghe, vice-chair of the
Nobel Prize-winning fourth assessment report of the Intergovernmental Panel on
Climate Change, points out that the world can be saved from the dangers posed
by climate change by sustainable consumers and producers. “We need to look at
finding integrated solutions for multiple global problems rather than trying to
solve these problems separately”, and he warns that climate change is a threat
amplifier for the growing risk of financial-economic crises, persistent poverty
and growing inequity, shortages of energy, water and food, and other extreme
events. While the Kyoto Protocol is said to be expiring in 2012 and the world
is looking for a new binding agreement in 2012, the Rio+20 UNCSD Summit once
again fails to include it in its agenda. Sadly, the Climate Change Convention
that was signed at the first Earth Summit in 1992 has become out of reach of
the sustainable development programme and has become another separate programme
in the UN system.


 


Riding on a Dismantled Train to Sustainability: A Formula for Failure


In my book “It has to be CLIMATE SUSTAINABILITY” I wrote that the UN process that drives the world towards sustainability is like a ride on a dismantled train. The train to
sustainable development had been dismantled since the first Earth Summit in
1992 and different compartments were placed on different tracks; climate
change, biodiversity conservation, poverty eradication, economic prosperity,
etc. Since then many of us continued to demand that this train needs to be assembled
together and placed on the correct track, and that we should proceed towards
sustainability through a clear path to avoid being stranded. Today, we are
dangerously stranded with possibilities of no return. Yet the UN system
continues to ignore negotiating these interlinked issues in a holistic approach
and continues to divide and rule.


 


The Rio+20 UNCSD Summit already demonstrates another formula for failure. The hunger for dominance on earth by the different regions and countries, clearly to protect the business
and trading interest of the multinational corporations that keeps the rich
richer and poor poorer still is the greatest debate inside the UN rooms where
negotiations take place. Therefore, another UN summit has brought us once again
on to a football field where the ball will be passed from one end to the other
till the game results in a stalemate; a no result that will prolong the quest
for sustainability on earth and increase the threat of climate change. So, to
keep the sustainable development agenda alive, we may have to organize Rio+30,
Rio+40 and Rio+50 summits and by time the world will be in much desperation
than today.


 


Optimistic Conclusions


I still would like to see more optimism in a Rio+20 Summit. A representative from a USA based NGO stated at a International Advisory Board meeting of the Stakeholder Forum for Rio+20 that
this is the last chance to save the Earth. Well, I had to remind him that the
same words were said by Mr. Maurice Strong as the Secretary General of the
first Rio Earth Summit in 1992; but this is not the case. I believe that Rio+20
Earth Summit is the best chance rather than the last chance to get the
sustainable development process moving proactively on earth because we no
longer need to sell the concept. The concept of sustainable development is
already sold and appreciated by all including the rich industrialized nations,
the poor developing nations, the big and small business and industries and
people across the world. But, Rio+20 now will have to target finalizing the
agreed pathways and commitments.


 


In doing this the United Nations will have to draw in the voices, opinions, minds and aspirations of all people on earth. Dr. Rubens Harry Born of Vitae Civilis from Brazil reminds us
that often humans use different words to express the same feeling or action.
What is most important is not that we agree to the term itself but that there
is action to fulfill the aims this word is supposed to promote. When we look to
2012 and Rio+20 we need to start implementing a much more formal and
bureaucratic process, which is bottom up participatory. Further, the
representation of the current nine major groups is not enough to speak of the
world’s diverse people. At Rio+20 Born argues that the whole world should have
access to what takes place. With our advances in information communication
technologies there is no reason that anyone should be excluded. It is now
possible that those whose voices are most critical, but do not have the funding
support to get there, can now be given the connection to be seen and heard in
the most critical conversations that will take place this century.


 


Historically human societies have collapsed when the greedy use of resources exceeds the carrying capacity of the earth. The future threatens us with great insecurities, but humans also
have demonstrated resilience and endurance to rise above the challenge when
survival is at stake. The Rio+20 Summit needs to be viewed in both such
desperation and opportunities. However, planning cannot wait till 2012 and
needs to commence now and encompass the needs of all human groups in a way that
will create a sustainable and enjoyable future for everyone. For this
mindfulness needs to prevail and the Rio+20 Summit will create the required
impetus for a more conscious process of living and behaving on earth.


 


 


(Uchita de Zoysa is the author of ‘It has to be CLIMATE SUSTAINABILITY’ and convener of
the Climate Sustainability PLATFORM, chairman of Global Sustainability
Solutions and Executive Director of the Centre for Environment and Development.
He was a Steering Committee Member of the Global NGO Forum at the first Earth
Summit in 1992 and is International Advisory Board Member of the Stakeholder
Forum for Rio+20. This article was written as a firsthand witness to the 1st
PrepCom of the Rio+20 Summit held in New York recently. Please send your
comments to uchita@sltnet.lk) 


 

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