Diana Bronson, ETC Group writing in the UN Non Governmental Liaison Services' first edition of its “Road to Rio” e-newsletter argues that Rioplus2012 could be our best opportunity to tackle the intertwined environmental, economic, food and climate crises, or it could be the launching pad for an unprecedented attack on the Earth’s natural systems and the most vulnerable populations on the planet.
She adds that there are two paths we could take: one relies on market mechanisms and technological fixes and will be led by bankers and engineers. The other relies on fostering greater global equality and democratic governance, and it will bring affected communities and countries into the centre of decision-making.
Reflecting on what has happened to the commitment on technology assessment, Diana reveals that back in 1992, Agenda 21 had a whole chapter (34) [link to http://www.un.org/esa/sustdev/documents/agenda21/english/Agenda21.pdf] on the transfer of environmentally sound technologies. Governments spoke about a programme of technology cooperation, improved access, capacity building, facilitating informed choices, even transferring patented technologies on non-commercial terms!
Two years after this, open trade, investment liberalization and structural adjustment became the table d’hôte of development policy and any remaining notions of government stewardship over markets or technology to ensure sustainability went out of fashion.
There has been an extremely rapid technological development – the internet, nanotechnology, genetic engineering, synthetic biology, genomics, geoengineering – each innovation more rapid, more astonishing and more obscure in its implications than the last. For example, Big Oil and the chemical industry have also begun serious investment in bio-based “renewables,” which will compete with food production, threaten biodiversity and will have potentially devastating implications for Southern countries where 86% of global “biomass” is located and where three-quarters of it, is regarded as ripe for commercialization.
Many of these new technologies are parading as “green.” Many of them are seeking accreditation under various market mechanisms such as carbon-offset schemes, thereby multiplying the financial stakes and the incentives for corruption. Corporate-sponsored think tanks make independent assessment hard to come by. And workers, local communities and indigenous people, when affected by their testing or deployment, have poor access to decision makers and little, if any, possibility for judicial recourse when things go wrong. They are affecting commodity prices, resource distribution, and manipulating the minutest elements of life – the DNA of the natural world. Their technical merits are unproven and their applicability to national needs is speculative, and yet, the industrial and financial interests backing them will posit them as essential to the Green Economy.
That means big subsidies and little regulation. The global South will be the guinea pig for testing these powerful technological packages as well as the source of the raw materials needed to keep the industrialized north powered up. The debacle of corn ethanol – which managed to increase hunger and greenhouse gas emissions while attracting massive subsidies by successfully portraying itself as a green solution – could be repeated many times over.
Diana then makes a worthwhile proposal: Rio+20 must break this pattern. Rio+20 should be the launching pad for inter-governmental negotiations on a new treaty – the International Convention for the Evaluation of New Technologies (ICENT). This treaty would have institutional mechanisms to identify new technologies requiring special scrutiny for their anticipated environmental or social risks, it would undertake ongoing evaluation and monitoring, and would share information about technologies, supporting their transfer and diffusion when warranted.
Read Diana Bronson's full article in the UN Non Governmental Liaison Services' first edition of its “Road to Rio” e-newsletter here