Adopted from the article ‘Time to act is late’ in The Samoa Observer (July 22, 2011)
Rio+20 has taken green economy the priority for its review next year 2012. However, NGOs/CSOs are very concerned that defining Green Economy is still a process in progress.
The ‘UNEP Green Economy Report 2011’states; “a green economy is one that results in improved human well-being and social equity, while significantly reducing environmental risks and ecological scarcities….. In a green economy, growth in income and employment should be driven by public and private investments that reduce carbon emissions and pollution, enhance energy and resource efficiency, and prevent the loss of biodiversity and ecosystem services.”
While the definition is attractive and strategically includes some key words echoed by the different interests of the world, it is noticeable that they continue to forge growth and efficiency as the way forward. This makes us pause, wonder, and ask: Are the same people and institutions responsible for the suffering of the world’s poor behind defining the green economy? A Green Economy should be to replace the current economic order of inequity, destruction and greed!
Sustainable Economy should be an economic system that ensures social equity, protects the ecological balance and creates economic sufficiency. The core idea of a Green Economy should be to enforce sustainability, specifically the wellbeing of all people and the biodiversity of Earth’s ecosystems.
The green economy must be derived from and rooted in the spirit, objectives, principles and operationalising of UNCED 1992, and especially the Rio Principles and Agenda 21. The main framework of UNCED 1992, its related agreements and its follow-up processes is to integrate the environment with development together - a unique achievement which has to be preserved and advanced. Not detracted or diverted from.
The conference in 2012 to mark the 20th anniversary of the Rio Summit is meant to review the implementation of the Rio outcomes on the extent to which the sustainable development objectives have been met, identify the implementation gaps and propose measures for the way forward. As the “green economy” concept is being discussed as part of this process, it must be placed integrally within this holistic framework of UNCED, the Rio Principles and Agenda 21. The green economy should have as its basis the environmental imperative, the development (economic and social) imperative and the equity principle that links the environment and development dimensions.
A Green Economy should ensure social justice and equity, protects the ecological balance and creates economic sufficiency. It should replace the current economic order, which is based on inequity, environmental destruction and greed, which has resulted in keeping nearly half the world’s population in poverty, and has brought the planet to the point of a severe environmental catastrophe through climate change. The core imperative of a Green Economy must be poverty alleviation, environmental sustainability, enhancing biodiversity and the well-being of all the people.
Today, those who have created the ecological crisis talk of the Green Economy in the light of appropriating the remaining resources of the planet for profit, from seed and biodiversity, to land and water, to environmental services we provide.
In our view, putting a price on nature is no solution, because it isn’t a commodity and must not distort the basic principles of sustainable development. For NGOs/CSOs, the privatization and commodification of nature, her species, her ecosystems, and her ecosystem services cannot be part of a Green Economy, for such an approach fails to take into account our traditions, our cultural values, our spiritual connectivity to nature, our indigenous references, our lives. The resources of the Earth are for the welfare of all, not the profits of a few.
Sharing our vital resources equitably and using them sustainably for livelihoods and basic needs is at the heart of our concept of a Green Economy. Our rich knowledge of biodiversity, our ecologically sustainable agriculture, and our crafts techniques are free of fossil fuels and toxics.
They generate creative and dignified livelihoods and they provide the basis for poverty alleviation. We stand committed to peace in our region and to strengthening these life-giving traditions. We commit ourselves to defending the ecological integrity of our region — our mountains and rivers, our land and oceans, our natural forests, biodiversity and seeds. We commit ourselves to creating prosperity and peace through the Green Economy that protects and enriches our natural and cultural
We commit ourselves to equity and to defending vital resources, like forests, seed and biodiversity, rivers and water, lands, air we breathe, oceans, as a commons.
Current governance structures for both the environment and agriculture in the UN system suffer from a lack of coordination among institutions, a lack of effective representation for most governments, and an absence of involvement of civil society and social movements. Rio+20 offer an opportunity to strengthen democracy and peoples’ participation within the UN system.
Green economies must be based upon appropriate use of biodiversity to meet human needs and safeguard planetary systems. It must be delivered through inclusive transparent systems. Civil society welcome the strengthening and formation of diverse, locally-centered, socially accepted, culturally sensitive, and ecologically appropriate green economies and encourage communities and countries to actively explore this important goal. Green economy must depend on national circumstances and should be broad, flexible and adaptable to the needs of countries at different levels of development and with differing national capabilities.
However, in the absence so far of careful intergovernmental debate and extensive people’s involvement, the idea that a sustainable “Green Economy” is the means to harness and develop the biological and other natural resources of the countries like those in our Pacific region supporting its peoples and protecting the planet, could as some people have advocated, turn into the most massive resource grab in more than 500 years, especially our customary lands. This Pacific meeting must caution against this demise and ensure that these public goods remain in the ownership and management of the rightful customary owners and not stolen by foreign investors in the name of development.
Civil Society join others in calling for the rekindling of the ‘Spirit of Rio’ through this process, bringing on broad diverse actors and establishing renewed political commitment and trust. Fundamental to this spirit is the reassertion of the three pillars of sustainable development - environmental protection, economic growth, and social equity. And for us in the Pacific, a fourth pillar in cultural respect and its enhancement. The pivotal importance of equity cannot be stressed enough.
The green economy should not equate to the privatization of nature, natural assets, our cultural lands. It should not result in new trade and financial conditionalities. Rather, it should be broad enough to accommodate a diversity of socially and culturally acceptable approaches. The patterns of production and consumption have remained unchanged since Rio. Developed countries must take the lead in developing sustainable patterns of production and consumption, respecting the principle of common but differentiated responsibility.
Many stress that inadequate financial support for developing countries has hindered their ability to achieve sustainable development. Though some developed countries have significantly increased their ODA contributions, others continue to lag behind and it is clear that the continued indebtedness of developing countries makes it difficult for them to take positive steps towards sustainable development. Mechanisms must be in place to enhance accountability of developed countries to meet their finance commitments as the financial deficit is huge given what was promised in Rio.
There are multiple challenges occurring on a global level. Global financial and economic insecurity, food and energy crises, water security, climate change - all these multiple crises is making it difficult for countries to respond effectively and fundamental in failing to achieve sustainable development.
Climate change highlights a particular challenge to the achievement of sustainable development, as future projected climate change impacts will severely compromise the ability of many countries to meet development outcomes - this is especially relevant in the case for our Small Island Developing States in our Pacific region.
The valuation of ecosystems plays an important role in emphasizing the full costs of the destruction and degradation of nature, as well as providing benefits and incentives for protecting the natural resource base. However, civil society cannot accept that the concept of ecosystem services will lead to the ‘commoditization’ and ‘marketization’ of natural resources, as unregulated market forces have been a major contributing factor to environmental degradation.
Nature is a system in which we all live, not an object with a market value.
Green development must be holistic and should integrate culture & identity of indigenous peoples. Corporate accountability and regulation of the market are crucial for a new sustainable development paradigm delivered through a human rights-based and ecosystems approach. Environmental and social costs of production must be internalized, and the precautionary principle and polluter pay principle implemented.
On institutional framework, the CSOs support the strengthening of the CSD which must remain central and allowed to better fulfill its fundamental roles and orientation to include reviewing and monitoring progress in the implementation of Agenda 21, ensuring coherence in the UN system and fulfillment of commitments to support developing countries implement Agenda 21. A reform of UNEP is a way forward preferred to creating another new institution. There should also be an assessment of the actual and potential impacts of trade, financial, and economic policies on sustainable development.
NGOs are concerned that there are major accountability and institutional crises facing the international community today which cannot be ignored but must be at the heart of the Rio discussions in 2012. Unless the accountability crisis, lack of political will, and commitments of governments to deliver concrete actions is addressed, any benefits from institutional reconfiguration will be diluted. We also need to go beyond CSD and UNEP and address reforming and renewing the sustainable development mandate of the entire UN and multilateral system, including WTO and Bretton Woods.
We need to move away from strengthening of international institutional framework to a revolutionary process that addresses not only governance & accountability crises, but the crises of food security, energy efficiency, and climate change. Sustainable development requires all 3 pillars to be mutually supportive for an authoritative environmental voice to coordinate MEAs, set environmental agendas across UN system, align policy and finance, and a greater coordination between national and international governance.
Finally for the Pacific, a “blue” consciousness on an integrative ocean governance engaging the youth is pivotal in future leadership implementing international environmental governance seen as a key factor in moving the sustainable development agenda towards achieving a truly significant ocean outcome at Rio+20. Given the challenges that oceans, coastal areas, and small islands developing States like many in the Pacific face as a result of climate change, it is now imperative that we scale up our ecosystems based management and integrated coastal management efforts.
A major challenge will be how to extend the practice of integrated governance to the 64% of the ocean that lies beyond national jurisdiction. Management of marine areas beyond national jurisdiction is sector-based and fragmented, making it very difficult to address inter-connected issues such as fishing, extraction of genetic resources, maritime transportation, pollution, offshore oil and gas development, marine scientific research, climate change, carbon sequestration and storage.
There is now no doubt that climate change is the defining issue of our time, and the global ocean plays a central role in climate. Oceans generate oxygen, absorb carbon dioxide and regulate climate and temperature. Just as you cannot do without a healthy heart and lungs, the world cannot do without a healthy ocean. Geo-engineering technologies being developed by some rich countries and companies as ‘solutions’ to climate change must respect the precautionary approach and ocean fertilization in particular must be rejected by this Pacific meeting.
Coastal populations in many Pacific coastal countries and island states are already experiencing disproportionate impacts from ocean warming, sea level rise, extreme weather events, and ocean acidification. Strangely, oceans and coasts have not, until recently, figured on the agenda of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change. Sadly, as someone has articulated, the UNFCCC negotiators have looked at oceans and coastal concerns as a “sector-nuisance.”
The “green economy” and the “blue economy” are still hazy concepts and a roadmap of how to achieve them is not clear. On the subject of International environmental governance, so far this is being addressed in a very incremental way with minor tinkering of the existing system rather than a fundamental shift. However, we are in a new era in which climate change effects inexorably usher a situation of higher risk and tipping points.
Changes in ocean chemistry, temperatures and currents, effects on coastal communities, and widespread displacement of coastal communities all pose prominent risks of disaster. We are in a “struggle for survival.” Those of us wishing to help the governments involved in the Rio+20 process to move the agenda forward must keep the visions alive and have the confidence in our leadership to know that our actions will matter.
As we join together for Rio+20, we must conduct our work with a great sense of urgency.
A changing climate and continuing loss of biodiversity, represent for land, water, and oceans a powerfully negative combination that threatens our very human well-being and planetary survival. The need to create and act upon a new vision of a low-carbon economy and a new “blue society” where people act as stewards of our oceans and coasts is a compelling imperative.
The time to act to genuinely achieve sustainable development is 20 years late!