By Social Watch
The Arab Spring gave this region’s civil society fresh tools to contribute to the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development (Rio2012). “The Arab peoples’ revolutions and uprisings which erupted first in Tunisia in December 2010 reflect the interlink between sustainable development, democratic governance, and freedom,” noted the Arab NGO Network for Development (ANND) in the paper it submitted to the preparatory process of the meeting.
The Agenda 21 approved by the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (1992) “highlighted the nexus between sustainable development and democratic governance in order to protect human rights, to protect citizenship and to build the state of rights and the rule of law,” remarks the ANND report.
This submission was prepared in cooperation with the Issam Fares Institute for Public Policies and International Affairs and the Mediterranean Information Office for Environment, Culture and Sustainable Development, and in coordination with the UN Economic and Social Commission for West Asia and the Regional Office for West Asia for the UN Environmental Program.
These are some excerpts from this comprehensive report:
On “green economy”
Any consensus on the concept of the ‘Green Economy’ should fully integrate the previously established consensus on Sustainable Development. […] Steps should be taken to ensure that the ‘Green Economy’ concept does not become a step backwards from the initial commitments to Agenda 21, even as it strives to encompass a new approach to presenting the global sustainability problematic. This cannot be achieved without a wider understanding of sustainable development, which encompasses a revision of the overall production and consumption trends in the world today, and to which rights, equity, fairness, and common but differentiated responsibilities are central.
This would necessitate re-orienting investment, trade, and finance policies to focus on these objectives, including harnessing regional cooperation on these fronts towards increasing production and demand at the regional level.
The implications of the crisis
Such an approach is crucial in terms of working towards recovering from the current financial and economic crisis, including restoring growth in the employment markets and generation of decent jobs, as well as the stability in the markets of basic products.
The global economy already suffers from production and consumption patterns that unsustainably exploit natural resources, leading to serious environmental and ecological problems and exacerbating inequalities among the peoples of the world. […] Problems such as climate change, soil degradation, and water scarcity emerged as global threats to biodiversity, food sovereignty and security, and livelihoods of various communities around the world, and overall right to development.
The importance of water resources
Of all natural resources, water is the most strategic, and its mismanagement threatens the world’s population. Energy efficiency, water security and food security are closely intertwined and cannot be viewed separately. This issue is pressing the arid Arab Region, where most countries’ water supply depends on expensive energy-intensive processes
The question of inequality
It is essential to re-evaluate existing policies and trade agreements that contradict the concept of Sustainable Development and address the structural imbalance of power distribution in the global economy that is tilted to privilege the few. For example, international trade rules should not be used as tools to fight against public support directed towards developing alternative energy sources and technologies, nor for trade protectionism, nor blocking the use of new ‘environmental’ technologies by developing country peoples.
The role of the states
Poverty incidence is rising in the Arab region, along other developing countries, while economic growth is being achieved in many of the same countries. Poverty is being manifested more viciously among rural populations whose livelihoods often depend on agriculture. […] Developing countries have often prioritized integration in the global economy through trade and investment liberalization, borrowing, expansion for privatization deals and public-private partnerships, overall economic deregulation, and over-focus on macro-economic stability.
Concurrently, national productive capacities have been marginalized along with the national development project generally, which includes addressing inequalities, empowering people through employment generation and wages, and establishing comprehensive rights-based social plans. This further weakened developing countries, increasing their dependence on food imports, and exacerbating their vulnerability to external shocks. Accordingly, we saw countries achieve economic growth, while poverty, unemployment, and inequities were on the rise.
The limits of such an approach were laid bare during the people’s revolutions in the Arab region. Indeed, economic and social policies defined from the top-down have often only been exacerbating inequalities, poverty, and unemployment, while economic growth numbers were overstated by oil-exports, without proper re-distribution policies and mechanisms or local empowerment.
What to expect from Rio2012
The Rio+20 process and Summit offer an important opportunity to revive the focus of Sustainable Development. […] Intraregional and intra-thematic coordination and cooperation on sustainable development should be improved among regional commissions and international funds, programmes, agencies, and development banks, in coordination with United Nations institutions.
Any implementation requires policies and mechanisms that ensure the involvement of local stakeholders, represented in various forms of civil society groups and constituency groups, including women, indigenous people, and people with special abilities, who are empowered to make and implement decisions that often concern them primarily.
We highly recommend the establishment of “Sustainable Development Council”, on par with such other [UN] institutions as the Security Council, the Human Rights Council, and the Economic and Social Council. This international governance body will have the authority to monitor the implementation of Sustainable Development initiatives of member states, where its resolutions are binding, and legitimacy and authority cannot be broken by politically powerful states.
Read the full Submission presented by the Arab NGO Network for Development (Beirut) to the Zero Draft Rio + 20 Document