By Making It on 24 February, 2012
Mary Robinson aims to put justice for the poor and the forgotten at the heart of the climate debate and to empower the marginalized to achieve sustainable and people-centred development
The year 2012 brings with it fresh opportunities to reframe action on climate change in a positive light – to focus on the benefits – economic, social and environmental – of a low carbon green economy. 2012 is UN Year of Sustainable Energy for All and, in the middle of the year, all eyes will focus on Rio – 20 years on from the World Conference on Sustainable Development – when we will have a long hard look at how we have developed, who has benefited, and at what cost. Rio+20 provides an opportunity to look at how we can all grow and prosper, without overstretching our limited natural resources and without compromising the lives of many, for the benefit of a few. We need to mould economic, social and environmental development into a new model of inclusive development.
My approach to these issues is encapsulated in the climate justice approach I am dedicated to, and which my Foundation, the Mary Robinson Foundation – Climate Justice (MRFCJ), is committed to delivering. Climate justice links human rights and development to achieve a human-centred approach, safeguarding the rights of the most vulnerable, and sharing the burdens and benefits of climate change, and its resolution, equitably and fairly.
In the context of the next industrial revolution, it will be critical to ensure that benefits are shared equitably and fairly. Developing countries, and marginalized communities within these countries, must be enabled to actively participate in and benefit from the next wave of economic growth and opportunity. In many ways, developing countries have an advantage – as they are starting with a clean slate. They will be building infrastructure for the first time, rather than retrofitting. They are embarking on new fiscal and development policies, which can deliver a climate resilient, low-carbon economy. And they have growing, young, and increasingly educated populations to power this green economic revolution.
There is an urgent need to capture this potential now, so that developing countries can be part of the supply-side solutions, and part of the innovation and creativity that will inform a new wave of growth. Developing countries should not be mere consumers of green technology – they need to be empowered to be the engineers, designers, producers and marketers of the technologies that respond to their needs and facilitate their growth. This requires us to do things differently, to make brave investment choices, and to see the potential of innovators and entrepreneurs in developing countries. Business as usual will not do it, and we should see 2012 as the year where we make the choice to change direction, embrace opportunity, and bring some new actors onto the scene.
We cannot assume that green technologies and policies will trickle down to benefit the poor and marginalized. Specific, targeted approaches will be needed to bring those at the bottom of the economic pyramid into the green economy – to enable them to contribute to and to reap the economic and social benefits of inclusive green growth. Without a doubt, the billions of people without access to modern forms of energy constitute a significant potential market for clean energy – but market forces alone will not deliver what they need. We need to work in real partnerships with developing country policymakers, researchers, and entrepreneurs to design energy solutions to complement and safeguard livelihoods, to improve social well-being, and to provide opportunity.
Women will be key users, and hopefully designers, of green technology, and can make a significant contribution to sustainable green growth. The World Development Report 2012 reminds us that “women now represent 40% of the global labour force, 43% of the world’s agricultural labour force, and more than half the world’s university students.” Capturing this contribution would boost productivity and drive the green economy – “eliminating barriers that discriminate against women working in certain sectors or occupations could increase labour productivity by as much as 25% in some countries.”
In addition, women have a great sense of inter-generational equity, seeing life in terms of not just their lives, but those of their children and grandchildren. Harnessing this ability for long-term planning, with the productive value of their contribution to economic life, would provide a powerful engine for sustainable low-carbon and climate-resilient growth.
With this in mind, I am working to harness women’s leadership from the grassroots to the international level to maximize the potential of women as agents of change, innovators, investors, and entrepreneurs. To enable this we need to provide women with access to education and credit, active participation at all levels of decision-making, and the chance to have their contribution valued. We have an opportunity to make 2012 the year we finally register the fact that women and men will power the next industrial revolution, and that inclusive sustainable development means investing for the long term, while making sure benefits flow to the vulnerable and marginalized. We have many untapped resources, and I am not just talking about wind and waves!
If we start to value the things we take for granted, everything from the power of the sun to the contribution of women to society – we will be able to power a new inclusive sustainable future for ourselves and, most importantly, for our children and grandchildren.