I support the vision of the German Government and UNEP itself: Rio 2012 will deliver a road map with bench marks and targets that will lead to a sustainable Green Economy by the middle of this century – earlier if possible.
But the USA and others are leading the charge to lower expectations of Rio 2012: they don’t see it as a Heads of State Summit. The US repeatedly tell us that President Obama will not be encouraged to come. The Brazilian hosts who, along with G-77, still have doubts about the Green Economy moniker, want heads of state to attend. The UN does too: so – they say – it is up to us in Civil Society to create such an unstoppable momentum around Rio 2012 that there will be a whole host of ‘announcables’ that Heads of State will simply have to turn up to announce.
That’s why it’s important that we use every opportunity we have to contribute to the negotiations. We know of three clear opportunities:
Contribute to the UN Secretary-General’s High-level Panel on Global Sustainability (GSP) - “to reflect on, and formulate, a new vision for sustainable growth and prosperity, along with mechanisms for achieving it.” A 17-point questionnaire which they are encouragining civil society to answer to feed into their Final Report which will be delivered late November 2011. Go to: www.environmentalgovernance.org/wp-content/uploads/2011/03/UN-NGLS-GSP-consultation-questionnaire.pdf Deadline for Input: 28 March 2011
Contribute to the EU Public Consultation: A 3 x Section, 13-point Questionnaire designed to provide the Commission with initial views from stakeholders for the Communication on the EU position on Rio 2012 which the Commission will publish expected in June 2011. Go to: http://ec.europa.eu/environment/consultations/un%5F2012.htm Deadline for input: April 10th 2011
Contribute to the UN Commission for Sustainable Development’s Zero Draft of the Rio 2012 Statement: Methodologies for submission not yet agreed – but contact: firstname.lastname@example.org for information on how to submit. Deadline for input: November 1st 2011
At the March Prepcom, we were reminded that any input you – or Civil Society - wishes to deliver on Rio 2012 must fall under the 5 x Main themes of the Summit: here they are, and here are my musings on them:
1. SECURING RENEWED POLITICAL COMMITMENT TO SUSTAINABLE DEVELOPMENT:
• At the heart of the political commitment to Sustainable Development must be a commitment to Intergenerational Justice. The second part of the Brundtland definition of Sustainable Development is the commitment ‘not to compromise the ability of future generations to meet their needs….’
The Baby boomers have landed younger generation with £1 trillion pounds of debt; in 1980, housing in London cost baby-boomers 3.5 times average earnings: today it's x 9. In the 1960s, baby-boomers were paid equivalent of £4.5k p/a to go to university. Next year you will pay £9k p/a for the same privilege.
Today’s youth feel, not unreasonably, that the baby boomer generation care little for how their needs are met: the use of language about Intergenerational Justice, backed up by commitments to the politics of long-termism, renewables and resource efficiency are essential to persuade a sceptical youth population of their governments commitment to Sustainability.
• Governments would be smart to abandon the language of Sustainable Development. Civil Society has struggled to get the public to understand and mobilise behind this phrase for 20 years – and it hasn’t worked. The language of the “Green Economy” is much easier to grasp, more attractive, and thus a better media narrative. G-77 governments must understand this – and use the language that will bring them the sustainable development they want and the long term environmental sustainability their countries need.
• To demonstrate their ‘renewed commitment,’ governments must re-visit their Agenda 21 commitments – and re-commit to them, accelerating their commitment to achieve them. One of the simplest is the commitment to ‘re-orient education towards sustainable development.’ Any new ‘Focussed Political Statement’ coming out of Rio 2012 must commit to organising education so that young people emerging from their schooling with a rich and detailed understanding of their generational challenges to build the green, non-polluting, post-carbon energy infrastructure, to prevent global warming, and to remove the blight of poverty from our world.
• Second: Governments must show that commitment by removing perverse subsidies and introducing green taxes – making it more expensive to live unsustainably in the brown economy – and cheaper to consume goods produced by the Green Economy. Pricing mechanisms are a key part of the architecture of the transition to the Green Economy – and the first step along that road must be to reduce – then phase out completely – all perverse subsidies of the Brown Economy. Only governments can do this – and, in a time of low tax revenues, one would have thought they would want to. However, the UN must introduce some systems of compulsion as retention of perverse subsidies and the absence of green taxes will sustain the Brown Economy long beyond its sell-by date – and tip the world into greater poverty, extremes of weather due to global warming, depleted fish stocks, massive profits for oil companies and thus more widespread corruption in governance, and increased distortion in farm markets;
• Alongside such taxes and phasing out of subsidies, governments must set up large investment funds for the building of the Green Economy infrastructure;
• Finally, governments must lay out a Vision of the clean, green post-brown economy prosperous society. They must promote it as the way that all economies must move – if only because peak production of fossil fuels is upon us, and resource efficiency is the new imperative. So – they should articulate that attractive, compelling vision of the future, and map out the way that they plan to move their nation and their people towards it.
2. ASSESSING PROGRESS TOWARDS INTERNATIONALLY AGREED COMMITMENTS:
• This is the proper work of the CSD and think tanks, university departments and individual consultants that they may hire. With over 500 MEAs, it is impossible for Civil Society to contribute in any meaningful way to such assessments. This needs to be done by development professionals. However, we, in the youth sector, are inviting teachers and students to express their opinions in wide-ranging surveys on Agenda 21 commitments: we shall be pleased to share these with the bureau – but only as background context to their rigourous, quantitative research. Such context is sometimes instructive: For example: we find it interesting that, in regular surveys, the US public express the belief that their government contributes 10-15% of its budget to Overseas Aid. When told that the actual figure is 0.01%, they express disbelief! Our surveys will provide similar perhaps surprising perceptions.
3. ADDRESSING NEW AND EMERGING CHALLENGES:
• The main challenge to have emerged since 1992 is that of climate change. The implications of catastrophic climate change are far worse than feared – and its dangers have captured the public’s and the media’s imaginations. However, the failure of the COP process to deliver concrete results means that the climate change issue is now ‘damaged goods’: it is clear that both governments and civil society are drawing back from using the language of climate change and using the language of green economy instead. This is a wise way to treat this emerging issue – as the solutions of Cap and Trade, and carbon capture and sequestration are expensive, complex to manage, and far from proven technologically. The Green Economy / Sustainable Development approach neatly cuts the Gordian knot of climate change negotiations which many believe are going nowhere.
• Another huge challenge is youth unemployment: 43% in Spain – and double/triple the general rate almost everywhere. With over a billion young people coming on to the job market in the next decade and around 300m jobs awaiting them, this massive waste of human resources is set to get much worse. And, as recent events in Tunisia and Egypt have proved, it is a tinderbox of danger for societies world wide. As Bill Reese, CEO of the Intl. Youth Foundation put it, we have to ‘Open the Windows of hope to the younger generation….’ – give them some optimism about their future, or we face a bleak, embittered generation who will never deliver the prosperity that a Green Economy could provide.
• Uncertainty about Peak Oil and the amount of fossil fuels that can be burned before we release sufficient carbon to trigger catastrophic climate change is an issue that has emerged quite recently: there have been stories of political pressure affecting the scientific conclusions of the IEG. If true, this has to be stopped. Also, we are told that burning just 60% of the world’s known fossil fuel reserves would tip the atmosphere over the 2 degree threshold of catastrophic climate change. If that is true, why are we allowing the fossil fuel companies to prospect for new reserves? The global family must be given the best science possible, unfettered by political considerations to allow us all to move forward, in a consensus, to the Green Economy that must replace the Brown one in this century.
• Terrorism and conflict: by far the biggest obstacle to development – sustainable or any other sort – is war and conflict. Terrorism has emerged these last 20 years as the major thorn in the flesh of many societies. Government, and perhaps more – civil society – must take steps to root it out. Faith communities can lead. Teachers have an important role to play. But governments must re-double their efforts to resolve festering conflicts, make new and deeper commitments to de-militarisation, dismantle their nuclear arsenals etc. – and prepare for collective, global security systems.
4. GREEN ECONOMY IN THE CONTEXT OF POVERTY ERADICATION AND SUSTAINABLE DEVELOPMENT:
This is the defining vision of Rio 2012 – and it is a brilliant, attractive one. However, it needs some fleshing out. For the Youth Sector, who will be largely responsible for populating and leading the companies and governments who will build the Green Economy over the next 40-50 years, the priority is training – both technical and attitudinal. A green economy needs green business skills: business schools must take steps to identify and teach these. Also – youth need enhanced entrepreneurial skills: the World Bank call for, “Young people need to be trained, not to seek a job – but to create ten jobs…” Initiatives like the one that splices experiential business trainings on to a High School 6th Form so that some students leave, not just with a paper certificate, but an operational small company, is one that should be promoted more widely. Green Entrepreneurship must form part of the road map to the Green Economy.
And governments and civil society must use the very best media and public relations specialists to promote it effectively: we are convinced that it will prove a much more attractive, accessible concept for the general public than the weirdly convoluted phrase: “Sustainable Development” – (which was always a semantic contradiction.) The idea that business as usual brown economic growth will turn into a downward spiral of recession and decline as fossil rocket in price and run out must become embedded public knowledge; likewise the understanding that Green Growth is likely to be faster, create more jobs, and avoid the twin threats of expanding poverty and climate change – must be promoted to the General public. While not diminishing the complexity, and diversity of methodologies inherent in the building, of a Green Economy – the public must be made to feel that this way lies their future. And it is a prosperous one.
The UNEP definition of a Green Economy (“one that improves human well-being and social equity while significantly reducing environmental risks and ecological scarcities…”) - must be used and expanded to convince doubters in the South that a Green Economy is NOT a protectionist plot to further separate the rich North from the poorer South. Rather, the growth promised by a Green Economy is likely to favour the Solar Rich South: and any whiff of green protectionism must be stamped out by instructions to the WTO. Developing countries that continue to promote, subsidise and cling to the Brown Economy must face the costs and opprobrium that will accrue to all who do – but the incentives must be set in place by the investment community and international donors that will encourage LDCs and other disadvantaged parts of the world to leapfrog tired, outdated Brown Economy models straight to the clean, resource efficient Green Economy technologies.
5. INSTITUTIONAL FRAMEWORK FOR SUSTAINABLE DEVELOPMENT:
We are not much convinced that international legislation is going to deliver the Green Economy or a safer environment. UNEP is fine as it is: converting it into a UNEO is not, in my opinion, going to prevent future Bhopals or Chernobyls or Fukishamas happening. It would be nice to think that governments would pass laws to ensure that polluters would genuinely pay to restore landscapes to how they were before they started stripping out the tar sands oil, or surface mineral mines, or polluting river systems with cyanide-laced tailings: but even if they did pass such laws – companies seem to find a way around them. Easier just to price products produced in such ways out of the reach of customers who might buy them – and create an atmosphere in which companies that operate in that way are perceived as the dinosaurs of the Brown Economy – headed for the abattoir of history.
The one element of Institutional Framework we would like the UN to consider is a better representation of Youth within its systems. Young people will be the builders and beneficiaries of the Green Economy. They will also be the victims if society fails to build it in the first half of the 21st Century. So – the UN should develop its capacity to advise governments on successful youth policy, training, empowerment and motivation. The current 3-4 person Youth Dept. within DESA is woefully inadequate – and, though some excellent work has been done in pushing the Inter-agency Committee on Youth and Development to weave together the activities of the different UN agencies that focus upon youth, I would like to see the UN do for Youth what it has already done for Women: draw together the different youth programmes of the different agencies under the leadership of a new U-S-G who would champion effective youth policies to member states and other UN agencies. In this way, the massive demographic youth bulge currently passing through the world’s least-developed countries can be exploited to economic advantage, not wasted – or, as we have seen in North Africa, become a security risk.
The abject failure of the UN and its member states properly to manage and exploit the opportunity of the UN International Year of Youth is just the latest example of the low priority afforded to youth by most governments: Rio 2012 – and its institutional reform programme – offers another opportunity for Member States to fill this massive institutional vacuum at the heart of the UN – and draw in the energy, talent and idealism of that 51% of the world’s population who are under 25.