Join the Community Conversation! How can we develop common goals for environmental sustainability and poverty alleviation, without weakening our strategies?
On September 2, the Human Impacts Institute’s European Representative joined major European stakeholders attended the United Nation’s Environment Program (UNEP) Regional Consultation for Europe, in preparation for UNEP’s 12th Special Session of the Governing Council/Global Ministerial Environmental Forum, and 13th Session of the Global Major Groups and Stakeholders Forum. The opening statements emphasized the diversity of the 9 major groups represented, and posed the question: How can we come to a common statement without losing this diversity?
UNEP Youth Representative Sara Svensson, emphasized the need to be inclusive – regardless of being Europeans, to consider themselves citizens of the world. Jeremy Wates of the European Environmental Bureau (EEB) emphasized the widespread disappointment felt looking at our lack of progress in addressing environmental degradation and poverty alleviation, 20 years after the Rio Earth Summit. He highlighted the fact that the Millennium Development Goals are not on track, that there is an urgent sense that we are running out of time–which is worsened by a negative political mood–and much evidence that shows “sustainable development” is in decline. Wates also described how the current economic climate threatens both social and economic goals: Emissions may decline in a bad economy, but so does long-term planning in favor of short-term economic gains.
Looking forward to Rio+20, Wates emphasized the need for a “Sustainable Development Strategy (SDS)” as where heads of state work with stakeholders to achieve a 30% reduction in carbon emissions by 2030. In terms of emissions, Europe has made some advancement since the establishment of the Kyoto Protocol and can share legislative experience with other countries. However, Wates also emphasized that Europe must lead by example – as long as European per capita emissions are high, they cannot try to influence others. The current model is unsustainable, and an “eco-friendly lifestyle” is just not enough. Green and growth cannot go together. He called for a view beyond Gross Domestic Product (GDP), stronger governance at all levels, and that regulatory power is imperative for any effective change. This transferred over to the business sector, where Wates stressed that corporate social responsibility (CSR) cannot remain in the realm of suggestions and internal agreements, only legally binding documents will support a green economy and sustainable business.
Wates closed with a strong call for action at Rio+20, remarking, “Europe must maintain a leading role among developed countries.” The Rio Earth Summit in 1992 created a global framework for addressing sustainable development for two decades, and Rio+20 must do the same. According to Wates, particular emphasis must be made on:
- Protection of oceans
- Better regime for treatment of hazardous substances
- An overarching policy for dealing with chemicals
- Legal content
- Treaty on environmental assessment legislation
Next on the agenda, Special Advisor to UNEP Ms. Angela Cropper, stated that there is a need to champion member states that have shown initiatives, such as Kazakhstan on energy and the U.K. on the relationship between governments and business. She re-emphasized Wates view that Europe must not be seen as imposing greening economies before its sets its own affairs in order. She commented on the sense of frustration that was felt the previous day at the International Consultation, but to remember that social transformation, from women’s rights to apartheid, have all had difficult processes. She encouraged all to be like our ancestors and press on.
During the 3rd Session, Jangustav Strandenaes, Senior Advisor for ANPED, talked about the comparison of governing for the environment (International Environmental Governance–IEG) and governing for sustainable development (International Sustainable Development Governance–ISDG). He said that the emphasis needs to be on IEG since, “without a health environment, we don’t have anything.” In order to acheive this, Strandenaes called for greater UNEP support (financial and legislative) and for the establishment of a council on sustainable development.
After naming many of those who have made a difference throughout history, Strandenaes said that the difference to today is that there is an audience willing to listen. He underscored the need for individuals to be able to make informed choices and understand the consequences. He claimed that we have to get used to the idea that we will need quick actions but will see no quick return, but that we must start looking forward, towards Rio+32, not to the past.
Next, Leida Rijnhout, with the Northern Alliance for Sustainability, gave some more thoughts on the Green Economy, reinforcing the idea that growth is no longer possible. She stated that social equality was not just a want, but also a “social need” to ensure well-being of communities. She called for systematic change and transition across many areas, such as: ecological limits, product norms, maximum salaries, education, civil participation, among others. The importance of leadership and long-term thinking came out as necessary elements, as well as finding a way to implement a “limit to growth” or “prosperity without growth.”
Jeremy Wates again took the stage to talk about Agenda 21. He argued for the logic of having a global treaty, but that there is always the risk of powerful states blocking the text, and how it will be necessary to push through the opposition. He described how even the absence of major states is already a problem, and the question was raised on how to reach a global treaty without universal support.
The participants then split up into groups to craft a statement that would encompass the resulting document from the consultation. Amongst the major groups were Farmers, Business, NGO’s, Youth, Women, Workers, an Science and Technology. Under the rubric of ‘Governance’ and ‘Green Economy’ the statements were discussed and the process was undertaken to find a consensus to be drafted later in the day and elect representatives for further sessions.
By Mariana Orozco, 2011 Human Impacts Institute Environmental Leadership Intern and European Representative