HAVANA TIMES, Nov. 6 (IPS) — Unless civil society activists launch their own program of action at the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development in Rio de Janeiro next summer (Jun. 4-6), the event will be little more than an expensive talkfest.
That is because government delegates at the conference will not address the matter of reorienting the world economy, a task the United Nations has acknowledged is essential to deal with the growing crisis of environment sustainability.
The secretary-general’s report submitted earlier this year to the committee preparing for the conference noted that to succeed in “fundamentally shifting consumption and production patterns onto a more sustainable path”, public policy would have to extend “well beyond ‘getting prices right'”.
However, it did not say what specific policy measures would be necessary. Indeed, nowhere in the massive body of documentation the United Nations has produced since it convened the first Environment Conference in 1972 can we find a single analysis of that issue.
Agenda 21, the voluminous action plan adopted at the 1992 “Earth Summit” in Rio, did not deal with the matter, and the Commission on Sustainable Development that has overseen its implementation for most of two decades has not considered it. The U.N.’s World Economic Survey earlier this year estimated the cost of “greening” the world economy at 72 trillion dollars without spelling out a specific process.
These lacunae reflect an inescapable contemporary political reality, the power of the giant corporations that run the world economy. They have established existing global patterns of production and consumption with the singular aim of maximizing their own profits, and strongly oppose accommodations to constrain negative social and environmental effects.
For 17 years, from the 1970s into the 1980s, the United Nations tried without success to negotiate a Code of Conduct for transnational corporations. In the subsequent decade, the U.N. tried a softer approach, inviting corporations to join a Global Compact for voluntary compliance with a set of environmental and human rights standards.
Fewer than 5,000 of the 60,000 corporations with annual revenues over one billion dollars have joined the Global Compact; even that minuscule figure inflates their participation, for it includes small and medium enterprises, many from developing countries.
During this continuing standoff, environmental problems have assumed crisis proportions. Pollution and habitat loss are now driving species to extinction at a rate not seen since the dinosaurs disappeared. Over the last decade, extreme weather patterns that scientists associate with global warming have caused unprecedented natural disasters in countries around the world.
Unless the warming is stopped, scientists project significant shifts in patterns of precipitation and aridity, with major implications for agricultural productivity. If nothing is done about global warming, we could be facing an era of turf wars that could destroy any semblance of international law and order.
Despite these frightening prospects, few governments are willing to take on corporate interests: with world population set to reach 10 billion by 2050, official policy makers have no stomach for confrontations that could upset the applecart of current benefits from corporate globalization. Poverty reduction and job creation are their immediate and most urgent priorities.
In this scenario, civil society activists are uniquely capable of fashioning a safe exit strategy. They know the nature and scope of environmental problems, and the Internet and the Worldwide Web have given them unprecedented capacity to network globally.
If they combine that with a local capacity for effective action – the easiest way would be by allying with entrepreneurs running small and medium enterprises – they could create a powerful and flexible mechanism capable of mapping, monitoring and addressing environmental issues while promoting eco-friendly economic activity at local and regional levels.
Overall, that would gradually move the world economy from global exchanges massively wasteful of energy and other resources to much more efficient regional and sub-regional patterns of activity. Such change would be minimally disruptive of wealth and jobs creation; indeed, as small and medium enterprises are far more labor-intensive than the behemoths that now control the world economy, we could see an uptick in employment, consumer demand and socially equitable growth.
Also on the plus side, there would be no need for governments to negotiate common standards for nations and communities widely unequal in wealth and technical capacity. With decision-making and action entirely in the hands of national and sub-national authorities, the global network would become a strong mechanism of international solidarity, extending technical and financial support, coordinating action where necessary, and disseminating best practices.
To initiate this process, activists should go to the Rio+20 Conference prepared to agree on a Manifesto and Action Plan outlined in the following draft.
Rio+20 Activist Manifesto
Activists gathered at the Rio+20 Conference in June 2012 are convinced of the need for urgent action to reorient the world economy towards more sustainable patterns of production and consumption. We aim to do so while enhancing the global creation of wealth and decent employment in an inclusive frame of freedom, full enjoyment of fundamental human rights, and support for weak and vulnerable sections of the world’s people.
To those ends, we intend to create a global network supporting and drawing support from a new form of community level organization formed by the alliance of environmental and social activists and business entrepreneurs. We call upon the world’s governments and peoples to support this initiative and contribute to its processes.
Within the framework of the aims and values expressed in the Manifesto activists at the Rio+20 Conference agree to do the following:
1. Network: Activists will create a global electronic network arranged in an easily accessible hierarchy (local, national, regional, global), to facilitate sharing of information, interactive discussion, and concerted action.
2. Organize: Activists will work with entrepreneurs running small and medium businesses to establish community-level organizations for cooperative action. These organizations will be the basic units of the global network and will have two primary aims, environmental protection and accelerate economic growth at the local, sub-regional and regional levels.
3. Survey and Monitor: The network will share the best available expertise in national and international agencies, with the U.N. Environment Program playing a coordinating role. Activists will begin a global environmental survey based on community-level feedback, creating a permanent monitoring system to provide real time status reports for consideration by government policy-makers at the national, regional and global levels
4. Analyze: On the basis of the information collected, a panel of governmental experts working with the network will create a technical plan of action setting out the remedial and preventive measures to address all global environmental issues. Implementation of the plan will be by community-level action wherever possible, with governments and international agencies providing financial and technical capacity.
5. Educate and Mobilize: The community level organizations and their networks will engage in educating and mobilizing popular support for environmental action.
These steps should create a global apparatus capable of monitoring damage to the natural environment from human activity and taking remedial action. That process should reorient the full range of economic activities to eco-friendly patterns and create the general public awareness and support for continuing action.
*Bhaskar Menon has four decades of experience in covering the United Nations and edits www.Undiplomatictimes.com.