Rio+20: The need for a political framework for a green economy

At the end of the last Prep Com in Rio there is still no substance or clarification on the concept of Green Economy. We believe that apart from the necessary debate about implied principles and values we need concrete policy approaches that show what we actually mean with this term.

We are the guardians of all future generations of life on earth. The consequences of our decisions have greater and longer-term consequences than ever before. The interlinked crises now endangering our shared future are accelerating. They threaten all our achievements, plans and hopes. Rio Earth Summit 2012 must therefore go beyond Member States reasserting their commitments from the 1992 Rio Declaration.

We are often told that we cannot change our world – or human nature. Yet both are changed all the time. New norms, technologies and lifestyles spread across continents. Public attitudes shift. Culture is not static, but adapts and evolves continually, as does human consciousness. We are also told that the reforms required to safeguard our shared future are too costly. This is wrong. Whatever a society can do, it can also finance. Only political and public will is needed. In Rio decision makers can take this ’once in a generation’ opportunity to take action.

Filling the concept of Green Economy in the context of sustainable development with life is the key step forward. The concept carries the promise of a new economic growth paradigm that does not harm the earth’s ecosystems and can also contribute to poverty alleviation. It remains to be seen if this is merely a new label masking business-as-usual, or if it will finally deliver the necessary transformational change. Only collective action can achieve results on this.

So far negotiations again confirmed that governments have failed since Rio 1992. Trillions of dollars of costs externalised at the expense of nature and of future generations now have to be accounted for. Much of what is today calculated as economic “assets” and “wealth” will disappear once these costs are internalised. Economic “growth” is fast becoming uneconomic growth, increasingly spent on damage repair and prevention. In a world of growing scarcities, violent conflicts will multiply, as will economic and environmental refugees. The impact will be the hardest on the most vulnerable people and countries. However, this time, nobody will be unaffected. The current global (dis)order, with its rules and regulations, training and qualification systems, and its foreign, security, development, transport, economic and innovation policies, is based on premises that are rapidly disappearing. We now need to re-connect with our earth and our shared future: To create the Future We Want.

We believe that humanity is capable of rising to this challenge if we act now. One immediate answer lies in binding legislation, identifying the best and most effective laws and policies from around the world, adapting them, and implementing them rapidly across the planet. History proves that there is no faster way to make change happen than through binding legislation. Laws are both the harbingers and fruits of the change of heart, mind and conduct we need today to save our planet and ourselves. With the best laws and right policy incentives we can mobilize human inventiveness and entrepreneurship to safeguard human development and a healthy planet. Today’s imperative is building public support for a coherent policy response and assisting policy-makers in implementing it! It is not ‘yet another’ competing project. Rather, this is the indispensable meta-initiative to ensure that all other efforts to promote human development, human rights and peace and security are not squandered, for they all depend on preserving a habitable planet.

A comprehensive political framework including the following tipping-point policies is therefore inevitable in order to give meaning and content to the concept of Green Economy:

  • High Commissioners/Ombudspersons for Future Generations to be elected by the United Nations and national parliaments to integrate a long-term perspective in policy-making and represent the rights of future generations in political decision-making.
  • The $1.6 trillion p.a. military spending to be shifted gradually through a global treaty to fund environmental, food and water security and the protection of the common heritage of humankind (oceans, atmosphere and outer space).
  • Comprehensive global transition to renewable energies to be assisted by future-just policies like Feed-In Tariffs, IMF Special Drawing Rights (SDRs) and phasing out of fossil fuel and nuclear subsidies.
  • Only financial instruments facilitating real wealth creation to be recognized as legally enforceable contracts.
  • Taxes to be gradually shifted from labor to resources.
  • Valuing and accounting for natural capital and ecosystem services to be given equal weight to GDP in government decision-making
  • Equal educational opportunities and legal access for marginalized groups, as well as equal access to contraceptive service.

This list is an excerpt of the Global Policy Action Plan developed by the World Future Council. The purpose is not to promote one specific solution but to identify inter-linked reforms which progressively and rapidly enable us to change direction and move back from the brink.

Friday, June 15th, 2012