11 Jun 2012
Rio+20: Consolidated text – reconciling the differences
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The difference between countries is whether international cooperation is to be based around the “green economy” or around the “green economy in the context of sustainable development and eradication of poverty”. The former implies that all countries can move towards more sustainable pathways without compromising growth, while the latter seeks differentiated treatment of measures taken by countries at different levels of development/growth. Since the global consensus is for the next 20 years, it is not just the eradication of extreme poverty that is relevant but rather establishing infrastructure, manufacturing and urbanization necessary for raising standards of living – and this becomes critical for the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), in particular energy.

The second conceptual problem is that, while humans have always altered their environment, what is new is that the global effects of economic activities now outweighs those of local resource extraction, and we are approaching limits of the capacity of the global ecosystem to absorb the waste of such activities, that is carbon dioxide. Therefore, a distinction has now to be made between global and local (and regional) SDGs, natural capital, ecosystems. Again, energy is an example of impacting largely on the global level and suggests introduction of language to share the global atmospheric resource.

The third problem is that the text continues to focus on production patterns, whereas we now know that modification of consumption patterns is as, if not more, important at the global level. For example, the most recent data of the European Union (for 2010) shows that emissions continue to rise and this is so with respect to consumption rather than production patterns – transportation and households.

The implication, and the fourth problem, is that a focus on production patterns leads to reporting and other measures that can have trade implications, whereas, the real problem is from consumption patterns, which have nothing to do with  production processes and the WTO. A related implication is that the recommendations point only to developing countries, whereas consumption patterns have to be immediately modified by the developed countries. The underlying issue is that the risk management environmental framework is appropriate for air and water pollution, but not for preventive action related to carbon dioxide emissions and consumption patterns, which require social transformations. Therefore, the recommendations have to consider the social and not just the environmental dimension of sustainable development.

The fifth, problem with the text is that while it recognizes new concerns it does not seek review of the mandates of and arrangements between the United Nations and the International Monetary Fund and World Bank. This is necessary because we now need to go beyond cost effectiveness to consider social issues of redistributon. 

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