Rio+20: 'We Need Transformational Change'

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By Daniel Mittler*
IDN-InDepth NewsViewpoint

BERLIN (IDN) - Almost twenty years after the Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro we know solutions are available and affordable, that investments in clean technologies are rising, that deforestation can be stopped, and food provided for all if governments have the will. We also know development in both North and South remains deeply unsustainable.

Today, a fair Green Economy is achievable, if governments and businesses act urgently – and if we change the way we govern resources globally. Promoting sustainable practices is essential. But, above all, governments must put a decisive end to unsustainable practises. An economy based on nuclear energy, oil and coal, genetic engineering, toxic chemicals or the overexploitation of our forests and seas will never be green.

A fair green economy worth fighting for provides sustainable livelihoods for all while fully respecting ecological limits – our planetary boundaries. In such a truly Green Economy, the economy will be a mechanism to deliver societal goals, and economic growth as an end goal in and of itself will be abandoned.

The transformation we need is taking place too slowly, but the good news is, it is already proven. Brazil, for example, has shown that it is possible to cut deforestation rates through effective governance and good business practices: Deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon has declined year on year; 2011 it was at its lowest ever level. But unless President Dilma vetoes it, Brazil will soon adopt changes to its Forest Code, the main law in Brazil that protects forests, that would allow an amnesty for past forest crimes and lead to an increase in deforestation. This is unacceptable.

To be a credible Rio Earth Summit host this year, President Dilma must veto the forest code changes. Brazil must decide whether it wants to be a leader on the path to sustainable prosperity by choosing zero deforestation, or wants to be known as a nation that showed that deforestation could be halted, but failed to do so purely to serve short term private interests.

The energy future we need is efficient and renewable. In Germany, 81% of all installed power capacity in the last decade was renewable! The Energy Revolution scenario Greenpeace has developed together with business partners shows that globally we can deliver energy to more people, especially the poor in developing countries, cut emissions by more than 80% by 2050 – and create more jobs doing so, by investing in energy efficiency and renewable energy instead of fossil fuels and nuclear power.

By implementing the Energy Revolution, governments can help businesses create 3.2 million more jobs by 2030 in the global power supply sector alone. In South Africa 149,000 direct jobs could be created by 2030, 38,000 more than the current government's plan. That's the kind of decisive action, leading to wins for planet and the poor alike that Rio should deliver.

The future we need must put an end to overfishing and ensure that 40% of the world's oceans have been turned into marine reserves. At Rio, governments have the chance to finally get serious about protecting the High Seas, which are currently being plundered in Wild West style. They must launch immediate negotiations for a High Seas Biodiversity agreement (also known as an implementing agreement under UNCLOS).

Deforestation in Brazil or the over-exploitation of the High Seas are strong reminders that what we urgently need is better governance of the environment, globally. Governments must put the regulations in place that are needed for the public good and give the institutions tasked to implement these regulations the tools to do so. It's simple, but it does mean changing some fundamentals in the way we govern our planet.

As an urgent first step we need to upgrade the UN Environment Programme to specialized agency status. Sustainable development governance needs a global authority on the environment, which should have much enhanced implementation, compliance and enforcement mechanisms. To complement this, we need global rules on corporate accountability and liability.

At the Johannesburg Earth Summit in 2002, governments acknowledged the need for global rules for global corporations. At Rio 2012, they must agree the development of a global instrument that ensures full liability for any social or environmental damage global corporations cause. Corporations themselves must take full responsibility for their supply chains.

Now is also the time to create strong controls of financial markets and agree on new fiscal instruments, such as a Financial Transaction Tax, that can slow harmful speculation and deliver much needed finance for development and environmental protection. Much needed money can also be found by agreeing on a phase-out of environmentally and socially harmful subsidies within this decade, including subsidies to fossil fuels, forest destruction, nuclear power, agrochemicals or overfishing.

Tinkering at the edges is not good enough, as the Global Sustainability Panel has stated. We need transformational change. Will Rio deliver?

*Daniel Mittler is Political Director of Greenpeace International. This article first appeared in under the title 'The Future We Need: fair, just, green, well-governed'. [IDN-InDepthNews – April 14, 2012]

2012 IDN-InDepthNews | Analysis That Matters

Photo: Daniel Mittler | UNEP

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