Monday, 20 July 2009

Politics-as-usual strains sustainable future

Politics-as-usual strains sustainable future

Richard Black | 10:47 UK time, Tuesday, 19 May 2009

Across the last fortnight at the UN Commission on Sustainable Development (CSD) annual meeting, there have been all kinds of threads that I wanted to pick up for this blog but will have to leave un-picked up; time, for reasons that I will come to in a minutes, just vanished before my eyes.

So; reflections on a few big themes only.


Firstly, does the CSD have the power to do what it's supposed to?

It's a progeny of the 1992 Rio Earth Summit, and is aimed at ensuring progress on the agenda that unifies the prime Rio concerns of the developed and developing worlds - the intersection between protecting the Earth's ecosystems and fostering economic progress in poorer societies.

That these twin aims have to be reconciled as a pre-condition for humanity's long-term good - never mind the Earth's other passenger species - seems remarkably obvious when you think about it.

It features long and loud in some of the world's global environmental treaties, notably the Kyoto Protocol - but where is it made explicit and acted upon in the economic and business framework?

Does the WTO encourage sustainable development? Do the World Bank and IMF stimulate only when environmental protection is guaranteed?

When Gordon Brown, Angela Merkel and Nicholas Sarkozy rescue financial institutions, do they insist on those institutions adopting sustainability criteria as preconditions for lending money?

There are bright spots; but overwhelmingly, the answer has to be a resounding "no". But if the concept of sustainable development and the need for it are not understood at this level, then what is the point of trying to forge non-binding agreements on sustainability through the CSD, a much less powerful institution?

This brings me to the second big theme; who knows about the CSD and its works?

Last time I went to a meeting at UN headquarters - the World Summit in 2005 - there were something like 4,000 journalists in attendance, and just getting through security on day one took almost two hours.

By contrast, hardly a news reporter came to the CSD's halls, and hardly a news report emerged.

In one sense, this is incredible. The CSD's agenda is humanity's future; so in the minds of news editors the world over, this is not a story?

Editors would argue it's not hard news because the text agreed at the end of the two-week meeting is not binding on governments, in contrast for example to the UN climate convention - and they're right.

But the absence of journalists (and many principal civil society groups) was unfortunate in that it allowed some pretty blatant political posturing to pass with little comment and little chance of governments being held accountable for their positions.


And this is the third big theme I would bring out: especially from the G77 bloc, positions were adopted that from any perspective other than that of narrow politics beggared belief.

So we had repeated deletion of the word "sustainable" from the draft text - especially when placed before the word "agriculture".

So G77 countries do not want their agricultural systems to be sustainable? They would rather have support for use-it-up, burn-it-out, fertilise-it-to-death farming of inappropriate crops that would seriously compromise the next generation's capacity to feed itself?

There were concerns wrapped up in this that the EU and other western blocs might use "sustainable agriculture" as a way of foisting development-hindering environmental regulations on developing countries.

But you could also surely argue that G77 nations ought to be concerned about Western nations foisting unsustainable, grow-as-much-as-you-can-and-sell-us-the-proceeds-as-cheaply-as-possible practices on societies that do not have the capacity to resist such advances.

We even saw bids to re-open discussions about what "sustainability" means - again, incredible from any standpoint except that of politics-as-usual.

The irony of coming together for discussions on sustainable development and then trying to remove the term "sustainable" seemed lost on many delegations - another indication, I would argue, of how little the importance of the concept has permeated into governments.

What conclusions should we draw? I'm not sure I have any profound thoughts, except the pretty obvious one that 22 years after the Brundtland Commission analysed the reasons why society ought to develop in such a way as "meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs", we are a very long way from that ideal (see the UN's Geo-4 report for details), and many of the important players appear blissfully ignorant of the reasoning.

நன்றி : பி.பி.சி.

No comments:

Post a Comment