Friday, 11 November 2011

Civil Society Reflection Group: Statement to Rio+20

“We have exceeded the ecological limits and ignore the planetary boundaries. With the climate change threat we are already living on borrowed time. However, we refuse to cut back on emissions and allocate the scarce resources to those who have not yet benefitted from their exploitation,” warned the Civil Society Reflection Group on Global Development Perspectives in its statement for the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development (Rio+2012) to be held next June. “We live in a world where the top 20% of the population enjoy more than 70% of total income and those in the bottom quintile get only 2% of global income” and where “50% of carbon emissions are generated by 13% of the population,” adds the document of the Reflection Group, created a year ago by an alliance of civil society groups, networks and foundations to provide specific policy recommendations for Rio+2012, among other tasks.

The statements noted that “the ideals and principles” set in the Earth Summit held in Rio de Janeiro in 1992 “have been overshadowed, as implementation has mostly not occurred”. “Similarly, a host of international commitments to human rights and gender justice have not been fulfilled. World product per capita has more than doubled in the last two decades, yet with widening disparities. Globalization has yielded millions of poor quality jobs. Financial and commodity speculation has undercut food security and turned millions of hectares of land away from growing food and into unsustainable uses. Little has been done to change patterns of production and consumption that pollute, erode biodiversity and lead inexorably to climate change,” adds the Group, which members are Alejandro Chanona, Barbara Adams, Beryl d'Almeida, Chee Yoke Ling, Ernst Ulrich von Weizsäcker, Danuta Sacher, Filomeno Sta. Ana III, George Chira, Gigi Francisco, Henning Melber, Hubert Schillinger, Jens Martens, Jorge Ishizawa, Karma Ura, Roberto Bissio, Vicky Tauli-Corpuz, and Yao Graham.

The failure, said the group, happened because “states have reneged on their democratic values and governments have become less accountable to the people”, and because “universal norms and standards are being ignored or side-stepped by new rules that favour markets”. “Risks are being borne by those who had no role in taking them while a new classification of ‘too-big-to-fail’ has re-ordered the distribution of public resources. We are confronted with a hierarchy of rights with those protecting human and eco systems relegated to the lowest rungs Polluter pays principle. The simple message of this principle is that the costs of pollution have to be borne by those who cause it,” explained the Group.

The Reflection Group proposal remarked eight core principles: the “precautionary principle”, the “do not harm principle”, the “subsidiarity principle”, the “principle of free, prior and informed consent”, the “principle of peaceful dispute settlement”, and the principles of freedom, equality, diversity and respect for nature. “All governments agreed to these principles in general”, but “they have mostly failed to translate them into enforceable obligations and specific policies”.

The statement proposes to fix fiscal policies for “the four R’s”: “the raising of revenues in order to provide the necessary public goods and services; the redistribution of income and wealth from the richer to poorer sections of society; the repricing of goods and services in order to internalize ecological and social costs and discourage undesirable behaviour; and the justification for citizens to demand democratic representation and accountability.” It also suggested, in the area of public expenses, the abolition of harmful subsidies, the strengthening of public spending to stimulate sustainable production and consumption, cutting military spending, setting an universal social protection floor for all, the universal access to public healthcare, guaranteed state allowances for every child and support for unemployed and underemployed people, an universal basic pension provided by the state for persons in old age or with disabilities, the public provision of essential services, the strengthening participatory, gender and human rights budgeting initiative, the use of public procurement policies to promote sustainability and the use of sovereign wealth funds to finance sustainable investment.

The document also proposes a new global system of financial burden sharing beyond ODA and a compensation scheme to pay off climate debt. The Reflection Group finally suggested to “re-arrange and re-configure” international and national institutions in charge of the sustainable development, as the creation of a “Sustainable Development Council”, international ombudsperson (one for “future generations”) and special rapporteurs, a “Sherpa for Sustainability”, parliamentary committees on policy coherence on sustainability and upgrading the Committee on Development Policy.

The preliminary statement (full text >>> here) produced by the Civil Society Reflection Group is a “work in progress” and has not been fully discussed by all its members. Not every recommendation in the statement was explicitly endorsed by each of its members, but the text captures the ideas and the fundamental consensus formulated in previous meetings. A more comprehensive final report of the Group will be published in spring 2012.

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