Bund für Umwelt und Naturschutz Deutschland
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  • Date submitted: 1 Nov 2011
  • Stakeholder type: Major Group
  • Name: Bund für Umwelt und Naturschutz Deutschland
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A commitment to sustainability beyond Green Economy

BUND/Friends of the Earth Germany's contribution to the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development, Rio de Janeiro, June 04-06, 2012

"Sustainable development is development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs. It contains wihin it two key concepts:

1. The concept of "needs", in particular the essential needs of the worlds poor, to which overriding priority should be given, and

2. The idea of limitations imposed by the state of technology and social organisation on the environment's ability to meet present and future needs."

(WCED 1987, p. 43)

Twenty years after the UN conference on environment and development in 1992 - and thus one summit various avowals and action plans later - we are still far away from the guiding principle of sustainable development. The environmental crises and increasing social inequalities have not been mastered, but rather aggravated. While our understanding of ecological interrelations between the climate and biodiversity crisis - and of the limits of our knowledge - has increased since the first Rio conference, the political answers do not reflect the acknowledged need to act. Nevertheless, almost no time is spent on critical accounting of what has been promised since 1992 and (not) achieved in the preparatory process up till now.

Rio 2012 is supposed to renew the political commitment to sustainable development. Whether it will work or not essentially depends on the commitment of all countries.

Our core aims for sustainable development

are based on the Brundtland Commission's definition: We want a huamn development - not solely orientated towards poverty reducation but also towards an intra-and inter-generational justice - with economic means within the ecological limits of our planet, achieved by all actors within the scope of regulations set by the states (primacy of politics, creative power of communities as well as of individuals). Every proposal to the UNCDS is to be measured by these basic principles of sustainability.

1 Green Economy in the context of sustainable development and povery reduction

Green Economy will be one of hte two defining topics of the conference. It is asserted that Green Economy creates markets for the solution to the environment crises, security of resources, new jobs and more economic growth. Green Economy is not supposed to replace the guiding principles of sustainable developmetn, as the governments continue to emphasise, but to refer to the importance of economy as the main instrument for their eralisation and especially to help developing countries to make the leap into green industrial development. There is no mention of an orientation of the economic activity towards human needs, especially of the pooprest. The orientation towards maximum profit without public service obligations remains untouched; poverty reduction is one of the objcetives, but the respective contribution of Green Economy is hardly designated and thus only appears as a welcomed side effect.

Without question, many of hte components of a green economy are important and have been long since demanded by the environmental and development NGOs - for instance, the improvement of energy and resource efficiency by means of ecological tax reforms and the abolishment of environmentally harmful and socially unnecessary subventions, more recylcing, a transition to renewable energy in industrial as well as in so-called developing countries, and more. But teh decoupling of resource use and economic growth, the transition to green technologies, and ecological modernisation have been propagated for more than 30 years and their economic potential has been underlined: Efficiency pays off for companies. IF the universal win-win-potentials are that high, then the previous failure in their realisation is none of the most considerable market failures ever. So why do we keep believing that even more would solve the problems? Will the structural difficulties and resistance of lobbies which have hindered this transition up till now, be resolved if we call it Green Economy?

Green Economy has a great deal of potential to contribute to more sustainable economic but it clearly has its limits:

Green Economy in everyone's sole discretion

What is Green Economy - and what is it not? A universally valid definition of how a sustainable economy could look in different countries is not possible. But the positive nimbus of the Green Economy must not contribute to the legitimation of highly precarious technologies like CCS, nuclear power, and genetic engineering. The reasoning that such technologies would be necessary to achieve a low-carbon energy supply and food security conceals the fact that there are other less risky solutions.

A consenus must be developed, independent from economic interests, in respect to which technologies should not be funded as "green technologies" or counnted as contribution to a green economy - as nuclear power, genetic engineering and carbon capture and storage, deepwater oil drilling and shale gas production.

Mercantilisation of nature and ecosystem services

UNEP sees the current crisis as an expression of a fundamental error of our economic management and the misallocation of capital. The corresponding political answer is to perform the change towards a Green Economy mainly by means of economic instruments. Some of these, e.g. an ecological tax reform and the abolishment of environmentally harmful susidies are urgently necessary. However artifical markets for public goods, as we currently experience, offer no effective protection but rather create new risks for humankind, nature and the environment, as seen in emissions trading and the REDD mechanism. If the relevance of ecoystems and biodiversity is accepted in the community of states, as assured by UNEP, then it can also be guaranteed that they are effectively protected.

1. The community of states should look at economic instruments in environmental and resource protection in a more differentiated way. Providing economic incentives is theoretically a sensible approach, but in practice it may have opposite consequences and bring with it insurmountable difficulties. Of paramount importance for the large-scale implementation of economic instruments, aside from their ecological effectiveness, is their impact on poverty and social justice. Economic instruments are not in general superior in all three criteria to others, such as regulatory instruments.

Blindness to planetary limits

Green Economy relies on efficiency yet disregards sufficiency aspects. The idea of limits, which is still contained in the Brundtland definition, takes a backseat. A complete decoupling of resource use and economic growth, and complete resuse of raw materials are unrealistic. And since efficiency accelerates growth, savings in a single product are often overcompensated by increasing production. Under these circumstances, achieving a reduction CO2 emissions in the industrial countries without streamlining the economy seems unrealistic. Furthermore, the raw materials on which the green economy technologies are based are limited. How should the "planetary limits" - which are indeed acknowledged - be observed if the concept of green economy is unconditionally based on economic growth?

2. Besides the global funding of effcient and green technologies, the chagne towards a steady state economy must also be accomplished, in which the economy needs 89-90% fewer resources and no longer depends on growth. This requires new models of work production, and service, but first and foremost a remodeling of social systems. There are still no answers to many questions, and little experience to build upon. Here, research and pilot experiments must be pushed. Introducing new indicators beyond the GDP would be an important first milestone, which is not able to express sustainable development.

Blindness to social justice

Which social and developmental model does Green Economy comprise? Aside from environmental and resource protection, povery reduction and intra- and inter-generational justice are also part of sustainable development. Today, jobs in the green sector are often paid below the negotiated wages. This is why ecological modernisation must be linked to the vision of a particpatory welfare state, as correctly done by UNEP; with humane work with proper payment, renunciation of child labour, health and occupational safety standards, social security, and freedom of assembly as well as promotion of social and economic participation in society for all population groups. Poverty reduction is stated as the goal of a Green Economy, but not which specific measures are to contribute to poverty reduction. In the same way, questions concernign distributive justice remain neglected.

3. If Green Economy is also to be accepted in the population, it must contribute to closing the ever growing gap between poor and rich, to create jobs under proper conditions, to provide social security, and to bring more fairness in value chains between and within societies. A Green Economy must explicitly be an Equitable Green Economy.

Many actors, espcially in the global south, criticise the focus on Green Economy as a one-sided concentration on environmental issues at the expense of the efforts undertaken for eocnomic and social development. They see it as an attempt of the industrial countries to establish green protectionism and to hinder the southern countries' economic development with their environmental agenda. This criticism must be taken seriously and common solutions must be found.

The concept of Green Economy can contribute to boosting the advancement of green technologies and prodcution patterns more systematically than it has been done so far. Therefore, especially the industrial and emerging countries have to approach the modification of their economy more consistently - the funding of the green sectors is desireable but also the "brown" industries must be phased out. The reduction of environmentally harmful sbsidies must be pushed forward and national capital spending, research, and education policy as well as public procurement must be aligned in an ecologically sustainable and socially just way. To demand and fund "Leap-frogging" in developing and emerging countries, nor on the principle of common but differentiated responsibility.

That environmental protection is by now also seen as having economic potential represents a turning point in debate, and that definitely is a success. Many of the planned individual measures are welcomes as ecological progress, but the fixation on technology and the neoclassical growth orientation as the Janus faces of Green Economy. If the currently dominant interpretation of sustainability, especially the three-pillar model of so-called weak sustainability, is already intellectually incorrect and politically misleading, the Green Economy threatens to further curtail this definiton.

The transition to a green, socially (intra-and inter-generationally) just economy in the development of sustainability and social justice requires an agreement on specific guiding principles and rules for individual eocnomic sectors from the community of states and from the member states:

1.1 Agriculture and Soil Conservation

- The focus of all relevant policies on sustainable agriculture, serving the threefold goal of food security/the fight against hunger, agricultural biodiversity, and climate protection.

- The express support of small-scale farming with plant varieties and animal breeds adapted to particular environments to promote food sovereignty (see the 2008 International Assessment of Agricultural Knowledge, Science and Technology for Development (IAASTD))

- The focus on agricultural methods powered by energy from the sun, as opposed to industrialised fossil fuel-dependent methods.

- The adaption of agriculture to climate change through a combination of traditional and ecological, science-based agricultural methods, especially in the countries in which climate change has the largest impact.

- The cultivation of biomass, agro-fuels and feedstuff should neither threaten food security nro lead to transformation of valuable ecosystems into cropland, be it directly or indirectly.

- Restriction of crop speculation, in that limitations on the amount of raw agricultural prodcuts traded in exchanges are reinstated.

- Limitation of the growing global demand for farmland due to so-called "lab grabbing" or foreign direct investment in farmland, through the previously mentioned support of small-scale farming. In addition, internationally recognised socio-ecological guidelines or a code of conduct must be proposed; this can then expand upon the pocess begun by the FAO.

- The limitations of the power of agribusiness, especially in regards to the patenting of seeds and other agricultural inputs.

- Liberalisation within the framework of world trade agreements has not lead to an increase in food security. Countries must be able to decide for themselves whether to use tariffs to protect domestic food markets. In addition, direct and indirect export subsidies must be fundamentally discontinued.

- The introduction of social, environmental, and animal protection criteria based on the Eco-Fair-Trade guidelines.

- The award of a mandate for a legally binding world soil concention for the global protection of soil.

- The reduction of meat productin in the EU: cultivation of native food crops instead of large-scale feedstock imports from southern countries, an end to industrial livestock farming.

1.2 Water

- The explicit commitment of the international community to implement the human right to water and sanitation, and to ensure universal acccess to safe fresh water and sanitation, especially through the support of communal water utilities, rather than multinational corporations.

-Consideration of the water demands of ecosystems, the use of surface and ground waters only in quantities not harmful to the environment and at a rate less than or equal to the natural rate of replenishmeht. Protection of watersheds, and of wetlands in particular.

- Development and distribution of water efficiency technology in agriculture, industry, and in households.

- Allocation of exisiting water resources to achieve the greatest possible social utility and the guarantee of ecological sustainability.

- The limitation of construction or large dams, and commitment to the guidelines of the World Commission no Dams (see also "Energy"). Although often socially and ecologically devastating, plans for large dams continue to advance, oftentimes with the support of multilateral development banks and development aid funds.

1.3 Energy

- The voluntary agreement of the international community to the following goals by 2030: 30% of total energy from renewables (excluding large hydropower), 40% reduction of energy use, and universal access to sustainable energy service.

- More consistent development of renewable energies, with wind and solar power taking precedence over hydropower. Large dams may only be constructed in accordance with the guidelines set forth by the World Commission on Dams. Biomass and agro-fuel production should not compete with food production for land.

- The end of the age of fossil fuels as soon as possible, no new construction of oil and coal power plants. Natural gas combined heat and power plants may be constructed as a transnational solution for power production.

- No construction of new or replacement of nuclear power plants and the quickest possible phase-out of nuclear power; due to the unmanageable risks associated with it, nuclear power does not present a "green", climate-friendly energy solution.

- Development of binding national timetables for the dismantling of environmentally harmful direct and indirect energy subsidies, especially those for nucelar power and fossil fuels; the funds freed in this transition should be used to help launch renewable energies and energy efficiency in the market.

1.4 Biodiversity and Ecosystems

- The implementation of the Aichi Targets of the CBD's new strategic plan during the UN Decade on Biodiversity, including the dismantling of harmful subsidies, reduction of the global carbon footprint, and the end of overfishing in the world's oceans.

- Mobilisation of sufficient capital for the protection of biodiversity, including funds freed from dismantled subsidies. When dealing with the preservation of our livelihood, market-based approaches are not a substitute for good legislation and secure, direct financial support that must be oriented towards the commmon good.

- Swift radication and implementation of the Nagoya Protocol (ABS Protocol) on Access to Genetic Resources and the Fair and Equitable Sharing of Benefits Arising frmo Their Utilisation.

- Implementation of REDDplus solely as a funds-based mechanism with effective safeguards. Forests are more than carbon sinks; they are a living space for humans, complex systems of great biodiversity and an indispensable element in water cycles. At the same time, forests as the 'green lungs' of our earth, are one of the fundamental factors in climate protection. Hence, all instruments of Forest conservation policy need to take into account the proection of human rights, of biological diversity and of the climate. Market-based mechanisms do not achieve this.

- Protection of the last old-growth Forest from development of any kind, including certified logging. Promotion of stricter international standards for wood prodcuts, especially in regards to proof of origin.

1.5 Marine Conservation

- Development of a comprehensive international network of Marine Protected Areas (MDPAs) in international waters, outside of national borders of 200 nautical miles, in which all economic activity, such as fishing and the utilisation of resources, is prohibited (no take zones). The MPAs must cover at least 30% of the ocean, since the oceans will only have a chance to recover if one third of the worldwide marine biodiversity is comprehensively protected.

- Development of a system of environmental impact assessment for all types of intervention in international waters. The assessment of ecological consequences for marine environments should follow the precautionary principle and the ecosystem approach as basic principles and should be carried out by an independent authority.

- Implementation of global sustainable fisheries, most importantly the reduction of fishing capacities of large trawlers.

- Effective reduction of rubbish pollution in the oceans. In order to achieve this, the amount of rubbish collected on beaches - an indicator of marine pollution levels - must be reduced by 50% before 2020. Rubbish in the ocean kills 1 million birds and 100.000 marine mammals die each year, and polluts the food chain with toxis materials.

- Clear and ambitious movement towards a green economy that favours and incentivises long life, biodegradable and sustainably sourced goods and packaging in order to protect our oceans against the rising amount of disposable and single use goods that are ending up in the marine environment. Actions to encourage such an economy will have multiple economic and social benefits due to the reduction in costs associated with the damage caused to coast tourism and other marine industries.

1.6 Green Technology

- Technologies with a high societal risk such as CCS, nuclear energy and genetic engineering cannot be promoted as "green technologies" or be counted towards of sustainable development.

- The community of states should make technologies that support sustainability public goods by buying up the patents and sharing the technologies throughout the world free of charge. If companies refuse to sell the patents, the worldwide availability of technologies could be enforced by legal means, as in the case of AIDS medication.

2 Institutional Framework for Sustainable Development

There is an obvious implementation deficit of the Rio resolutions, just as the coordination problems within the UN have not yet been solved after the UN reform, especially in the environmental but also in the development sector. There are numerous suggestions to improve the international environment and sustainability architecture, in governments as well as from actors in civil society. In remains to be seen whether those, who are ultimately capable of consensus, will be sufficiently ambitious.

The main demands of the BUND/Friends of the Earth Germany are:

1. Both the UN Environmental Programme (UNEP) and the Commission for Sustainable Development (UN CSD) must be substantially upgraded regarding budgeting and mandate.

2. The basic principles of sustainable development must become guidelines and objectives for other political fields and institutions as well. Especially international financial institutions (IFIs) and the world trade regime must be onligated to pursue ecological goals, or to bindingly take the regulations of environmental agreements into consideration through other UN institutions and processes, and above all international institutions and processes outside the UN. (end of 7)

3. Governments have to commit to more transparency, accountability, and liability in international contracts and agreements, including by means of a monitoring mechanism in the UN-system.

4. In addition to the Millenium Development Goals, a mandate for sustainable development goals should be issued. These goals need to embrace concepts of basic needs and social justice as well as planetary boundaries, and should apply for all countries.

5. Since sustainable development ultimately takes place on the local level, the interests of sustainability must also be reinforced on the local and national level

6. The participation of the Major Groups within the scope of the CSD as well as within the rest of the UN environment and development architecture and down to the national level must be reinforced.

7. New indicators for the measurement of social prosperity must be found - the GDP is not suitable to measure progress on sustainable development.

2.1 Upgrading the UNEP

The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) is currently financed solely through voluntary payments of single countries and other UN organisations and is thus permanently underfunded. Moreover, further coordination is required between the UN institutions that are responsible for environmental tasks and the international agreements with their offices beyond the existing Environmental Management Group under the aegis of UNEP. In the end, the specific implementation of programmes and agreements in the member states are hindered due to the lack of human resources on the side of UN institutions and national administrations andto the high requirements of coordination on national level. An upgrade of the UNEP should reach for the following goals: 1) creating more coherence in the environment architecture of the UN system, 2) strengthening the environment pillar in comparison toother areas by means of bundling.

. The UN environmental programme should be transformed to a specialised agency of the UN, with a proper and binding budget and an extended mandate. As specialised agency, a UNEO, would have the universal membership of all UN member states together. If that is not possible, the attempt should be undertaken to achieve a universal membership and better budgeting within the existing UNEP.

. As the central UN authority for the environment, a UNEO must also stand for the contribution of the environment to social development. It is often the poorest who are most dependent on nature and the immediate right to use natural resources for their livelihoods.

. Furthermore, it must stand for the conservation of value of the natural livelihoods, also beyond economic rationales and profitable interests.

. In its new role such a UNEO should undertake the coordination between the different environmental agreements (MEAs) without constraining the ability of the offices to act. It can thereby monitor the execution as a central authority and help to work more effectively on points of intersection.

. As a Clearing House Mechanism, a UNEO should bundle the information and data from monitoring programmes and organisations in respect to environmental trendsand make these accessible to politics, research and the public.

. A UNEO should coordinate the environmental work of the UN, especially on the level of the member states, in order to redress an unraveling into many small interventions and to not unnecessarily burden the national administrations.

2.2 Upgrading the CSD

Since 1992, the UN Commission for Sustainable Development (UN CSD), being a permanent member of the UN Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC), has been in charge of supervising the implementation of Agenda 21 and the Johannesburg Plan of Action as well as the continuation of the Rio process.

. The UN Commission for Sustainable Development (UN CSD) should be upgraded either through a merger with the ECOSOC or by establishing a council for sustainable development modeled on the Human Rights Council which is directly subordinated to the UN General Assembly.

. In any case, stronger involvement of the Major Groups should be provided through the right to speak and the power of initiative.

. Its members should include high-ranking or elected government officials so that ambitious, binding decisions can be made.

. The Major Groups should gain the right to speak and the power of initiative in a reformed sustainability council; similarly, involvement within environmental organisations should be arranged.

. The Major Groups should also be formally involved regarding formulation, realisation, and monitoring of sustainability strategies and goals on the national level. To consider the impacts on people and the environment in third world countries, a consultation with third country delegates could take place prior to the passage of sustainability strategies, as already implemented in France.

2.3 Integration of Sustainability into other Policy Areas and Institutions

Considering sustainable development as an international goal, decision making may not be limited to specific conferences and institutions. The underlying principles of sustainable development must also become the guidelines for other policy areas and institutions. International financial institutions and the global trade regime in particular must be obligated to pursue social and ecological goals.

. These basic principles must be anchored in the catalogue of targets of the international financial institutions, and have tobe further considered in the allocation of financial resources and consulting services.

. Terms of the national and international environmental law have to be given more weight in comparison with other legally protected goods within the multilateral WTO negotiations as well as in bilateral peace and investment agreements.

. In order to create the necessary framework for social welfare and ecological sustainability, financial markets in particular have to be more strongly regulated and the speculation with foodstuffand natural resources on the international market have to be contained.

2.4 UN Parliament

State parliaments have little to say during the negotiations of international treaties and conventions. In order to give international treaties broad social supportthis should be changed and an advisory parliamentary assembly should be established within the UN. This would not replace the Security Council, the UN General Assembly, the Bretton-Woods financial institutions or other UN bodies. It would be an additionalinstitution to integrate parliamentarians more effectively into globalgovernance.

2.5 Reinforcement of Sustainability on the national and local Level

While important decisions concerning cooperation and determination of goals are made on a global level, the realisation of sustainable development occurs on the national and local level. The international conference on sustainable development should therefore also give an impulse for the enhancement of sustainability interests on the national and local level.

This could be achieved amongst others by extending the mandates of national sustainability councils and formally involving Major Groups in the formulation, realization and monitoring of sustainability strategies. To consider the impacts on people and the environment in third world countries, a consultation with third country delegates could take place prior to the passage of sustainability strategies, as already implemented in France. 2.6 Participation, Access to Information,and legal Protection

During the Rio Convention of 1992 the nations already recognised the importance of different groups of society in contributing to a sustainable development. The contribution of these nine Major Groups to the political organisation of sustainability has to be fostered on a national as well as international level.

. Municipal administrations in particular should be involved in high-level decision-making in areas on which cities can have a great impact, such as energy, water, traffic, and construction. Coalitions like the ICLEI and the Covenant of Mayors highlight the potential for action on the municipal level.

. Meaningful participation requires access to information. In Europe this principle of the Rio Declaration has already been codified in European law through the Aarhus Convention. The right to access to information concerning the environment from government agencies should be anchored on a global level, and complemented by the right to access to information related to the environmental impacts of corporations.

. In addition,the right to access to jurisdiction of environmental relevance which has been acknowledged by the Aarhus Convention should be extended to the global level so that governments as well as corporations can be held responsible when breaking national and international environmental law.

. Multinational corporations have massive influences on humans and the environment. During the financial crisis the social answer was to socialise the damages ?against the polluter pays principle ?and to save the enterprises believed to be ?too big to fail?. Thus a mandate for a convention should be issued to hold businesses responsible, which -beyond the definition of corporate liability to protect environment and society (like environmental impact assessments) -will also hold them responsible to full liability and the right to indemnity for affected people according to the causative principle.

2.7 Measurable Goals of Sustainability

The lack of concrete, time-bound goals at the 1992 summit in Rio has contributed to the non-compliance of various claims of the Rio and Johannesburg summits. BUND /Friends of the Earth Germany therefore welcomes Columbia?s proposal following the Millennium Development Goals to adopt international Sustainable Development Goals.

. The goals have to be time-bound and measureable, and further supplemented by an effective framework to ensure monitoring and accountability.

. They must take into consideration the challenges for sustainable development in all countries ?developing countries, emerging nations, and industrial countries. This includes in particular ecological thresholds, comparable to the goal to halt global warming at maximum 2°C, framework conditions for life in dignity, inter-and intra-generational justice and sustainable lifestyle.

. They must tie in with the definition of sustainability from the early 90s (Brundtlandt) or theWBGU of recent years.

. SDGs should neither water down existing environmental goals and responsibilities nor undermine existing actions (UN FCCC, CBD etc.).

. An independent and effective authority must be established that is responsible for monitoring and compliance.

2.8 Indicators

As long as we measure social prosperity with the GDP, we will hardly be able to measure whether we approach our goal of sustainable development. It is equally important to capture consumption and regeneration of our natural resources and of social factors, and to consider them equally in politics. The Human Development Index is a useful measure forsocial development, however it is more useful to regard its elements one by one. The consumption of nature by society should be captured in real numbers through the resource use indicator. Here, the enviro-economic total account or the UN-Stats System of Integrated Environmental and Economic Accounting could serve as starting points.

In Rio, the member states should agree on a collective plan for the establishment of such comprehensive indicators.

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