Social Watch
  • Date submitted: 1 Nov 2011
  • Stakeholder type: Major Group
  • Name: Social Watch
  • Submission Document: Download
Keywords: Women (1 hits), Woman (0 hits),

Full Submission

Social Watch

October 31, 2011

Social Watch submission to the Rio 2012 Zero Draft Document

About Social Watch

Social Watch is an international network of citizens? organizations in the struggle to eradicate poverty and the causes of poverty, to end all forms of discrimination and racism, to ensure an equitable distribution of wealth and the realization of human rights. We are committed to peace, social, economic, environment and gender justice, and we emphasize the right of all people not to be poor.

The members of Social Watch, citizen coalitions in over 70 countries, hold governments, the UN system and international organizations accountable for the fulfillment of national, regional and international commitments to eradicate poverty and achieve sustainable development. The international secretariat of Social Watch is hosted by Instituto del Tercer Mundo (ITeM, an ONG in special consultative status with ECOSOC).

Economy, poverty and sustainable development

General Assembly Resolution 64/236 instructs the Rio 2012Conference to discuss the economy ?in the context of sustainable development and poverty eradication". By monitoring antipoverty efforts and development strategies at national and international level, Social Watch has found that economic indicators and social well being indicators do not correlate and it is therefore urgent to revise economic strategies to achieve the internationally agreed goals and make the enjoyment of human rights a reality for all. Further, in spite of the recommendations formulated in 1992 by the Rio Summit to develop sustainable development indicators and all the work done in this area since then, the international community still lacks agreed indicators to measure the sustainability of the global public goods under its surveillance. Global public goods cannot be provided by any single state acting alone, and they include the preservation of the life supporting functions of the atmosphere and the oceans (threatened by global climate change) or the reliability and stability of a global financial system, indispensable for trade and development but threatened by unhindered speculation, currency volatility and debt crises. The failure to provide those public goods impacts the livelihoods of billions of people around the world and threatens the one public good that inspired the creation of the United Nations: global peace.

The evolution of key economic indicators has been extraordinary in the last two decades. The total world exports multiplied almost five times, growing from a total value of 781 billion dollars in 1990 to 3.7 trillion in 2010. Trade is indispensable for growth and development. There are even many programs of aid for trade. And trade has gone up and up.

Per capita GDP has been used for many years as the main indicator of development and countries are still ranked according to it by international organizations. Between 1990 and 2010 the average person in the world more than doubled her or his income from a little over four thousand dollars in 1990 to over nine thousand dollars per capita in 2010.

These indicators hint to an abundance of resources, which are far enough to guarantee that nobody should suffer from hunger in the world.

Yet, there is a dire reality of poverty and hunger in the world. To monitor deprivation without resorting to income related indicators, Social Watch has developed a Basic Capabilities Index, which is an average of infant mortality, births attended by specialized personnel and primary education. All these three are very basic indicators and they should have gone up to one hundred percent, meaning that no children should be out of school, no Women should deliver their babies without assistance and no kids born alive, or at least less than one percent of them, should die before their fifth anniversary, when the major cause of those deaths is associated with malnutrition and poverty.

All these three indicators are part of the internationally agreed goals and of any concept of a social floor and of dignity. Dignity for all is what the UN Charter and the Universal Declaration on Human Rights want to achieve and what the leaders of the world committed themselves to achieve in the Millennium Declaration.

[Rio+20 Secretariat: Please refer to full submission document for graph]

But the world is far from achieving these basic targets. BCI only moved up 7 points between 1990 and 2010, which is very little progress. And the progress was actually of over four percentage points between 1990 and 2000 and of barely three percentage points between 2000 and 2010. This is the opposite trend of the lines for trade and income, both of which grew faster after the year 2000 than in the decade before. But the social indicators progressed slower after the turn of the century, in spite of the excellent performance of the economy and in spite of the international commitment to accelerate social progress and achieve the MDGs.

Growing inequalities within and between countries is the obvious reason for that divergence of trends between the economy and social indicators. And the social indicators con only get worse as the impact of the global financial crisis started in Wall Street in 2008 start to be registered by internationally comparable statistics, a process that always lacks two to three years behind the processing of the economic indicators.

The hard numbers prove that prosperity does not trickle down. It used to be common sense that a growing economy benefits the poor, that a rising tide will lift all boats, big or small, or that the pie has to grow first before we can share it, but the indicators of social progress seem to show the opposite.

[Rio+20 Secretariat: Please refer to full submission document for graph]

The graph above combines the BCI average of social indicators with per capita CO2 emissions. This graph2 shows that while 50 percent of carbon emissions are generated by 13 percent of the population, 45 countries with a total population of 1.2 billion people have managed to achieve social indicators that are better than the world average with per capita emissions of CO2 from fossil fuels below the world average. And none of them are labeled as ?high income?. Yet, the members of that group of the ?clean and virtuous? have no recognition or compensation for their achievement. Quite to the contrary, similar to other middle-income countries and those considered as ?least developed?, they often find their space for making domestic policy choices to achieve sustainable development squeezed by external demands, conditionalities and impositions that press them to take steps such as to slash tax rates and spending on social services.

The fact remains that there are countries that have lowered their infant mortality to levels similar to those of the US with one tenth of the per capita CO2 emissions of North America demonstrates that a better quality of life is achievable without requiring consumption and production patterns that destroy the environment.

Between 1990 and 2000, the BCI (social indicators index) improved five points (from 79 to 84), while the world per capita emissions of carbon dioxide actually decreased from 4.3 tons to 4.1. But in the first decade of the 21st century, world CO2 emissions moved up to 4.6 tons per capita and social indicators only moved up three points. Although the economic boom of the first decade of the century failed to boost social indicators, it did accelerate environmental destruction.

At the Earth Summit held in Rio de Janeiro, the leaders of the world stated that ?the major cause of the continued deterioration of the global environment is the unsustainable pattern of consumption and production, particularly in industrialized countries (...) aggravating poverty and imbalances?. This is still true today.

Sustainable development goals

The 1992 Rio Summit demanded further work on the definition of indicators of sustainable development which would be the basis both for defining the concept and establishing common international goals. Two decades after, this is one of the areas where not enough progress has been done. The report of the Stiglitz-Sen-Fitoussi Commission clearly suggests that well-being indicators and sustainability indicators are of a different nature and compares them with the dashboard of a car, with separate displays for speed and remaining gas. One informs about the time needed to achieve a destination, the other one refers to a required resource that is being consumed and may reach a limit before the destination is reached.

The human rights framework sets clear goals for well-being indicators. The rights to food, to health, to education impose the mandate to achieve universal attendance of all girls and boys to education, the reduction of infant mortality to less than 10 per thousand children born alive (since all mortality above this figure is related to malnutrition and poverty), the universal attendance of all births by specialized personnel, the universal access to safe water and sanitation and even the universal access to phone and internet services.3 Basically all of the six first goals of the MDGs can be read as a request to fulfill existing rights in accordance with the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. Plus other goals not listed in the MDGs, such as the right to social security (article 22 of the Universal Declaration), now recognized as the basis for a ?social floor?.

The national and international debate should not be about those goals, as they have already been agreed upon, but over when they will be progressively achieved. The realization of those rights is a responsibility of governments ?individually and through international assistance and co-operation, especially economic and technical, to the maximum of available resources,? according to the Covenant on ESCR. The prioritization of resources also applies to international assistance. In order to monitor the effective use of the maximum available resources (including those of international cooperation) the Universal Periodic Review of the Human Rights Council should be strengthened to perform this task. Further, the Optional Protocol to the Covenant on ESCR should be ratified, so as to allow citizens to claim their rights in court, and the bilateral and multilateral development agencies have to be made accountable for their human rights impact.

Sustainability indicators, on the other hand, refer to the depletion of a certain non renewable stock or asset. When those are part of the global commons international agreements are required to ensure sustainability. Contrary to human well-being, which can be formulated in terms of goals, sustainability needs to be addressed in terms of limits. Limits can be an absolute ban on certain activities, such as the ban on whaling or on the emission of ozone depleting gases (Montreal Protocol), or they can establish quotas to ensure non depletion, which can be assigned to economic actors through different market and non-market mechanisms respecting the equity and solidarity principles. Internationally, more work needs to be done on fisheries, to avoid further depletion of species that are vital to feed millions of people. Above all, an ambitious agreement is needed on the second commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol that limits temperature rise to well below 1.5 to prevent catastrophic climate change and ensures just and fair sharing of drastic emission reductions, in accordance with common but differentiated responsibilities and historical responsibility.

Any formulation of ?sustainable development goals? that does not include adequate climate change targets or does not address the human rights aspects and the sustainability aspects simultaneously and in a balanced way, risks derailing the comprehensive sustainable development agenda without any compensatory gains.

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