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Rio+20 : Submission
European Environmental Bureau (EEB)
Information
  • Date submitted: 1 Nov 2011
  • Stakeholder type: Major Group
  • Name: European Environmental Bureau (EEB)
  • Submission Document: Download
Keywords: Green economy (10 hits),

Full Submission

UNITED NATIONS CONFERENCE ON ENVIRONMENT AND DEVELOPMENT (RIO+20)

Rio de Janeiro, June 2012

Submission by the European Environmental Bureau to the ?zero draft? of the outcome document

Introduction

The European Environmental Bureau (EEB) is the largest federation of environmental organizations in Europe. It comprises more than 140 environmental groups from almost 30 countries in Europe with a combined membership of some 15 million environmentally concerned citizens. The EEB seeks to promote sustainable development, participatory democracy and environmental justice.

The Rio+20 Conference provides a crucial opportunity to renew the global commitment to sustainable development at a time when many governments are deeply preoccupied with the tackling economic problems.

A starting point for any negotiation at UNCSD should be that much has already been achieved internationally in terms of agreed targets and plans, but that just as much remains in terms of implementation. For example, the Rio Conventions on climate, biodiversity and desertification, as well as Agenda 21 and the outcome of various UN summits on e.g. social development (Copenhagen 1995), women (Beijing, 1995), and financing for development (Monterrey, 2002), all include proposals for sustainable development that are more or less just as valid today as when agreed. For Rio+20 to be successful, improved implementation should be a focal point for deliberations and agreements and in particular developed countries should commit to strengthened implementation and support. UNCSD should reaffirm already agreed principles, such as those in the 1992 Rio Declaration, but even more so, agree on how to realise what has been agreed. In doing so, the greening of the economy, new institutions and treaties should be put at the forefront of any outcome.

Green economy

The Rio Conference should adopt an approach to greening the economy based on full respect for ecological constraints. Developed nations and emerging economies in particular should commit to adapting their societies so as to live within those constraints so as to allow the less developed nations the possibility to realise their legitimate aspirations to developing their societies.

We generally support UNEP?s definition of a Green economy as one that ?results in improved human well-being and social equity, while significantly reducing environmental risks and ecological scarcities? and consider it key to underline reduction of problems to within planetary boundaries without neglecting or sidelining poverty eradication and equity.

The Green economy should not be regarded as a green part of the total economy. Rather entire economies need to be ?greened?. The natural environment provides the basis for all life and thus for all economic and social activity. It is therefore dangerous to regard the environmental, social and economic aspects of sustainable development as more or less equal ?pillars? between which compromises must be struck. All three aspects are important and furthermore interrelated but without fulfilling certain environmental goals, namely those related to staying within planetary boundaries and avoiding the triggering of ecological tipping points, it will be impossible to reach other important goals in the social and economic pillars. The economy should rightly be seen as a circle within the social circle, in its turn within the ecological circle.

A truly Green economy implies the use of new ways of measuring success in economic development in which the quality of life and related parameters, rather than GDP, play the dominant role.

Advances in science mean that sustainability can increasingly be quantified. We begin to be able to assess the quantity of resources that can be taken from the environment, and the quantity of outputs (emissions, wastes etc) that can be absorbed by the environment, on an indefinite and ongoing basis. With this knowledge, and with an ethical framework based on the principles of sustainability and equity, we are able to develop the concept of each person?s entitlement in principle to consume and to emit those resources for which there is a planetary limit. This concept should, as a starting point, guide our understanding of sustainable development and the Green economy. It implies that in the developed world we do not only need to promote resource efficiency, but also to achieve absolute and in some cases substantial reductions in our use of scarce resources. The notion that the Green economy is one in which we accelerate our way beyond ecological constraints through innovation is attractive but not necessarily entirely valid, even though we do not exclude such win-win outcomes from innovation.

The science of sustainability also requires us to address the issue of projected population levels and to promote policies with a view to ensuring that eventually, in order to ensure a better quality of life for future generations and with full respect for human rights, human population levels do not exceed the carrying capacity of the Earth.

Most governments strive for economic growth while at the same time professing to believe in the concept of sustainable development. However, the assumption that economic growth can be sustained at the same time as the human population moves to living within ecological constraints and poverty is eradicated seems to be based on ideology or wishful thinking rather than on science. It is true that the wise application of increased wealth can result in the reduction of ecologically destructive impacts. However, empirical evidence suggests that this rarely happens, at least not automatically, and that periods of economic growth are often accompanied (for example) by increased consumption of resources and increases in polluting emissions. This is not to argue against economic growth per se (indeed, the alleviation of poverty, which is a key priority, often depends on economic growth), but rather to argue that the kind of growth that has occurred in the developed world to date is not compatible with living within environmental limits and therefore not with sustainable development. On the other hand, the transition to sustainable development might result in increased economic growth, but if so growth is neither the desirable objective nor the means for accomplishing such a change, merely an outcome of less value than other welfare-related parameters. The important thing is not whether the economy grows or not, but rather that economic incentives and institutions develop in a way that promotes transition to sustainable development.

Many instruments already exist which contribute to greening economies, though in many cases these are not sufficiently robust and need to be strengthened. Experience shows that legally binding approaches tend to be more effective than voluntary approaches. Despite this, pressure from commercial interests has led to deregulation or has prevented the introduction of further regulation where there is a demonstrable need for it. Apart from having negative consequences for the environment, this tendency tends to penalise the progressive parts of industry. The right kind of regulation can provide confidence for green investment and stimulate the creation of green jobs.

The EEB regards two broad strategies as central to greening the economy, in particular in developed countries, namely phasing out environmentally hazardous subsidies and imposing internalising environmental taxes, preferably within the framework of a green tax reform which could amount to some ten percent of developed nations? tax base within a decade.

Considering primarily developing nations, nearly a billion people in the world are starving and about 1.4 billion are living without access to electricity. The Green economy must provide measures to guarantee food security, the right to clean water and access to electricity without jeopardizing the planetary boundaries. It is urgently needed to reform agricultural policies, stimulating a development away from resource intensive, in some cases heavily subsidised, agriculture, while facilitating sustainable agricultural and agro-ecological practices. The world?s many smallholder farmers need access to appropriate resources and fair markets.

In many parts of the world, energy consumption must decrease (definitely that based on fossil and nuclear fuels) and there is a great potential for energy savings and for improved efficiency due to technological innovation. A Green economy must grasp these opportunities and set signals securing definite energy reductions, while supporting the poor parts of the world with more electricity. It is very unlikely that poverty will be combated successfully without proper access to electricity for poor people. Access to clean energy for all will require large amounts of financial transfers in the form of grants.

Taking into account the effectiveness of legally binding measures, the Rio+20 Conference should result in commitments to the development of a number of legally binding instruments:

? At national level, mechanisms such as environmental impact assessment and strategic environmental assessment have proven to be valuable in ensuring that environmental factors are taken into account in the process of development. The Conference should launch negotiations towards an international treaty on environmental assessment, embracing decision-making at both the strategic and project levels.

? The emergence of new technologies posing new threats to health and environment justifies the introduction of a new treaty on technology assessment, based on the precautionary principle.

? An agreement to phase out environmentally hazardous ? in particular fossil and nuclear fuel ? subsidies is needed.

? An agreement on setting up environmentally effective and socially friendly fiscal incentives, in particular in terms of environmental taxes should be introduced.

? An agreement on mobilising and operationalising a wide-range of innovative sources of finance for eco-social development is also needed.

Institutional framework for sustainable development

The institutional framework for sustainable development needs to be strengthened at all levels: international, regional, national and local.

At international level, the status of UNEP should be upgraded to that of an international organization equivalent to, for example, the International Labour Organization or the World Health Organization. The mandate of the UN Economic and Social Committee should be revised to reflect the overarching goal of sustainable development. The international financial institutions should be obliged to report to it on their activities. International environmental treaties should in general be made superior to e.g. trade treaties.

Multilateral financing bodies, such as the World Bank, as well as international trade law, investment policies and bilateral investment treaties, should be reshaped to make trade and investments work for sustainable development, including human rights, social equity and protection of natural resources.

To implement the possible Rio +20 outcomes, sufficient finance, technology and related capacity building will be needed. The principle of common but differentiated responsibilities should be acknowledged and for many developing countries support from other countries is a prerequisite. To cover the financial need, there is a need to develop and operationalise new innovative financial mechanisms.

The Rio+20 Conference should be used to strengthen the legal framework for sustainable development at the international level with respect to a number of specific areas, including the seas and oceans and the field of chemicals:

? Even seas that are within national jurisdictions do not enjoy adequate legal protection, but the situation is much worse with respect to the high seas and oceans beyond national jurisdiction, where no appropriate legal framework has ever been designed to guarantee their protection from human activities. In 1992, heads of state and governments put high on the agenda two crucial environmental global challenges: climate and biodiversity. 20 years after the Earth Summit, a new deal for the seas and the oceans should be sealed. Such a treaty could regulate access to marine genetic resources.

? A new international treaty on chemicals built on, in particular, the Strategic Approach to Integrated Chemicals Management (SAICM), Agenda 21 (chapter 21), and the Basel, Rotterdam and Stockholm conventions, needs to be established. Such a treaty should establish a clear phase out objective for all hazardous substances, in particular substances of very high concern (SVHC). Furthermore, an automatic export and import ban for all SVHC identified is needed. A differentiated timeline for developing countries may be established if necessary on these points. However, mandatory obligations for all countries are needed to share the chemicals data with third countries. Moreover, any new agreement should recognise and meet the challenges following from exposure to cocktails of chemicals and should place vulnerable groups, not least children, in the focus and design protective measures for such groups. One function of strengthened global environment institutions could be to establish a UN-based International Chemicals Inspection Agency, to facilitate and implement any global chemicals regulation. Green chemistry should be an integral part in the discussions on transforming the world economic system into a ?Green economy?.

? We call for the establishment of an intergovernmental negotiating committee to create a framework convention on corporate environmental and social responsibility (CSR) for the accountability of corporate investments for all companies listed on stock exchanges worldwide and take into account the ISO 26000 standard on corporate accountability.

At national and sub-national levels, sustainable development governance is enhanced by national councils for sustainable development. The Rio+20 Conference should promote the establishment of such councils where they do not exist. Where they do exist, they should be adequately resourced and should be afforded sufficient status to ensure that they have a meaningful influence on government policy. The Conference should also promote the institution of ombudsperson for sustainable development. This is a valuable model which should be applied more widely.

The Rio +20 Conference should also agree on an ambitious work program to operationalise additional innovative sources of finance needed to meet the financing requirements for sustainable development.

Engaging and empowering civil society

One issue that is linked to both of the major themes of the Conference, namely the Green economy and the institutional framework for sustainable development, is the key role that civil society can and must play in promoting sustainable development. A true greening of the economy cannot take place without the basic mechanisms for democratic governance being in place. Similarly, an institutional framework that supports sustainable development must be transparent and allow for participation of the public through democratic governance structures.

This principle is widely recognised and received global endorsement in 1992 with the adoption of Principle 10 of the Rio Declaration on Environment and Development. However, more than 19 years since the adoption of Principle 10, its implementation remains uneven at best. The most significant progress has been made in Europe and Central Asia where 44 States are Parties to the Aarhus Convention. The adoption in 2010 of guidelines on Principle 10 under the auspices of UNEP was also an important step forward, despite their non-binding nature.

Governance needs to be made more transparent and participatory at all levels. At national and sub-national levels, this should be achieved by development of a global treaty on environmental democracy guaranteeing public rights to information, participation and justice, building on the 2010 UNEP Guidelines and drawing on the example of the Aarhus Convention.

As regards civil society participation in international processes, this should be strengthened through the development and adoption of a set of global guidelines establishing recommending minimum standards for civil society participation in international decision-making processes related to sustainable development. Such guidelines could draw on relevant instruments such as the Almaty Guidelines adopted under the Aarhus Convention.

The Rio+20 Conference should launch negotiating processes for both of these instruments, with a view to their adoption by 2016.

In addition, the Conference should encouraged interested States to accede to the Aarhus Convention or to develop similar regional conventions.

1 November 2011
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