- Date submitted: 1 Nov 2011
- Stakeholder type: Major Group
- Submission Document: Download
- Additional Document:
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
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
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
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 1.5º 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.