Financial and social sustainability are as vital as environmental sustainability Financial and social sustainability are as vital as environmental sustainability


Intervention by Roberto Bissio, coordinator of Social Watch, at the interactive session of the Development Cooperation Forum on: Where do we go from Rio?


Rio was not certainly up to everybody’s ambition, and certainly not those of civil society, but it did achieve some fundamental agreements. Ambassador Jean Baptiste Mattei just listed some of them. And I would add to that list the reaffirmation of the Rio principle of Common but Differentiated Responsibilities, which is not a minor thing.


In looking at that principle, and what it means now, twenty years after, I think that the “common” is taking a more important weight now, while for many many years the “differentiated” has been the essential. We have to redefine the balance between the two. But the ?common? comes out quite strongly and that is also a message from Rio when we are talking about Sustainable Development Goals.


These SDG are to be universal, for all countries of the world, not just for a reduced set of countries. They are to be applied, of course, under differentiated conditions and capabilities, but they are common. They should be universal and they should be based on human rights. And they need a new set of indicators to measure progress. Rio+20 also said that the GDP (Gross Domestic Product) is not our tool, it is not useful as a measure for the problems of sustainable development that we are tackling now. This is something that the Rio Summit already said in 1992, twenty years ago. But that concept couldn’t take off at that moment. Now, once France took the initiative to convene a Commission headed by Joseph Stiglitz, Amartya Sen and Jean-Paul Fitoussi to give us some guidelines around sustainability indicators. And they clearly recommend not to use a single number to explain everything but rather a set of numbers. They use the metaphor of the dashboard of a car. A car with a single indicator would be useless. You need to know how much gas you have in your tank, at what speed you are going and how many kilometres you have travelled. Similarly, to assess sustainability we need a set of indicators, which will take account of the environmental, social and economic pillars of sustainable development but will also have to look at the problem of planetary boundaries. Those planetary boundaries are flexible, because technology can expand them, and thus we need to look also at how that technology is shared in the world.


A lot of those conclusions sound very new, but they are just putting in different words principles that the UN system has had for a long time. Some people argue, for example, that one of the new goals should be access to internet for all. Yet, Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights back in 1948 already stated that there should be internet for all, because it says that everybody should have the means to obtain information through appropriate means and to participate and engage in the public discussions. Then all that it is needed is to say “appropriate” in 2012 means Internet. The principle is already there and has already been agreed.


The principle that the goals should be common, universal goals, was already approved in Copenhagen in 1995, by the Social Summit, and we have Juan Somavia in this panel, who chaired the preparatory process of that UN conference. Since the Social Summit we already have goals for everybody in the world, because employment, social integration and poverty eradication where the key issues then. And that elaborates on the big achievements of the Vienna Conference on Human Rights of 1993, where it was defined that women rights are human rights, workers rights are human rights, indigenous peoples rights are human rights.


The Vienna Conference is having its 20th anniversary soon and the notions it approve should be brought into this goal setting process, where we now will have a committee of thirty governments on one hand discussing the new Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and we have the experts and the UN system discussing a “post 2015 framework” to substitute the MDGs when they expire in 2015. Civil society, the citizens, those that are going to actually incorporate those resolutions in their daily efforts, fight for them, monitor them, hold the governments and the UN system accountable for them… where are they participating? This is not well defined yet.


That leads us to the questions about the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) of the UN. Every two years or every six months we discuss how to reform this institution, how to make it play the role that it should have. Everybody in this panel knows much more about ECOSOC than what I know, but having watched some of these discussions, I conclude that they have are usually about the governance, the regulations and the functioning of ECOSOC, but what makes an institution really vibrant is not so much its by laws, which of course are very important, but its substance. Is ECOSOC going to address the substantial discussions that will make it vibrant?


I think this is the real challenge, and this Development Cooperation Forum provides an excellent example of how relevant it can be and how much of a convening power it can have. When you put the real issues on the table people will come to discuss. And that means for example, setting up time bound ad-hoc working groups with multi-stakeholders as members and participants.


I have learned in these days of a new terminology. We always hated the term of non-governmental organizations, because we do not want to be defined by a negative, but under that term ECOSOC opened from the very beginning of the UN, its doors to the peoples. Under the banner of Non governmental organizations we have consultative status in this body, meaning that we can offer our input into the discussions of the governments. Now, the term used is not any more “non-governmental organizations” but ?non-executive organizations?. Are we to welcome the majors, local authorities and parliamentarians, to the ranks of civil society? We are very happy to work with them, but I think it elected authorities are clearly not the same as peoples’ organizations. And many of them also have civil society at their doors demanding results and making them accountable.


But anyhow, what that means is that the need is recognized for a variety of actors to be present in this working groups that should tackle all of the real issues that affect people. And then we also need expert groups. The other Stiglitz Commission, that was created during the financial crisis in 2009 as an advisory group to the President of the General Assembly, produced a lot of substance about the crisis and about the ways to solve it that are still valid now. Rio+20 recognized that contribution by making  that kind of expert groups a more formal and recognized reality that will certainly enhance the process and give the ECOSOC and the UN at large and of course the General Assembly too, a much more vibrant role.


This is something that civil society has strongly and for a long time advocated for, which is to bring together in a single room the discussion of the different components. Financial sustainability is as vital as environmental sustainability. And after all what happened in 2011 around the world everybody understands that social sustainability is also necessary. Between now and the year 2020, more than one billion young adults between 16 and 25 years old will enter the world labour market, which cannot offer them jobs in the North or in the South at this moment. That creates a common challenge that all of us should take responsibility for.


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