No Future Without Justice No Future Without Justice


Report of the Civil Society Reflection Group on Global Development Perspectives


1. The World in Need of Fundamental Change


We live in a world in turmoil. Too many people are tossed around in a global boom and bust; the world turned into a global casino, gambling with our livelihoods, our security, our futures and our planet. We have exceeded the ecological limits and neglect the planetary boundaries. With the climate change threat we are already living on borrowed time. However, we refuse to cut back on emissions and allocate the scarce resources to those who have not yet benefited from their exploitation.


What Went Wrong?

All too often, national and international policies have not aimed at reducing inequalities. The dedication to stimulating economic growth has provided the incentive to exploit nature, rely on the use of fossil fuels and deplete biodiversity, undermining the provision of essential services. Women, especially the poor, continue to suffer from social and economic discrimination and in many places are deprived of their bodily, reproductive and sexual rights. Biodiversity and the bounty of nature, while cherished, are not respected, protected or valued. Communities and populations that seek to live in harmony with nature find their rights ignored and their livelihoods and cultures jeopardised.


Why has this happened? Why is governance failing us so badly? States have reneged on the democratic values they committed themselves to uphold, and governments have become less accountable to the people. Universal norms and standards are being ignored or sidestepped by new rules that favour markets. Risks are being borne by those who had no role in taking them while a new classification of »too big to fail« has re-ordered the distribution of public resources. We are confronted with a hierarchy of rights, with those protecting human and eco systems relegated to the lowest rungs. This situation finds its parallels in governance at the national and international levels. Further, fragmented global governance has led to failure to see the big picture and a tendency to deal with symptoms, rather than causes.


Responses to the failure of the financial system show that the state can act and will act quickly in the face of perceived disaster with money and policies. But the required stronger role of the state must be based on democratic legitimacy and accountability – and be balanced by the effective participation of civil society in an autonomously creative role.


Building a Holistic Concept of Sustainability


To date, a holistic approach of sustainability has not been adopted for action. It is necessary to redefine, for public policy and public life, the concepts of development and well-being, along with their content, their metrics and their strategies. We need to build a new narrative of development and sustainability that can permeate daily life, public and social arenas and bilateral, regional and multilateral forums, and that can be incorporated into the discourse of national and global politics and policies. A new development paradigm grounded in the logic of sustainability and human rights will require a redefinition of the role of the state, civil society and the private sector. The state should play a key role in promoting sustainability and welfare and has to be reaffirmed as an indispensable actor – not one of many stakeholders –, setting the legal frame, enforcing standards of equity and human rights and fostering long-term ecological thinking, based on democratic legitimacy. However, in implementation governments should avoid adopting a one-size-fits-all approach and instead align their policies to the specific situation in each country.


First and foremost, this requires reconfirming the framework of universal principles and rights and recognising the ecological limits of the planet.


2. Reconfirming Principles and Rights


Every concept of development, well-being and progress in societies is based on a set of fundamental principles and values. These values are rooted deeply in our cultures, our ideologies and our belief systems. We are convinced that there is a set of universal principles and values that is shared by most of us. We acknowledge the diversity of cultural expressions as a value in itself that has to be protected and promoted. In times of globalisation and growing global interrelationship between societies, economies and people, universally agreed principles are the precondition for living together in justice and peace and in harmony with nature.


We propose the following set of eight principles as the foundation for a new sustainability rights framework:

  • Solidarity principle
  • «Do no harm»« principle
  • Principle of common but differentiated responsibilities
  • Polluter pays« principle
  • Precautionary principle
  • Subsidiarity principle
  • Principle of free, prior and informed consent
  • Principle of peaceful dispute settlement


These eight principles should build the cornerstones of a universal sustainability rights framework. They are inter- connected and must not be applied in isolation. In addition to the core set of universal principles, there are fundamental values, which are also essential to international relations. Governments referred to some of them in the Millennium Declaration. They include, inter alia, freedom, equality, diversity and respect for nature. While all governments agreed to these principles and values in general, they have mostly failed to translate them into enforceable, guaranteed obligations and specific policies. In order to ensure the functioning of a society and create safeguards against tyranny and abuses of corporate power, values have to be translated into rights, policies and strategies.


3. Recognising the Planetary Boundaries


All human life is ultimately based on the integrity of the global ecosystem. Ongoing destruction of nature, over-consumption of resources and excessive greenhouse gas emissions are now on a scale where damage is becoming irreversible. Humanity has already transgressed three of the nine so-called »planetary boundaries« identified by Johan Rockström et al.: the rate of biodiversity loss, climate change and nitrogen input to the biosphere.1 Other boundaries may be exceeded in the nearer future, in particular those for global freshwater use, change in land use, ocean acidification and interference with the global phosphorous cycle. If current trends continue we will have to face abrupt global environmental change, with detrimental consequences for people and the planet.


Humanity has to leave this destructive development path, respect the planetary boundaries and operate within environmental limits. Acknowledging that humanity also must increase economic and social well-being for many to at least fulfil their basic human rights, we need a massive and absolute »decoupling« of well-being from resource extraction and consumption. This requires a whole set of transition strategies, including, inter alia, technology transfer and assessment mechanisms based on the principle of common but differentiated responsibilities and new ways of financial burden sharing (see Part V below).


From a broad conceptual perspective there are different entry points from where to tackle human demand on the earth’s ecosystem. This environmental impact is the combined effect of the scale of global production and consumption, the composition of what we produce and consume and the resources and technologies we use to produce what we consume. To reduce the environmental impact, we could either try to reduce overall production and consumption (sufficiency strategy), produce and consume the same or even more with fewer natural resources and emissions (efficiency strategy) or produce and consume different things or in a different way (consistency strategy or ecological structural change).


A sufficiency strategy of limiting or even reducing per-capita income growth in rich countries could be part of the solution to keep resource consumption and waste generation within environmental limits, although this might be politically difficult. The potential economic and social problems (such as deflation coupled with increased unemployment) and distribution conflicts that could be triggered by such policies are not trivial. However, reducing income inequalities within rich and poor countries, leading to reductions in status consumption and excessive lifestyles of the rich would certainly contribute to a broader acceptance of sufficiency strategies.


On the global level, we are in any case likely to see more material production – that is, economic growth – as long as there is no all-encompassing global redistribution scheme on the horizon that could substitute for the benefits of growth in the poorer parts of the world. For years to come, we will still need some form of growth in large parts of the world in order to expand the frontiers of »maximum available resources« for poor countries.



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