The future we don’t want: Some thoughts after Rio+20 The future we don’t want: Some thoughts after Rio+20

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The final result


Although there were a lot of interesting discussions, nothing fundamental is left in the outcome document that could lead urgently to Sustainable Development. There is no reference at all of planetary boundaries, limits of growth, fair share of natural resources, human rights based approach, sufficiency etc. All concepts that is basic in sustainable development thinking. So, if you refer to used common and scientific knowledge, this would be a Rio minus 20, even before the reports of the Club of Rome and Brundtland. But what is worst of all, is that everywhere in the text they see the ultimate solution in “sustained economic growth”, which is totally the contrary of sustainable development. It is unbelievable that no country reacted on that fact, and that that ambition could enter 19 times in a sustainable development text.


There is already a lot said on the outcome document, named “The Future We Want”. Many scientists, activists and journalist wrote down their comments. Nobody is happy. UN-Secretary General Ban Ki-moon was unhappy too on Wednesday 20th of June. He urged the government to push for a stronger outcome, as the world needed that. On Friday he said that he was very happy with the outcome-document, although in the days in between no comma was replaced, no word added, nor deleted. As ANPED we started an e-petition “The Future We Don’t Want”, within few hours hundreds of signatures of organisations and individuals were collected. The general feeling is that the outcome document is a step backwards as what we already agreed on in Rio92 and Johannesburg. The financial crisis is apparently more important to solve than the social and environmental crises. Own state interests are more important than global interests. But as Trade Unions reiterated many times: “there are no green jobs at a dead planet”.


So, is the glass half full or half empty? No, it is quite empty with some drops left. As being an optimist is a moral duty, we have to restart the battle for a healthy and fair planet. We need to fill the glass again. Leave Rio behind, rethink our strategies and use the positive elements from the text. We can certainly use the drops left for future work. The idea of designing Sustainable Development Goals (SDG), that will emerge or will be the follow up for the Millennium Development Goals (MDG). That is a good opportunity, as the MDG are overall quite traditional in thinking: collect money for “helping the poor”. As long as our economic system is based on exploiting the South for maintaining the lifestyles in the North the MDGs will never achieve sufficient result. So it is very important for Civil Society to be very pro-active in the process for developing the SDG, and push, among others, the environmental justice and social equity approach forward. But also not focus on more and more economic growth, but using the contraction and convergence scheme. In the Global North is it necessary to use less natural resources and emit less CO2, so that developing countries have some (environmental) space left for their economic growth, to cover the basic needs for well being. We have to respect the planetary boundaries (we are already going beyond them) and instead of trying to increase the cake we need to share it in a more just way. This is very crucial for Sustainability worldwide.


Another drop is the acceptance of the 10 Year Framework of Programs, the implementation part of the Marrakech Process for Sustainable Consumption and Production. In this Marrakech Process governments and stakeholders are working together and did already a lot of work on analyses and concrete proposals. It is very positive that this work is valuated and can continue. The upgrading of UNEP is also promising, although it is still not enough to have a real decisional mandate in the UN-system. What will happen with Sustainable Development as such in the UN-system is unclear. The existing CSD (Commission of Sustainable Development) will be abolished and a “High level political forum” will be installed. A process for launching this will be started soon.


How to create The Future We Really Want?


Even if the ambition level of outcome document is lower than we did expect, we cannot just allow ourselves to think that nothing can be done anymore. The role of civil society organisations (CSO) is huge. Not only for them, but also scientists and journalist have to choose what their renewed approach will be? Setting the agenda, or just follow and support the mainstream approaches? If we are convinced that we need a radical and systemic change we need to rethink our role in society. Maybe we need to be more watchdogs and have a pro- active attitude. Too many CSOs are co-opted by governments and business. They argue that they want to be constructive and be in dialogue with them. Being in dialogue is of course very good, but if that (often) means that CSOs loose their idealistic and political attitude, then the cost is too high.


If you compare the ways of convincing people in the seventies and now, you will notice a huge difference. In that time CSOs were more political, they named and blamed criminal and unfair acts of big multinational corporations or governments. It became very clear where the “bad guys” were acting. Political pressure could change this. Nowadays most CSOs focus less on political work, but more on individual consumer behavior. Role of individuals is often limited to green consumer, instead of conscious citizen. That became very clear in the discussions we had in the run up to Rio+20. A lot of (bigger Northern) organisations considered green economy as very positive approach, as their campaigns fitted very well in this thinking: consume green, promote Eco design, recycling, eco-efficiency etc. But “economy” is more than consumption and production, it is also about redistribution of wealth, managing the commons, gender equality, spatial (urban) planning, human rights and active democracy. It were mostly the Southern CSO that pushed hard for human rights, stop ecological debt, Millennium Consumption Goals, Rights for Nature and so on.


Of course it is not so black and white, but it is very obvious that Southern CSO have more political content, and are less looking for only technological solutions. It is also about human rights, ethics and responsibility. The reality for most of those groups in the Global South is also harder. For them it is not about the choice of driving a diesel car or an electric car, it is about having possibilities for producing their food or having an empty stomach.




The Switch