Rio+20 – Will we all be there for the same reason?

Join a Rio+20-related reflection on

the need for a common understanding of the principle of the green economy as a criterion for sustainable development…

Since the beginning of the global negotiations on sustainable development, their central  thematic concern has changed two times: from ‘environmental protection’ (Rio 1992) over ‘poverty eradication’ (Johannesburg 2002) to ‘the green economy (+poverty eradication)’ (Rio 2012). This means that, for the first time, a world summit on sustainable development will be divided in principle over the theme that needs to inspire and guide the negotiations. While goals such as ‘environmental protection’ and ‘poverty eradication’ may leave as much room for interpretation as ‘the green economy’, there is no evidence or reason for any of the involved actors to be ‘against’ the principle of environmental protection or poverty eradication. In contrast, although the discourse on the meaning of the principles and practices of the green economy is enriching, one notices still today a polarisation around the potentials of and the strategies behind the idea of the green economy. What is a progressive ‘motor’ or ‘tool’ for environmental protection, prosperity and even social justice for the one is nothing more than a way to strategically embellisch the continuation of a neo-liberal capitalist and unsustainable agenda for the other. The gap between the two visions becomes even deeper when the question is phrased as whether for that economy to become green, it should be done by more or by less economic growth. The risk is not negligible that, with this metacriterion consciously or unconsciously referenced in scientific, economic, social or political ideas and arguments, the  negotiations in the frame of the 2012 World Summit remain stuck over conflicting evidences instead of reaching a consensus on a way forward supported by a joint understanding of ‘the green economy’ as a criterion for sustainable development.

Is that risk to be taken serious? Is a consensus understanding of the principle of the green economy necessary for global sustainable development governance? And, if yes, how will the global society succeed in transcending the polarisation over that principle?

Background rationale

Raising the above question during discussions in the context of the Rio+20 preparatory process the last year, I roughly got as many times a ‘yes’ as a ‘no’ as an answer. Therefore, I thought it would be interesting to present the question to the broader community of researchers and policy makers concerned with sustainable development governance.

While the question may generate meaningful discussion in itself, it is essentially meant to serve as a vantage point for deeper thought about how we make sense of sustainable development governance in theory and practice. A principle vantage point put forward by the research project ‘The Possibility of Global Governance’ is that fair and effective global governance starts with a fair and critical approach to making sense of the world, ourselves and the issues at stake. The claim is that current political cultures and processes do neither enforce nor enable that fair and critical approach. Simply said: sustainable development governance is not about a straightforward assembling and organising of all our good intentions into a fair and effective totality inspired by the metanorm of ‘sustainable development’. It would essentially rely on an advanced politics of confrontation that would work at the same time enforcing and enabling for all concerned actors and that is rooted in the idea of social justice. Today, the ways in which we engage in policy-supportive knowledge generation and democratic decision making seem to be inspired and steered by cultures that seek to avoid that confrontation rather than to enable and enforce it. As long as we do not change these cultures, the idea of fair and effective sustainable development governance will remain nothing more than theory or myth, easily to be appropriated by any actor more concerned with the own image than with fair and effective global governance.

Read more

Those readers who would want to spend ten minutes more of their time to get to know more about the background rationale for this reflection are invited to read an introduction to the project ‘The Possibility of Global Governance’ on the [intro to the research project] page.

Share your thoughts with us

You are invited to post your thoughts about the question on the green economy as a guiding principle for sustainable development on this website (go to ‘comments’).

Join us in organising a side event on this topic during Rio+20

We are also intending to organise a side event on this topic during Rio+20 in Rio de Janeiro in June. Please let us know by mail if you would be interested in contributing to this event.

5 Replies to “Rio+20 – Will we all be there for the same reason?”

  1. All comments and reflections are welcome here. Thanks

  2. I recently attended the UNEP Global Major Groups and Stakeholder’s Forum in Nairobi, where the discussions seem to indicate the concept of ‘green economy’ is far from being fully understood. More:

  3. Nouralla says:

    Still much to be explained to understand fully how green economy can works, however, scanning the document “towards a green economy: pathway to sustainable economy and poverty eradication” one cannot miss the challenges for a green economy to meet its stated objectives which are low carbon, resource efficient and social inclusive.
    – The challenges to low carbon are that fossil-based energy which fuels the brown economy is strongly tied with wealth and power. Sharing wealth and power between those who have and those who have-nots show long history of failure. This tie cannot voluntarily be decoupled. So, what kind of build-in incentive of the green economy which can make these decoupling between energy, wealth and power works?

    – The resource efficient is not a problem (readily available green technologies including renewable energy technologies can offer solutions) but resources redistribution is the main challenge at global level. For example the per capita raw material consumption of the US and the Western Europe is nearly four times the world average (steel, aluminum, plastic and cements). It is sometimes stated that we need three times the size of the planet to ensure that all people achieve US and Western Europe standards of living. Again what kind of incentive offered by the green economy to redistribute world resources?

    – Social inclusive is not clear how can be achieved under the above mentioned challenges. It looks that there is no room for realizing just and fair redistribution of wealth, power, material resources which are the main objectives of the green economy.
    Though we can achieve the shift to a green economy if we redefine sustainable development to include also: “meeting the material needs of the developed world without compromising the ability of the developing countries to meet their own material needs” and work on that term in our negotiations and formulations of discourses.
    Finally, understanding the ‘balance the between the needs of current and future generations and the needs of developed and developing countries’ simultaneously is step forward towards a green economy.

  4. [Greetings from Rio – A comment on my own post:] On 16 June 2012 Earth Negotiations Bulletin writes about the final hours of Rio+20 PrepCom III in Rio de Janeiro, saying, among other things: “Meanwhile, as the green economy debate continued in the corridors among NGOs and delegates, some observers highlighted that the green economy concept has opened up differences among NGOs participating in Rio+20, as well as delegates. They pointed out that activists have adopted different positions on the intentions of various players behind the concept. One international NGO said she wanted to hear more from delegations on what the green economy “is not,” that is, about the technologies and practices that ought to be phased out. Others are debating the risks surrounding the introduction of economic logic into the sustainability debate, and vice versa, with concerns about proposals to “trade in things that should not be traded, and value things beyond price.” (…)

  5. I attended a side event yesterday where the Danish 92 group launched a discussion paper on equitable green economy that emphasizes. More:

    It seems interesting as it thrashes out the complexity around this concept

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