31 May 2012
In a few weeks’ time the Rio earth summit on sustainable development takes place with thousands of participants from governments, the private sector, NGOs and other groups coming together to tackle poverty, inequality and environmental protection.
During a debate on the issue in the Scottish Parliament last night (30 May) Alison Johnstone, Green MSP for Lothian, made the following remarks:
The first Rio earth summit was a milestone in global environmental talks. In comparison with recent climate talks, the agreements made at Rio were extensive. Rio established the term “sustainable development” in the political vocabulary. The Rio declaration defined the polluter-pays principle and the precautionary principle, and recognised that women and indigenous peoples have vital roles to play in creating solutions to environmental crises.
Rio also produced agreements on the agenda 21 action plan and the forest principles, and gave us the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, the international environmental treaty that led to the Kyoto protocol’s mandatory emission limits and the framework for all future global climate negotiations.
However, all has not been rosy since Rio. Global carbon emissions have continued to rise and the efforts to replace Kyoto have become increasingly fraught. Millennium development goals on poverty will be missed and the economic model, then and now, is based on debt-fuelled overconsumption and is hard-wired for vast levels of poverty and inequality.
Twenty years on from Rio number 1, I welcome the seven issues that are mentioned in the motion—there are accords, action plans and agreements that we can have for decent jobs, low-carbon energy, food security, water scarcity and all the others—but the point that I want to make is that they all have their root causes in our choice of economic system and our approach to economic governance.
The green economy is one of the key themes at Rio+20. For years, Greens and many others have called for a transition to a low-carbon economy within ecological boundaries. However, the definition of a green economy is the debate that is raging in the lead-up to Rio. The UK’s position is effectively that our economic activities trash the planet because we do not ascribe a financial value to the beneficial functions of nature, such as clean air, fresh water and healthy soils. That argument proposes the commodification of services that a healthy ecosystem provides for free.
The argument goes that by costing ecological services or monetising the right to pollute, and bringing those into a market, we can continue with something very similar to business as usual but live within ecological limits. There are many who oppose that false green economy. The corporate green economy would lead to the privatisation of land and nature by multinational companies and take control of the resources further away from the communities that depend on them, instead of contributing to sustainable development and economic justice.
The World Development Movement has called for a “real green economy, not a Trojan horse for bankers”.
A true green economy would embrace economic justice—the right of poor communities to determine their path out of poverty, and an end to harmful policies that put profit before people and the environment. A true green economy would replace our focus on economic growth and unsustainable consumption with a focus on meeting everyone’s needs in a truly sustainable manner. In Scotland, there are similar debates over what is meant by “sustainable economic development”.
I wish the minister and all those who are attending the Rio+20 conference every success in working for the positive outcome that is essential. I ask the minister—following his attendance at the summit—to seek to find Government time for a full debate on the summit and its outcome.