Roberto Bissio

In preparation for the next World Conference on Climate Change, Rio+20, which will take place in Rio next year, the Social Watch movement crafted an appeal to those who have to decide about future climate agreements, to change fundamental premises of their thinking. It’s not economic growth that can change climate, but rather bridging the gap between rich and poor and changing our lifestyle.

Changing the Mindset to Save the Planet

After decades of attacking governments, environmentalists, economists, feminists and social activists from all over the world are asking for an urgent appeal to strengthen the nation-state as the only way to save a planet which is threatened by a multitude of crises: climate, water, food and finance. Instead of the usual “call for action” and request for “facts and not words”, on March 7, 2011, sixteen people got together to form the Reflection Group on Global Development Perspectives and issued a document with a call to “change your mindset” regarding the environment and the economy.

The appeal is addressed to the negotiators who are preparing the “UN Summit on Sustainable Development” to be held in Rio next year, twenty years after the “Earth Summit”, also held in the former Brazilian capital, where the notion of sustainable development was coined and the basic aspects of worldwide agreements in relation to climate change – desertification and deforestation – were set.

The change of mindset starts by “restoring public rights over corporate privileges.”

After thirty years of strengthening the power of investors and big corporations through deregulation, trade and financial liberalisation, tax cuts and exemptions, and weakening the role of the nation-state, and after the market-driven financial meltdown, the principles and values of the Rio Declaration (1992) and the UN Millennium Declaration (2000) adopted by heads of state and governments are threatened and urgently need to be re-established, said the members in their statement.

They mention human rights, freedom, equality, solidarity, diversity, respect for nature, and common but differentiated responsibilities of the nation-states, whether poor or affluent, and say that “corporate interests do not uphold these principles and values.”

The second point of the document recommends “taking equity seriously”, since the policies of the last thirty years (that is to say the conservative revolution led by Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher), “widened the gap between rich and poor” even more and exacerbated inequities and inequalities, not least regarding access to resources.

“Unbridled market forces” have favoured the strong, thereby widening the economic divide. This requires the nation-state to redress the imbalance, eliminate discrimination, and ensure sustainable livelihoods, decent work and social inclusion. Intergenerational justice requires the restraint and responsibility of the present generation. The group states that

“it is urgent to establish more equitable rights for all as regards the global resources we hold in common as well as rules regarding the emission of greenhouse gases, taking historical responsibility fully into account.”

The fact that the most developed countries did not accept these last two principles is the reason why the negotiations on climate change have been suspended. Rescuing nature is the third and last point on the appeal, which is less than one page in length. This is urgent

“after more than sixty years of global warming, loss of biodiversity, desertification, depletion of marine life and of forests, a spiralling water crisis and many other ecological catastrophes.”

The starting point, in this case, was the 1950s, when the post war euphoria of the “baby boom” generation drastically increased the planet’s consumption of non-renewable resources. The environmental crisis provoked by such uncontrolled consumption “is hitting the poor much more than the rich.”

The people who signed the appeal do not adhere to Malthusian ideas about the exhaustion of resources, however they believe that

“knowledge-intensive solutions, including technologies, are available to restore natural systems and dramatically reduce the pressure on climate and the environment while improving human well-being. A ‘green economy’ is attainable but must be embedded in ‘a holistic concept of sustainability’.”

They sum it up by saying: “What we need is a change of lifestyles.” In order to achieve this, the Rio 2012 Summit must

“reaffirm the nation-state as the indispensable actor that sets the legal framework, enforcing standards of equity and human rights, and fostering long-term ecological thinking, based on democratic legitimacy.”

Urgent Appeal to Change the Mindset

The United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development Rio 2012, must change the dominant mindset by:

Restoring public rights over corporate privileges...

after thirty years of strengthening the power of investors and big corporations through deregulation, trade and financial liberalisation, tax cuts and exemptions, and weakening the role of the nation-state – and after the market-driven financial meltdown.

The principles and values of the Rio Declaration and the UN Millennium Declaration, adopted by heads of state and governments, are threatened and urgently need to be re-established. They include: Human Rights, Freedom, Equality, Solidarity, Diversity, Respect for Nature, and Common but Differentiated Responsibilities. Corporate interests do not uphold these principles and values.

Taking equity seriously...

after thirty years of policies that further widened the gap between rich and poor and exacerbated inequities and inequalities, not least regarding access to resources.

Unbridled market forces have favoured the strong, thereby widening the economic divide. This requires the state to redress the imbalance, eliminate discrimination, and ensure sustainable livelihoods, decent work and social inclusion. Intergenerational justice requires the restraint and responsibility of the present generation. It is urgent to establish more equitable rights for all as regards the global resources we hold in common as well as rules regarding the emission of greenhouse gases, taking historical responsibility fully into account.

Rescuing nature...

after more than sixty years of global warming, loss of biodiversity, desertification, depletion of marine life and of forests, a spiralling water crisis and many other ecological catastrophes.

 The environmental crisis is hitting the poor much more than the affluent. Knowledge-intensive solutions, including technologies, are available to restore natural systems and dramatically reduce the pressure on climate and the environment while improving human well-being. A “green economy” is attainable but must be embedded in a holistic concept of sustainability. What we need is a change of lifestyles.

The Rio 1992 Summit adopted legally-binding instruments and embraced civil society. The Johannesburg Summit 2002 celebrated partnerships relying on a self-regulated private sector. The Rio 2012 Summit must reaffirm the nation-state as the indispensable actor that sets the legal framework, enforcing standards of equity and human rights, and fostering long-term ecological thinking, based on democratic legitimacy.

This appeal was formulated by the following members of the Reflection Group on Global Development Perspectives:

Albert Recknagel, terre des hommes Germany; Alejandro Chanona, National Autonomous University of México; Barbara Adams, Global Policy Forum; Beryl d’Almeida, Abandoned Babies Committee Zimbabwe; Chee Yoke Ling, Third World Network; Ernst Ulrich von Weizsäcker, International Resource Panel; Filomeno Sta. Ana III, Action for Economic Reform; George Chira, terre des hommes India; Gigi Francisco, Development Alternatives with Women for a New Era; Henning Melber, Dag Hammarskjöld Foundation; Hubert Schillinger, Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung; Jens Martens, Global Policy Forum Europe; Jorge Ishizawa, Proyecto Andino de Tecnologias Campesinas; Roberto Bissio, Social Watch; Vicky Tauli-Corpuz, Tebtebba Foundation; Yao Graham, Third World Network Africa