Educate. Connect. Inspire

Educate. Connect. Inspire

Jun 8, 2012

Green Economy in South America

Sustainable Development, not "Green Economy"

Civil society in Latin America and the Caribbean is mustering its strength to defend the principles of sustainable development, as opposed to the model of a "green economy", which it views as only benefiting the business interests of big companies.

"The green economy is the new international environmental vogue, but it has lost all vestiges of the concept of sustainable development and has taken another direction," Maureen Santos, an expert on international issues at the Brazilian Federation of Agencies for Social and Educational Assistance (FASE), said. "It's an attempt to shore up the present system that is in crisis," she said.

The goals of the Rio+20 conference are to secure renewed political commitment for sustainable development, assess the progress to date in the implementation of the outcomes of the major summits on sustainable development, and address new and emerging challenges. The conference will focus on building a green economy in the context of sustainable development and poverty eradication, and an institutional framework for sustainable development.

"Putting a price on nature is no solution, because it isn't a commodity," Katu Arkonada, a researcher at Bolivia's Centre for Applied Studies on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, said. "The green economy must not distort or divert the basic principles of sustainable development. It is a mistake to say that people will only look after goods if they have a price-tag and an owner and generate profits."

Debate should focus on "the greening of growth, equity in a world of limits, and building resilience to shocks and stresses," says a study titled "Making Rio 2012 Work: Setting the stage for global economic, social and ecological renewal" by Alex Evans and David Steven. The authors are academics with the Centre on International Cooperation at New York University, which published the document in June 2011.

Civil society organisations prefer to talk about greening the economy, rather than promoting a green economy. In fact, these definitions are already a cause of dissension between industrialised countries and developing nations. "The debate on the green economy is very diverse. Latin American positions are very fragmented," said FASE's Santos, who is also a member of the Brazilian Network for Peoples' Integration (REBRIP).

"The two key challenges of sustainable development are, on the one hand, to overcome poverty and inequality, and on the other, to restore the balance of the Earth. Both goals are intrinsically linked, and one cannot be achieved without the other. Human beings and nature are at the centre of concerns for sustainable development," Arkonada said.

The World Economic and Social Survey 2011: The Great Green Technological Transformation, by the U.N. Department of Economic and Social Affairs, recommends investing 1.9 trillion dollars a year in green technologies over the next 40 years, to combat the effects of climate change. "But the current green economy agenda lacks much real substance. To give it a harder edge, it should be focused more specifically on the issue of growth - above all, the growth path of emerging economies," Evans and Steven's study says.

It argues that "emerging economies will account for the majority of additional demand between now and 2030; they are laboratories of the future; they are the model that other developing countries want to follow; and they have the potential to force rich countries to make belated efforts to upgrade their economies."

Latin America defends sustainability and rejects “green economy”

Representatives of the governments of Latin America and the Caribbean who convened in October 2011 in Santiago de Chile didn’t include among their recommendations to the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development, the concept of “green economy”.

On the other hand, the document of conclusions approved by the Regional Preparatory Meeting for Rio2012, reiterates that “the objective to be achieved is sustainable development, which should ensure the balance between these three interconnected pillars: social, economic and environmental, while maintaining the fundamental principles of common but differentiated responsibilities and equity”. A global institutional framework is necessary to achieve sustainable development “which is efficient and flexible and ensures the effective integration” of those pillars, it adds.

The delegates stated that a change in patterns of production and consumption must be achieved, in addition to better ways of measuring countries’ wealth that adequately reflect the social, economic and environmental dimensions, “while maintaining the fundamental principles of common but differentiated responsibilities and equity”.

Following three days of deliberations, the representatives examined the gaps still remaining since the 1992 Earth Summit for the achievement of sustainable development, which are even more pressing in the case of the small island States of the Caribbean.

Representatives of civil society organizations had called before and during the meeting to focus the debate on the principle of sustainable development and on the implementation of the commitments outlined 20 years ago in Rio de Janeiro, and not on the “green economy”, a concept that, as they warned, “has not reached a real consensus”. They also remarked on the importance of effective accountability, the observance of the agreements, participation, the precautionary principle and the improvement of institutions in charge of sustainable development.

Some governmental representatives (such as those from Barbados, Bolivia, Brazil, Ecuador, Nicaragua and Venezuela) opposed to the concept of green economy for various reasons, among them its recognition as an excessively economist approach and because of the rich countries’ technological advantages for the implementation of its policies, the absence of consensus and the perceived threat of privatization of social goods.

But other official delegations (among them the Dominican Republic, Guatemala and Mexico) perceived the green economy as a flexible means to reach a kind of sustainable development that is adaptable to national circumstances. However, the conclusions don’t include any reference to the concept.

In the conclusions of the meeting, the delegates stated that “some of the barriers to the achievement of sustainable development are the scientific and technological gap, the lack of sufficient financing and the fragmentation in implementation,” said Alicia B├írcena, executive secretary of ECLAC.

The document also indicates the need to achieve “the eradication of extreme poverty; new, additional, stable and predictable financing for supporting implementation activities in developing countries; the fulfilment of mitigation and adaptation commitments in relation to climate change and the building of resilience to its impacts; and greater South-South cooperation and exchange of successful experiences”.

They included the need for “full implementation of the right to access environmental information, participation and justice enshrined in Principle 10 of the Rio Declaration on Environment and Development”.

Furthermore, the representatives of the States of Latin America and the Caribbean expressed their firm determination to continue to work towards sustainable development, with the primordial purpose of eradicating poverty and achieving equality in societies, bearing in mind the particular characteristics of each of the States in the region.

They reaffirmed the commitment of the countries in the region to continue to contribute constructively to a successful outcome of Rio2012 and they thanked ECLAC for its constant efforts and the support it extends to Latin American and Caribbean countries.