Mother Pelican
A Journal of Sustainable Human Development

Vol. 7, No. 5, May 2011
Luis T. Gutiérrez, Editor
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Climate Change:
Urgent Appeal to Change the Mindset

Roberto Bissio
Third World Institute & Social Watch Secretariat
Montevideo, Uruguay

Originally published in Choike, 11 March 2011
Reprinted with Permission

"Climate change is widely considered to be one of the gravest threats to the sustainability of the planet's environment, the well-being of its people and the strength of its economies."
Climate change and sustainable development
Urgent appeal to change the mindset
Llamado urgente a cambiar la forma de pensar

Climate Change and sustainable development

Climate change is widely considered to be one of the gravest threats to the sustainability of the planet's environment, the well-being of its people and the strength of its economies. Mainstream scientists agree that the Earth's climate is changing from the build-up of greenhouse gases (GHGs), such as carbon dioxide, that result from such essential human activities as electricity generation, transportation and agriculture.

They also agree that industrialized countries —those with very high per capita GHG emissions— need to reduce their consumption of fossil fuels, improve agricultural practices, and conserve forests and other ecosystems that absorb carbon from the atmosphere. Developing countries, whose per capita emissions are generally much lower, are concerned with meeting the immediate energy needs of their people rather than reducing their emissions, but the time is right for them to also begin pursuing a more sustainable path of development.

The international response to climate change started with the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. Agreed to in 1992, the Convention is a framework for action to limit or reduce GHG emissions. In 1997, 159 countries signed the Kyoto Protocol to the Convention, committing industrialized countries to quantified targets for abating their emissions of GHGs.

Under the Kyoto Protocol, the US - by far the world's largest emitter of GHGs – was meant not only to slow down but also reverse the growth of its emissions to reach a target level of seven per cent below its 1990 emissions. In March 2001, US President George W. Bush de facto reneged on this undertaking by the previous administration, which had signed the Kyoto Protocol. He declared that he would propose his own strategy, and not seek ratification of the protocol, because he was worried about its effects on the US economy. Instead, the Bush administration came up with its own climate change strategy: one that, by 2012, is likely to result in a 30 per cent increase, over the 1990 levels, in the emission of greenhouse gases.

Over the last years, the centre of the debate on climate change has revolved around the so called “flexible” clauses of the Kyoto Protocol. In order to persuade the developed world to sign the convention, the protocol includes a “Clean Development Mechanism” (CDM) that allows the emission of a generous quantity of GHGs provided that countries commit themselves to investing in programs that compensate for their contamination. Namely, these consist in forestation and the preservation of green areas capable of absorbing carbon dioxide and transforming it into oxygen through the process of photosynthesis: the so called “carbon sinks”.

Although many NGOs and international organizations such as the World Bank agree that this mechanism provides a satisfactory solution to all parts, environmental groups and green organizations claim that no real improvement on climate change will be made if there is no reduction of GHGs emission. Furthermore, many argue that the CDM in fact bargains the right to contaminate thus leading to yet another form of commerce: the “carbon trade”, which is far from tackling the root causes of the problem.

Despite the fact that the effects of climate change affect the world as a whole, the south is increasingly turning into the “carbon sink” of the north, which causes serious alterations in its biodiversity and hinders the possibility of sustainable development.

In recent years, several countries have been promoting the use of biofuels - liquid fuels produced from biomass grown in large-scale monocultures, also called 'agrofuels'- as a viable alternative to fossil fuels. Promoters claim biofuels provide significant greenhouse gas emissions savings, but environmental NGOs have increasingly warned that the rush to agrofuels encourages intensive, industrial agriculture, providing a new promotional vehicle for GM crops, and posing a serious threat to food sovereignty. Indeed, the destruction of rainforests, peatlands and other ecosystems to make way for agrofuel plantations may well accelerate global warming.

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 liberalization, tax cuts and exemptions, and weakening the role of the 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 states 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 have exacerbated inequities and inequalities, not least regarding access to resources.

Unbridled market forces have favored 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 restraint and responsibility of the present generation. It is urgent to establish more equitable per capita rights towards the global commons and to the emission of greenhouse gases, taking fully into account historical responsibility.

Rescuing nature

after more than sixty years of global warming, loss of biodiversity, desertification, depletion of marine life and of forests, a spiraling 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 pressures 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 re-affirm the State as the indispensable actor setting the legal frame, 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

Llamado urgente a cambiar la forma de pensar

La Cumbre de las Naciones Unidas para el Desarrollo Sustentable, Río 2012, debe cambiar la mentalidad dominante por medio de:

La restauración de los derechos públicos sobre los privilegios de las empresas

después de treinta años de fortalecimiento del poder de los inversores y de las grandes corporaciones a través de la desregulación, la liberalización comercial y financiera, los recortes y exenciones de impuestos, y el debilitamiento del papel del Estado, y después de la crisis financiera impulsada por el mercado.

Los principios y valores de la Declaración de Río y la Declaración del Milenio de la ONU, aprobados por los jefes de estado y de gobierno, están amenazados y necesitan urgentemente ser restablecidos. Estos principios incluyen los Derechos Humanos, la Libertad, la Igualdad, la Solidaridad, la Diversidad, el Respeto de la Naturaleza, y la Responsabilidad Común pero Diferenciada. Los intereses empresariales no promueven estos principios y valores.

Tomar en serio la equidad

después de treinta años de políticas que ensancharon aún más la brecha entre ricos y pobres y han exacerbado las inequidades y desigualdades, incluso con respecto al acceso a los recursos.

Las fuerzas desenfrenadas del mercado han favorecido a los fuertes, ensanchando así la brecha económica. Esto requiere que el Estado corrija el desequilibrio, elimine la discriminación, y asegure medios de vida sostenibles, empleo decente e inclusión social. La justicia intergeneracional requiere moderación y responsabilidad por parte de la generación actual. Es urgente establecer derechos más equitativos per cápita hacia el patrimonio común mundial y la emisión de gases de efecto invernadero, teniendo plenamente en cuenta la responsabilidad histórica.

Rescatar la naturaleza

después de más de sesenta años de calentamiento global, pérdida de la biodiversidad, desertificación, agotamiento de la vida marina y de los bosques, una crisis del agua que se acelera y muchas otras catástrofes ecológicas.

La crisis del medio ambiente está afectando a los pobres mucho más que a los ricos. Existen soluciones basadas en el conocimiento, incluyendo tecnologías para restaurar los sistemas naturales y reducir drásticamente las presiones sobre el clima y el medio ambiente, mejorando al mismo tiempo el bienestar humano. Una "economía verde" es alcanzable, pero debe estar integrada en un concepto holístico de la sustentabilidad. Lo que necesitamos es un cambio de estilo de vida.

La Cumbre de Río de 1992 adoptó instrumentos jurídicamente vinculantes y asimiló a la Sociedad Civil. La Cumbre de Johannesburgo 2002 celebró las asociaciones basadas en un Sector Privado autorregulado. La Cumbre de Río 2012 debe reafirmar al Estado como el actor indispensable que establece el marco legal, hace cumplir las normas de equidad y los derechos humanos, y fomenta el pensamiento ecológico a largo plazo, basado en la legitimidad democrática.

Este llamado fue formulado por los siguientes miembros del Grupo de Reflexión sobre las Perspectivas de Desarrollo Mundial:

Albert Recknagel, terre des hommes Alemania; Alejandro Chanona, Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México; Barbara Adams, Global Policy Forum (Foro de Políticas Mundiales); Beryl d'Almeida, Abandoned Babies Committee Zimbabue (Comité para bebés abandonados); Chee Yoke Ling, Red del Tercer Mundo; Ernst-Ulrich von Weizsäcker, International Panel for Sustainable Resource Management (Panel Internacional para la Gestión Sostenible de los Recursos); Filomeno Sta. Ana III, Action for Economic Reform (Acción para la Reforma Económica); George Chira, terre des hommes India; Gigi Francisco, Development Alternatives with Women for a New Era; Henning Melber, Fundación Dag Hammarskjöld; Hubert Schillinger, Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung; Jens Martens, Global Policy Forum Europe (Foro de Política Mundial Europa); Jorge Ishizawa, Proyecto Andino de Tecnologias Campesinas; Roberto Bissio, Social Watch; Vicky Tauli-Corpuz, Fundación Tebtebba; Yao Graham, Red del Tercer Mundo África.

About the Author: "Roberto Bissio, is executive director of the Instituto del Tercer Mundo (Third World Institute), a non-profit research and advocacy organization based in Uruguay. He coordinates the secretariat of Social Watch, an international network of citizen organizations from around the world that report every year on how governments and international organizations implement their commitments on poverty eradication and gender equity. Roberto is a member of Third World Network's international committee and of the civil society advisory group to the UNDP administrator. As a journalist he has worked on development issues since 1973. He was the creator of “The World Guide”, a reference book with a Southern perspective, published every two years in Spanish and English." EUROSTEP.

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