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Prospects for Rio Plus 20?

Peter M. Haas • Jul 3rd, 2011
Prospects for Rio Plus 20?

The Rio Plus 20 Conference (or Summit) is scheduled to be held on 4-6 June 2012 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. It is being described within UN circles as the last policy opportunity for promoting green governance and institutional reform. Unfortunately the political climate does not seem favorably disposed towards supporting the ambitious goals of advancing a “green economy” as provisionally laid out in the Conference agenda.

Lessons from the past are not comforting.

Prior successful large scale international environmental conferences – such as Stockholm 1972 and Rio 1992- enjoyed public support, a well-developed agenda with deliverable treaties and policy proposals, and the absence of major power political cleavages.

Past successful technological transformations akin to the green economy – such as the Industrial Revolution in early 19th century England, the spread of free trade in the 1870s, and the reconstruction of Europe and the world economy in the aftermath of World War II – rested on a widely shared common purpose, political support by a transnational network of influential actors, and strong treaty obligations and international organizations capable of coordinating national policies.

None of these broad set of political preconditions for success appear to be present yet for Rio Plus 20. Governments and publics are preoccupied by the Arab Spring, restoring financial health, the war in Afghanistan, and terrorism.

The ‘green economy’ concept remains contested. Beyond the problem of defining a ‘green economy ‘, countries will compete over access to the commanding heights of the new economy, and thus are divided on their anticipated benefits from it. Some governments support the green economy approach, anticipating that their economies may benefit from a new epoch of green technology: including Japan, S. Korea, Germany, China, and possibly Brazil. Others are ambivalent – such as the USA and Russia – in large part because of the divided nature of their industrial sector which continues to rely heavily on fossil fuels and on manufacturing products for the older technology. Still others, including many in the developing world, are fearful that new technologies will be more competitive than their exports, that they may not enjoy cheap access to the new technologies, and that they may not contribute to job creation in their societies.

Green markets are still immature. The various green sectors remain too small in their respective countries to be able to command significant political clout. International institutions, and in particular the envisioned reforms so far discussed in the Rio Plus 20 preparatory process are insufficiently bold to be able to sway governments to change their dominant economic policy paradigms.

The Conference planners are thus faced with a dilemma, and few realistic options. The dilemma is that bold action requires more political support than is presently available. The challenge is how, with less than a year, and realistically more like 8 months, can sufficient political support be created to induce governmental support for developing a serious roadmap for a green economy?

What options are available to claim a success at the conference? One option of course is to recognize bleak political realities, and delay the conference until the political climate appears more felicitous. Another option is to try to change those realities by building the domestic support for the conference, through efforts to mobilize green sectors worldwide. A third option is to plan for the day after the conference, and develop conference outputs that will continue to advance the longer process towards Sustainable Development and a green economy from June 7th.

Prof. Peter M. Haas (University of Massachusetts at Amherst), is Lead Faculty of the Earth System Governance Project

Tags: green economy,United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development (Rio+20 Earth Summit)
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SAVE THE EARTH FROM UNBALANCED ECOLOGY

GIVE THE SUPPORT FOR THE GREEN EARTH

GIVE THE REMADEY OPTION TOSAVE IT FROM DISBALANCE ENVIROMENT

Some reflections

Interesting discussion shaping here. Some reflections on what's being said above and additional suggestions from what's argued for in the article:

1. Prof. Haas' third option for Rio+20 (which also enjoys broader support in the discussion above) is to 'try to change those [political] realities by building the domestic support for the conference, through efforts to mobilize green sectors worldwide.' I would like to add one more point to this important argument, and that is focused on the interplay between sectors and scales of governance. First of all, I see Rio+20 as a phenomenal opportunity to acknowledge and anticipate the changing nature of governance, where more and more non-state actors (business, NGOs, expert networks) are gaining influence, access, agency and responsibility in governance processes and outcomes. Simultaneously, we've learned from the past that the most concrete action on the ground w.r.t. climate change and sustainable development is often accomplished by local governments (municipalities; take e.g. the ICLEI network or the C40, or read this recent publication by Konrad Otto-Zimmerman: http://bit.ly/oBgd79). Furthermore, the argument for cross-sector collaboration has recently grown stronger and stronger in organisational and leadership theory (e.g. Peter Senge's 'The Necessary Revolution'). This implies a step beyond the analytical problem of 'agency' of non-state actors as elaborated in Earth System Governance framework, thereby moving towards a more integrated approach to cross-sector governance. Would it be possible to reframe Rio+20 not as 'the last policy opportunity for promoting green governance and institutional reform' (Haas) (we've made that error before during COP15, attempting to gain momentum but losing a long-term perspective) but more as a milestone where we can reframe governance towards a more inter-sectoral (public, private, civil society) and multi-level (from UN to municipality) approach?

2. 'How to solve global problems as a whole system, without dividing them up into convenient but unmanageable issues?' (James Greyson). This is an important and fundamental question, I believe, but the political and diplomatic realities prevent us from looking at complex sustainability problems from a whole-systems perspective. Again, this relates to the discussion about a World Environment Organisation as summarised by prof. Biermann here: http://bit.ly/nhkfBR and here: http://bit.ly/k67ffJ.

3. 'All these solutions exist but as yet there is no creative space where they could go from ideas to action at scale.' (James Greyson). Completely agree. This is again a fundamental question relating to conference design, which does not seem to be addressed so far. There is some interesting pioneering work going on in the field of leadership development, e.g. the 'change lab' approach (by Reos Partners: http://bit.ly/nqwxU4), a step-by-step process where stakeholders from multiple organisations learn together in a safe space and co-create new, innovative solutions to complex problems which they wouldn't be able to solve individually. Similar approaches, such as 'the Art of Hosting' are being applied e.g. in the European Commission to revitalise the way meetings are held and to build trust through real dialogue. These could be valuable approaches to pilot on a small scale parallel to the official UN process.

4. Lastly, 'A green movement is underway, yet it has too many people who want to unify it around the themselves, and not enough folks who want to cooperate with others' (Jim). I completely agree again, and this is an important lesson for the global 'green' movement (or I would rather call it sustainability movement): without true collaboration and dialogue, sustainability is merely another nice concept hanging in the air. Unfortunately, we're still seeing enough NGOs trying to promote their own points of view rather than creating strategic alliances across scales, sectors and world-views. Rio+20 might be another good opportunity to create this 'safe space' for both state and non-state actors to convergence around a shared purpose and to truly collaborate and innovate existing forms of institutions and organisations.

Prospects for Rio Plus 20?

Dear Peter,

Thanks for this article. Writing from Uganda, the concept of green economy is not only contested but is not in any way under public discussion yet. The implication is that our negotiators will need to find ways to convince the citizens to appreciate it within our context. Unfortunately, time has surely run out.

I have been trying to create awareness and initiate discussion around the green economy concept by bring together articles and reports on a blog that is meant for an East African audience (More: http://southgreeneconomy.blogspot.com/). From this I can see that green economy makes sense if it touches the lives of ordinary citizens through addressing sustainable development constraints (principally in water resources management, agriculture and rural energy development)

Therefore I would argue for the option: to try to change those realities by building the domestic support for the conference, through efforts to mobilize green sectors worldwide. For East Africa start with the above key sectors

Regards

Kimbowa Richard

Uganda

Could be more ambitious than 'green economy'

A fourth option would be to make the 'green economy' vision less contestable by mapping the vision more effectively onto the scale of the problems. The term 'green economy' was intended to be simple and user friendly but unfortunately 'green' is often seen as a narrow leftist lobby. The 'green movement' hasn't helped this perception by regularly standing against industry and economic growth, rather than their reinvention. The main mechanism chosen by the UN for implementing green economy hasn't helped since promotion of investment in 'green' sectors is seen as lobbying by the big established lobbies which stand to lose.

May I suggest a fourth option that combines a more ambitious vision for change and a stronger engagement of the world's people  - including business people. Rio+20 should create a properly-funded 'marketplace for win-win solutions' so that the event next year can express ideas that are drawn from the untapped collective imagination of the world's people, and not just from the chug-chugging machinery of international conferences. 

Some solutions might be very hands-on, such as how to prepare lawn-mowings so they can be composted rather than allowed to rot into a slimy methane-emitting mess. Others might be more policy-oriented. What to call tomorrow's hoped-for vibrant lasting economy? How markets can take care of externalities so that growth comes from activity that supports further growth (rather than the opposite - as now)? How to solve global problems as a whole system, without dividing them up into convenient but unmanageable issues?

All these solutions exist but as yet there is no creative space where they could go from ideas to action at scale. Maybe the IEG project could be the beginning of such a space?! 

A movement IS underway, but it needs more unity

I don't agree that other changes such as the Industrial Revolution in early 19th century England, the spread of free trade in the 1870s, and the reconstruction of Europe and the world economy in the aftermath of World War II rested on a widely shared common purpose, political support by a transnational network of influential actors, and strong treaty obligations and international organizations capable of coordinating national policies. (Essentially, you're making nine propositions here).

The first two didn't have widely shared common purpose. There was considerable poverty and unrest in Britain; and the spread of free trade was at gunpoint in Africa, China, Japan & many other places.

There WAS common Atlantic purpose after World War II -- AFTER deep dithering and indecision by Britain, France and isolationist America. Part of that common purpose was a collective "aha moment". But there were different conceptions as well. The World Federalist Movement was small but influential, and destroyed by the two Joes- Stalin and McCarthy. But the Third World didn't feel part of this movement towards democracy & development, hence the non-aligned conference in Bandung, 1956.

You seem to imply above that the Arab Spring is a distraction or irrelevancy-- to the contrary, for two reasons:

It is a powerful democratic, nonviolent movement against US/European supported dictatorship

AND

a demonstration of the power of Democracy 2.0, which is enabled by the internet; just as the printing press helped enable the democratic revolutions from 1650-1830.

A green movement is underway, yet it has too many people who want to unify it around the themselves, and not enough folks who want to cooperate with others. Nonetheless, the third option comes closest- use the Rio plus 20 conference as an opportunity to launch a global, grassroots movement for sustainability. Encouraging youth leadership is the best best, in my opinion-- so I'm glad to see @350, @PeaceChild and the newly emerging @BigMamma helping to bring people together.

What is missing here, however, is talk of deep global governance reform. Should we have such thing as a global tax on pollution or financial speculation? Should there be a global parliament? Peter Singer and George Monbiot have raised this question in recent books (and then ran off to write other books, instead of focusing more deeply on the question; thus implying that it's not worth thinking about). Carne Ross also has a book coming up-- though it's not clear what it says yet.

-- Jim  @GreatConvergnce