Greenpeace expectations for the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development at Rio de Janeiro, 4-6 June 2012

Almost twenty years after the Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro we face a paradox: We know solutions are available and affordable, that investments in clean technologies are rising, that deforestation can be stopped, and food provided for all if governments have the will. We also know development in both North and South remains deeply unsustainable.

Despite the Rio Conventions and hundreds of other multilateral agreements on sustainable development, resource extraction keeps growing, climate change is spiralling out of control, water is getting scarce, oceans are facing a state of emergency, deforestation is destroying livelihoods, toxic pollution is increasing, and we are gambling with our global food system by releasing genetically modified crops. Governments have talked a lot about sustainable development over the last decades, but at the same time are still encouraging environmental and social destruction with close to US$ 1 trillion dollars-worth of harmful subsidies a year, covering everything from fossil fuels to fertilizers and fisheries. Corporate polluters and destructive industries are allowed to profit from over-exploitation of resources while people are left to pay the bill with their health, homes and livelihoods. Governments are bailing out greedy banks, but failing to mobilise finance and rescue packages for the planet and the poor.

To be clear: governments have failed since Rio. But they must not take the blame alone: too many corporations have stood in the way of sustainable development. Asia Pulp and Paper has undermined effective forest protection in Indonesia, while Volkswagen has fought against the climate protection rules we need in Europe and the US, to name but two. The finance industry has succeeded in making the taxpayer pay for its bad decisions and is stopping governments from effectively regulating global financial markets.

Governments will face a lot of – justified – cynicism about sustainable development and the broken promises of 1992 as they prepare to return to Rio de Janeiro in 2012. People will be watching if the “Green Economy in the context of sustainable development” is merely a new label masking business-as-usual, or will be turned into a rallying cry for finally delivering the transformational change we need.

A fair and just Green Economy is achievable. But it requires action. Promoting sustainable practices is essential. But, above all, governments must put a decisive end to unsustainable practises. An economy based on nuclear energy, oil and coal, genetic engineering, toxic chemicals or the overexploitation of our forests and seas will never be sustainable or green. Instead, a fair green economy is one that provides sustainable livelihoods for all while fully respecting ecological limits – our planetary boundaries. In a truly Green Economy, the economy will be a mechanism to deliver societal goals, and economic growth as an end goal in and of itself will be abandoned.

The transformation is still taking place too slowly, but the good news is, it is already proven. Brazil has shown that it is possible to cut deforestation rates through effective governance and good business practices: Deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon has declined year on year and 2011 it was at its lowest ever level. But this year, the Brazilian government’s monitoring system picked up a 37% increase in deforestation compared to 2010 in Mato Grosso state as a result of a move to change the Forest Code, the main law in Brazil that protects the forests. The changes would allow an amnesty for past forest crimes, creating an incentive for illegal activity now and leading to an increase in deforestation before the law has even been changed. Brazil must decide whether it wants to be known as the nation leading the path to sustainable prosperity and zero deforestation, or as a nation that showed that deforestation could be halted, but failed to do so to cater to short term special interests.

The energy sector, a fundamental building block of any green economy, is already changing. In Germany, for example, of all installed power capacity in the last decade, 81% was renewable. The Energy Revolution scenario1 Greenpeace has developed together with business partners shows that globally we can deliver energy to more people, especially the poor in developing countries, cut emissions by more than 80% by 2050 – and create more jobs doing so, by investing in energy efficiency and renewable energy instead of fossil fuels and nuclear power. By implementing the Energy Revolution, governments can help businesses create 3.2 million more jobs by 2030 in the global power supply sector alone. In South Africa 149,000 direct jobs could be created by 2030, 38,000 more than the current government’s plan.

An Agenda for 2012 The outcome document adopted at Rio in 2012 must not be about rewriting the Rio Declaration or Agenda 21. Instead we need honest stock taking on where we are with the existing commitments and who is responsible for our falling short. This must include addressing the excessive increase in corporate power the world has witnessed since Rio 1992. The limits of voluntary, bottom up approaches given the scale of the challenges must be fully acknowledged.

At Rio de Janeiro in 2012 governments must change the dangerous course we’re on. Sustainable Development Goals should be launched to form the basis of development within planetary boundaries. The time-horizon for the goals should be no longer than two election periods at most, to ensure immediate implementation and avoid gaps in political commitment.

To read the full submission paper click here

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