A new deal for development

Henrik Selin/adil Najam May 14, 2010

Government representatives will soon be meeting at the United Nations to begin preparations for a global sustainable development summit, to be held in Brazil in 2012. Called Rio+20, it will mark 20 years since the Rio de Janeiro Earth Summit of 1992, which was itself a 20-year celebration of the landmark Stockholm environmental conference of 1972. The great achievement of the Stockholm conference was to place environmental issues squarely on the global agenda. The 1992 Earth Summit is remembered for formally co-joining environment and development issues.

In 2012 summit participants should set the goal of constructing a global new deal for sustainable development that could finally bridge the divide between the industrialised countries of the global “North” and the developing ones of the global “South”. Overconsumption on the one hand and abject poverty on the other were the great planetary scourges of 1972. These issues remained the great challenge in 1992. And they continue to plague humanity today. We can think of at least three reasons why the 2012 summit may be the place to finally forge a durable North-South new deal for sustainable development, and link economic and social development needs with environmental issues more effectively.

First, the devastation caused by the recent global financial crisis has highlighted the need for fundamentally rethinking the structure of the global economic – and developmental – system. In both 1972 and 1992 many government representatives argued that major change was unaffordable. Today, there is a growing recognition that status quo is not a viable option. Changes to global development structures and plans are not just needed, they are inevitable.

Recent talk of a new “green economy” is welcome. But it is not enough. Any global order needs to also focus on the needs of the poor. Greenness as well as social justice are needed for both the poor and the affluent. The only way to meet both those goals is through sustainable development.

Second, the North is a little less “North” and the South a little less “South” than it used to be. And both may be ready for change. The world of 1972 was defined by the bipolarity of the Cold War. By 1992 scholars had arrogantly proclaimed an “end to history” and there were high hopes of entering a new era of uniformity and prosperity. Instead, countries have coalesced into many different regional blocs and political forums, as for example seen at the Copenhagen climate change meeting last year.

However, in the power flux that now defines the world also lie the seeds of a possibly more equitable – and sustainable – order.

This will not come automatically, nor will it be easy to achieve. But the conditions for trying are more ripe today than perhaps ever before. Sustainable development provides a conceptual framework to do exactly that. Third, the inability to deal with climate change through conventional politics has jolted the world into the realisation that a new approach is needed, and sustainable development is the answer.

Climate change is crucial, but it would be a pity if the 2012 summit gets hijacked by carbon-focused discussions and drowns in the same sea of nothingness that devoured the Copenhagen meeting. On a planet that struggles with mitigation as well as adaptation, a deal on sustainable development may not only spur a climate agreement, it just may be a precondition for it.

As delegates prepare for Rio+20, they should seek to craft a global new deal for sustainable development. A deal that could finally help bridge the North-South divide by tackling poverty as well as over-consumption, environmental degradation, social justice and greenness of the economy along with sustainable livelihoods.

Published in the Express Tribune, May 15th, 2010.


Garrett Connelly | 10 years ago | Reply Sustainable human culture is clearly impossible without universal justice: justice for all people living, justice for the yet to be born, and justice with nature. Global climate change is merely one symptom of one pollutant, it indicates the intensity of thousands of pollutants which are dispersed throughout the air, water and land with no regard for justice. People, plants and animals are dying in great numbers to support the profits of corporate pirates who's only real profits are the funds saved from cleaning up after themselves. Definition of sustainable development leading to sustainable human culture does not involve an impossible change that condemns anyone to live primitive lives without a chance for success or prosperity. Rather, it is recognizing that externalized costs of organizational structures which are designed to grow faster and faster to infinity on a finite planet exist in direct opposition to the laws of physics and mathematics. This defines what is unsustainable. What is the opposite? Where do we look for a model of sustainable development? Start with the opposite of externalized costs. Remove all subsidies which artificially inflate economic activity, internalize all costs in a free market price structure, and learn to externalize profits instead of costs. This is the opposite of all current economic systems and points to a much more healthy way of life, and it is not without natural example. Consider the honeybee, it works hard and succeeds by making sweet gold for the wealth of its civilization. The external profit of the honeybee is that it pollinates the planet. Those interested in and needing just, equitable ans sustainable development are not going to find it by looking for justice from socioeconomic organizations which have done nothing but make matters worse since 1972. Much of the disadvantaged world is so because aggressive populations have acted as pirates in a dog-eat-dog free-for-all of their own militaristic design. Resource aggressors and environmental polluters are not a source for assistance or example. Sustainable development will be born from those in need and then will spread to those who are jealous because their lives of dominion and acquisition are in fact not very much fun.
Nadir El Edroos | 10 years ago | Reply Climate change has already hit home, quite evidently! While most amongst us have jumped on the anti-India bandwagon, raiding the volume over India's construction of dams along "our" rivers; that deflects us from the more immediate concerns regarding water scarcity due to changing weather patterns due to global warming. Pakistan faces water scarcity without or without India's controversial works on "our" rivers. Ironically, Pakistan is in the same camp, backing India in global climate change talks. We must develop our policies to improve the efficiency of water use. We have culled our own forests which has increased erosion and silting in our rivers. Our failure to adopt modern irrigation techniques such as drip irrigation increases waste. Water harvesting remain pilot projects. The issues of energy production and the impact of using Thar coal sans clean coal technology is likely to lead to long term problems, though it is continually touted as the source of our salvation. Pakistan is neither here nor there, and apart from our state functionaries enjoying a trip to Brazil most of the innovations on display at the conference are, sadly and most likely going to pass us by.
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