Friday, July 20, 2012

The planet needs a silver-bullet solution, but Rio wasn’t it

CI’s Luis Flores reflects on the results of the Rio+20 Summit and what they mean for consumers.

Trying to solve the world’s most pressing and complex environmental and social problems by convening the very governments stuck in gridlock the last 20 years was never going to be a silver-bullet solution.

And after Rio+20 it is clear that an old-style UN conference with member countries negotiating a ‘consensus’ agreement is no longer the ideal medium for change.

However, despite the initial dismay over the results of the Summit, there was cause for at least a somewhat sedated celebration for the consumer rights movement.

First, sustainable consumption and production (SCP) was acknowledged as a fundamental issue. The so-called 'ten year framework of programmes' that will support governments developing national and regional programmes on SCP was also endorsed by governments on a voluntary basis.

It will be further developed in this year's negotiations at the UN General Assembly. The Rio agreement also specifically links sustainable consumption to the Sustainable Development Goals which will be the subject of more work under the UN framework.

Determined to avoid another Copenhagen and an evident failure of the environmental multilateral system, the government negotiators at Rio+20 wanted above all to be able to come out with a completed agreement and that is exactly what they did at the end of the process.

But, given the results and the lack of ambition of the official outcome document, which had been negotiated over the last nine months and finalised just before the start of the Summit, many were unhappy.

It is not necessary to understand the economics of development in great detail to have a view on the case for urgent action. Sustainability is needed now.

The question is no longer whether unsustainable growth is contributing to the global crisis or not, but how vast and irreversible the damages are going to be.

In the coming years, the entire world will have to step into a transition stage leading to real sustainable development; therefore, joint and coordinated action is necessary.

Isolated initiatives will not be enough, and neither will the sustainable purchasing decisions of the enlightened few. Governments will need to act; and companies will need to stop hiding behind perceived consumer inertia as an excuse for inaction.

International cooperation will have to put less emphasis on what a fair distribution of responsibilities should be, and more stress on the actions that – if undertaken as a joint endeavour – will neutralize negative effects on people’s lives and livelihood.

All of the public awareness that we have experienced recently should give us enough hope to continue with our efforts. Indeed, when surveyed, an increasing number of consumers express a desire to consume ‘green’ – but lack the access to do so.

For our part, CI is currently reviewing our work on sustainable consumption in order to identify where we, as a network of more than 240 consumer organisations in 115 countries, can best contribute to this global challenge. We hope to have the results in time for a renewed effort at the start of 2013.

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