The Switch • May 2011
The Switch is a monthly newsletter distributed by the Northern Alliance for Sustainability (ANPED) on initiatives that are making the switch to a sustainable society. The Switch covers various campaigns, new book releases, academic papers, policy processes and more. It takes a holistic and progressive approach to the sustainability debate and does not shy away from addressing controversial topics. The Switch also keeps you updated on upcoming conferences and events. The Switch is open for your news, events and articles. For this or for for any other comments, don’t hesitate to contact the editor of The Switch, Nick Meynen, nick[at]anped.org
The CSD 19, which convened from 2-14 May 2011, at UN Headquarters in New York, failed to produce an agreement. Consensus was reached on many issues, but the deal got stuck when it came to turning commitments into implementation. A row on the status of people under foreign occupation, a discussion unrelated to sustainable development, distracted time and energy. The G77 and China only wanted to insert text that had been agreed at UNCED, the WSSD and the CSD17, so they did not understand why this was a problem now. When discussing sustainable consumption and production patterns, a crucial theme because this CSD was the end of the Ten Year Framework on Sustainable consumption and production, the US plainly opposed “developed countries taking the lead”. For most other countries, they thereby neglected the common sense that those who start a problem also start the solution. It is a sign of a continued failure to face history, which countries outside the West will not forget until mistakes have been corrected.
All this can mean two things. One is inclined to make a dark evaluation of the CSD, as so many efforts have failed to reach to an agreement. However, when trying to look at this from another perspective, this might just be because after many years of dealing with issues like waste management or water, the CSD had arrived at the heart of the global economic system: production and (especially) consumption. Our current economy is build on the need for en ever higher consumption, in disrespect to the limits of nature. It took maybe 19 years to get her but maybe it is good that we finally arrived at the key issue. We should also note here that at this crucial time, it is sad to see that the Major Groups were ill represented. But there's a reason why, as Felix Dodds has pointed out. While they got 12 hours speaking time in 2002, this was reduced to 12 minutes now. Have our leaders shut themselves out from the plentitude of voices screaming for more and drastic action?
All this bodes ill for the major Rio+20 summit. A lack of urgency and courage, especially from those countries who started the whole problem, calls for outrage. That's exactly what young people in for example Spain are expressing these days, taking to the streets in 'Arab spring style'. Although few or any will link their struggle to a failed CSD, they do call for a totally different kind of global economy, claiming that the current model is beyond repair. And it's not just Spain. The young in many Western countries are getting increasingly angry when realizing the sheer size of the financial and ecological debt that their parents generation has left for them to deal with. More street struggles will be needed in rich countries, to show their leaders that it is time to face history, time to make the Switch we need, time to take the responsibility that we do have.
The world's leaders could start by reading some more of the UN history and what the UN can achieve, with political will. Nico Schrijver has produced the last book in a series of 17 publications that make up the United Nations Intellectual History Project. The series aims to document the UN history and all it has influenced, whereas this book focusses on the UNs involvement in natural resource management. It deals with everything from the law of the sea over the Montreal Protocal that brought a halt to ozon depletion to even the Outer Space Treaty. Its time span starts from pre-UN treaties to how the International Court of Justice recently dealt with the settlement of natural resource disputes. It is interesting to read how naturaml resource issues have influenced decisions of the ICJ, for example in the ruling against the wall build by Israel. However, as the total neglect of that ruling shows, the book also point to the many weaknesses and challenges that lay ahead. For those interested in global governance or sustainable development from a legal point of view, this book is certainly worth a read. The 3-page statement we refer to in the next article, however, is something all of us should read.
When 17 Nobel Laureates come together to sign a 3-page statement to the world, as they did on 18 May in Stockholm, and when they write things like “Tinkering with the economic system that generated the global crises is not enough”, we can only try to make sure that the world is listening. This humble editor is not inclined to tinker with the text they have written, but would like to introduce the text by quoting some lines from the bold statement. "Evidence is growing that human pressures are starting to overwhelm the Earth’s buffering capacity. Humans are now the most significant driver of global change, propelling the planet into a new geological epoch, the Anthropocene. Tinkering with the economic system that generated the global crises is not enough. We should take account of natural capital, ecosystem services and social aspects of progress in all economic decisions and poverty reduction strategies. Environmental sustainability is a precondition for poverty eradication, economic development, and social justice.” All we’re asking from global policy makers is to heed the advice of the world’s leading scientists. To make it even easier for them, they can pick from a library of reports on how to make the Switch to another economy. The next one might be a good place to start.
According to Achim Steiner, UNEPs Executive Director, “People believe environmental ‘bads’ are the price we must pay for economic ‘goods.’ However, we cannot, and need not, continue to act as if this trade-off is inevitable" That’s also the baseline of this report on how to make the link between economic growth and natural resource consumption disappear as snow before the sun. The report recognizes that the world economy has already started to decouple economic growth from resource consumption growth but it makes an important distinction between resource decoupling and impact decoupling. This is of course crucial, because what is the use of a more resource efficient economy if the rebound effect still causes over exploitation? The report works with three scenario’s for the future: BAU, moderate contraction and convergence and tough contraction and convergence, which is what for example the IPCC want us to do if we want to limit global warming to no more than 2°C. Many civil society actors who will meet in the conference announced in the next article will carry this report under their arm.
The UN holds this conference for NGOs every year, but this one is special. In between 3 and 5 September, Bonn (Germany) will host the largest global meeting of NGOs before the Rio+20 summit. There’s a website where you can find more info and register yourself. UNEP is taking advantage of this gathering to attach two consultations with major groups and stakeholder: the UNEP Global Consultation on Rio+20 (1 Sept.) and the UNEP Regional Consultation Meeting for Europe (2 Sept.) More info on these meetings can soon be found on this website.
Next: more info on two recently concluded meetings, and on one coming very soon.
The 3d Conference of the Parties of the Carpathian Convention (Bratislava, Slovakia, May 25 - 27) welcomed ANPED's recommendations for creating the Carpathian Heritage Inventory, which was initiated by the ANPED Carpathian Working Group, adjusted and set up in the frame of the Pilot project in Czech Republic and Ukraine. Sustainability in mountain regions is closely connected with traditional life-style. Cultural traditions and knowledges are very important for creating wellbeing. An initiative to create a Carpathian Heritage Inventory came from a lot of consultations with stakeholders in all seven countries of the Convention. The consultations were run by ANPED members since 2005. The Pilot project has resulted in a website on Carpathian Heritage and tested proceedings for two countries. These were presented at the Carpathian Convention COP-3 and the suggestions of the ANPED Carpathian Working Group to have this tool adopted by all member countries was well received. For more info on this process, contact ANPED members participants from the Institute for Environmental Policy, Alena Dodokova (alena.dodokova(at)ekopolitika.cz) from the Bile Karpaty Education and Information Centre, Jana Urbančíková (urbancikova(at)bilekarpaty.cz), from the Ekopsychology Society, Monika Ochwat - Marcinkiewicz (och_mar(at)interia.pl)
and from Green Dossier, Tamara Malkova (tamara(at)bg.net.ua).
Ecological justice, social rights and growth were the themes of the conference held in Berlin from 20 to 22 May. Among the 2500 people present, we found some inspiring stories on how a positive post growth society can look like. Our own Leida Rijnhout was picked up in the press, when she said that policies on efficiency that leave the growth party intact are rather silly. More information in english is available here, while the German language website on the conference is here.
The post or beyond growth discussion is clearly gaining momentum. The next conference is due soon, in Vancouver, from 3 to 5 June. They work with films, speakers and some other speakers who practice what they preach: by staying home and giving a lecture by video conference, avoiding unnecessary travels. But as the next article shows, not everyone is as principled as these speakers.
Corruption at the national scale can happen as much in developed as in developing countries, but in the latter it is much more likely to make the difference between life or death. It diverts crucial resources away from things like medical care to Swiss bank accounts. Just how much difference corruption makes is of course impossible to say, but he United States-based non-profit research body, Global Financial Integrity, estimates that the 48 poorest countries lost US$197 billion from 1990 to 2008. According to the UNDP-commissioned paper, approximately 65 percent of illicit financial flows from LDCs are through trade mispricing, when imports are overpriced and exports underpriced on customs documents. To help curb the loss of these funds, the discussion paper recommends that customs and tax reforms in the LDCs should be accompanied with robust legal institutions and regulatory systems to fight corruption. But while looking into corruption in LDCs, lets not forget that, back in 1999, we already knew that LDCs lose U.S.$700 billion in lost export earnings due to unfair trade barriers. We shouldn’t be blind for corruption in LDCs and that’s why we need reports like this. But the causes of their poverty go far beyond national scale corruption, they start here. And the next video shows what else starts here, but ends up in one of those LDCs.
In the last decade, the only news coming from Somalia was about war or how a wave of pirates are making their coastline the world’s most dangerous passage for ships. In this video, however, we learn a different story. Could it be that the coastal waters of Somalia are the theatre of one of the world’s largest unknown environmental injustices? And what has the Italian mafia to do with all this? A French journalist sets out on a risky mission. So does an Inuit women, but that's the story of the next article.
ANPED introduced the documentary “Silent Snow” to the Belgian public on the 18th of May in Antwerp. In this feature film, Pipaluk, an Inuit women is on a mission to find out the truth behind the slow poisoning of her people. Chemicals from all over the world accumulate in the fat of sea-animals ending up in the poisoned milk of Inuit mothers who are advised not to breastfeed their babies. Together with a Masai film maker, Pipaluk discovers the sometimes illegal spraying of DDT in Africa and talks to the victims, also in India and Costa Rica. The spraying of all this poison ruins the health of millions of people. Chemical companies make quick and huge profits from these pesticides. And their powerful lobby makes it very difficult to search for healthier solutions. Pipaluk's only consolation is that in three continents she meets many wonderful people willing to take up the fight against the silent poisoning of the world. Those interested in organizing a screening of the documentary should contact the maker Jan van den Berg at info(at)drsfilm.tv