Rio+20 and the Green Economy; how to make prosperity sustainable
Stella Thomas Speaks at Rio+20 & The Green Economy
This conference featured a diverse group trying to identify new ways to tackle the huge challenges of sustainability and prosperity the world faces, in the run-up to the Rio+20 conference. We agreed that we were currently in a terrible place from an environmental and sustainability point of view, but seemingly unable to convince either politicians or peoples of this reality in the middle of an economic crisis. If people were not listening we were not saying the right things. We therefore had to change the messaging and appeal both to people’s self-interest and their sense of responsibility in new ways which engaged them emotionally as well as intellectually.
Did we need to change our economic model and behaviour radically to get where we wanted to go, or could we achieve this by more incremental change? There was much debate, but we agreed it was not either/or but both/and. There was no time to wait for governments to see the error of their ways, and action had to start now with things we knew worked and experiments with many others. There were already good examples of changes which led to others with a powerful snowball effect. Wartime-style mobilisation could follow. Meanwhile, if it was clear that measuring GDP growth did not tell us what we needed to know about human progress and well-being, it was less clear which additional simple metrics would catch on. But we should at least be able to agree on a set of global indicators which told us where our world was heading, including the great risks involved in not respecting planetary boundaries.
On the international side, we had low expectations of new major agreements, but better cooperation was still needed, including in areas like trade and technology transfer. While we could not agree on the desirability/feasibility of a rapid move to the establishment of a new, fully-fledged World Environmental Organisation (WEO), there was strong support for an initial non-intergovernmental move in this direction. Setting up an environmental data clearing house which would enable national sectoral progress to be tracked and comparisons made should be launched in Rio. Environmental targets should also be included in whatever replaced the current Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), or alternatively the concept of planetary boundaries could be reflected in a separate set of targets.
Resource mobilisation would clearly be key to future progress. We believed there was great scope for using public funds to leverage the private resources which would be needed. The money was clearly out there if entrepreneurs and fund managers could be convinced that investment opportunities could help solve both the economic crisis and the environmental crisis simultaneously. Win-win possibilities abounded. Why not more ‘Green Bonds’, for example?