·the adoption of new measures of progress and well-being to measure social and ecological progress towards sustainability;
·the elimination of market-distorting subsidies to all fossil fuels and putting a price on carbon;
·and the implementation of national sustainable procurement policies that includes sourcing fair trade products.
These are essential since they have beneficial social, ecological and economic impacts. They are key game-changing and synergistic policy interventions that have been repeatedly called for by various members of the international community, including by numerous governments, in the great transition to global sustainability. We explore these three recommendations further below, in light of the recent release of the “The Future We Want” Zero Draft.
Regarding measures of progress, it is time to ‘measure what matters’, which means complementing the ubiquitous GDP with full-cost accounting, measures of capital stock depletion, and indicators of well-being and true prosperity. The development of a green economy that is sustainable and works toward eradicating poverty demands that nations move beyond simply measuring GDP, as called for in Section IV, Chapter 40 in Agenda 21. This is recognised in paragraph 111 of the Zero Draft, which calls on the ‘Secretary-General to establish a process in consultation with the UN system and other relevant organisations.
The elimination of market-distorting subsidies, accompanied by putting a price on carbon, is the fundamental first step in securing a clean, safe and renewable energy future. The International Energy Agency’s World Energy Outlook, published in November 2011, ‘contains alarming research that the world is on track for a catastrophic rise in global temperatures unless fossil fuel subsidies are cut, energy efficiency is improved, and more countries introduce some form of carbon pricing.’ And in his 2012 State of the Union Address, President Obama repeated the need to stop subsidising oil companies. Although it is encouraging to see that paragraphs 42(c) and 126 of the Zero Draft refer to the need to ‘phase out market distorting and environmentally harmful subsidies that impede the transition to sustainable development, nothing is said about the second-half of the equation: putting a price on carbon. One of the objectives of the Rio+20 Conference is to secure renewed international political commitment for sustainable development. Countries must show real commitment to making the markets work for sustainable development by using effective tools such as taxes, subsidies and procurement, to discourage ecologically damaging activities and promote healthy and socially progressive alternatives.
Finally, one of the Canadian Earth Summit Coalition demands relates to fair trade procurement policies that include sourcing Fair Trade products. The Johannesburg Plan of Implementation calls on relevant authorities at all levels to ‘promote public procurement policies that encourage development and diffusion of environmentally sound goods and services’ (Ch. III, 19 c.). Rio+20 must go beyond promoting simply green procurement, and must include social considerations. Fair Trade procurement runs in concert with the objectives of the Rio+20 Conference as large-scale purchasing of Fair Trade products can lift thousands of producers out of poverty and greatly improve living conditions in farming and artisanal communities around the world. Fair Trade addresses environmental concerns such as soil erosion and climate change while tackling emerging challenges in human trafficking by rooting out child labour.
In addition to the submission to the Compilation Document, One Earth Initiative Society, as a partner organisation of the Canadian Earth Summit Coalition, submitted a formal Environmental Petition to the Canadian Commissioner of Environment and Sustainable Development. The Environmental Petitions process in Canada is a formal process established through the Office of the Auditor General of Canada which allows any Canadian citizen to pose a series of questions which must be answered by the Federal Ministers of each relevant department or governmental agency within 120 days of receipt. The petition was submitted late December 2011, and we have been informed that we should hear from the Ministers by May 2012. The petition largely focused on the three policy priorities outlined above, and the responses will further help illuminate the position of the Canadian government as we approach Rio+20. In the meantime, the We Canada team is going on the road from January to March with a cross-country tour engaging citizens in dialogue about sustainable development, the future we want, and the critical role that governments play in catalysing the shift to sustainability.
The Canadian Earth Summit Coalition is a self-organised, independent and informal civil society network of non-governmental, non-profit, academic and research organisations created to push for Canadian leadership at UNCSD 2012, or Rio+20. Its public engagement initiative, ‘We Canada’, aims to inform Canadians about Rio+20 and engage them on sustainability, to create a community of engaged citizens around common ideas and concerns for the future. Find out more at http://earthsummit.ca.