No lack of solutions at Rio+20


When delegates from around the world meet in Rio de Janeiro this week, there will be no lack of ideas on what they can do to help humanity live in greater peace and within the Earth’s ecological boundaries.

Hundreds of organizations have been working, in some cases for many years, to develop ideas being distributed at Rio+20. Here are some of them, including a few from lesser-known organizations. (I’ve edited their recommendations for space. See the links to each organization for their complete statements):

The 6th World Youth Congress (WYC) met June 4-13 in Rio de Janeiro and developed a 20-point action plan that applies to individuals as well as the world community. More than 300 young people from 110 nations participated.

In the preamble to the plan, the WYC said, “The time for statements, petitions and lobbying is over. This is an action plan. We, the youth of the world, are occupying the future we want with these 20 solutions. Our message to governments: you have failed us! You can work with us or be dragged along by us. The world we currently live in lacks equity, justice and sustainability. We invite the youth of the world to confront this. Act now and reclaim the future for generations to come. Act now and make these solutions your own.”
1. Put sustainability at the centre of education.
2. Let youth lead governments, corporations and society into sustainability.
3. Make it easy for youth to start businesses by providing capital, tax breaks and reducing administrative bureaucracy.
4. Redesign our economy to be sustainable and to make people happy by moving away from insatiable consumption practices.
5. Shift to the use of renewable resources, and effectively make use of non-renewable resources to make this happen.
6. Make the best use out of energy – be efficient.
7. Reduce your footprint, soundly manage the waste you leave.
8. Sustain what all life is based on – water.
9. Enforce regulations against pollution, exploitation and degradation of our oceans.
10. Recognize the realities and impacts of climate change, take responsibility, demand accountability and act to reduce emissions.
11. Recognize the links between development and vulnerability to natural disasters to integrate place-based disaster risk reduction and sustainable development.
12. Demand biodiversity conservation, the ending of mass species extinction and habitat degradation.
13. Recognize ecocide as a crime against humanity and nature.
14. Respect the right to healthcare.
15. Produce food for people and the planet, not just for money.
16. Restrict transnational corporations’ power over food systems.
17. Recognize gender empowerment and freedom of sexual and gender choice in a society free of discrimination.
18. Promote democratic youth representation amongst societies’ decision-making processes.
19. Make the world a non-conflict zone led by youth peacemakers.
20. Acknowledge that the respect of human rights is an integral part of sustainable development.

The Earth Charter is a document completed in March 2000 by a commission led by Maurice Strong and Mikhail Gorbachev. Designed to promote a transition to sustainable ways of living and to shared global ethics of peace, ecological integrity, human rights, democracy and respect for diversity, the Charter has been endorsed by thousands of organizations representing millions of people. Among its recommendations:

• Demilitarize national security “to a level of non-provocative defence posture” and convert military resources to peaceful purposes.
• Eliminate nuclear, biological and toxic weapons, and other weapons of mass destruction.
• Establish viable nature and biosphere reserves to protect Earth’s life support systems, maintain biodiversity and preserve our natural heritage.
• Manage resources in ways that do not exceed rates of regeneration and that protect the health of ecosystems.
• Place the burden of proof on those who argue that a proposed activity will not cause significant harm, and make responsible parties liable for environmental harm.
• Promote the development and transfer of environmentally sound technologies.
• Internalize the full environmental and social costs of goods and services in their selling price and enable consumers to identify products that meet the highest social and environmental standards.
• Support international scientific and technical cooperation on sustainability with special attention to the needs of developing nations.

Towards Rio+20 and Beyond, an interfaith coalition whose recommendations have been endorsed by a prestigious group of religious leaders including the Dalai Lama:
• Increase the capacity of governments to guarantee the right to food and proper nutrition, to safe and clean drinking water, to development and to a healthy environment, while protecting water and land from privatization and commoditization.
• Adopt alternative economic indicators to GDP that include social well-being and ecological, ethical, moral and cultural integrity.

The Butterfly Effect NGO Coalition, a group of more than 90 international non-government organizations formed to advocate for local solutions dealing with water and sanitation:

• Provide dependable financing for water and sanitation services for the poor.
• Engage community organizations to build their capacity to manage water resources.
• Ratify the UN Watercourses Convention to ensure equitable use of international water resources shared between states.

The High Representative for Disarmament Affairs (Sergio Duarte at the time this statement was issued 14 months ago), leader of the UN Office on Disarmament Affairs. Over the decades, there have been several proposals for nations to reduce their military budgets in favour of development programs. Those proposals have failed. However, the UN has created a process in which nations can voluntarily disclose their military spending. (According to the statement, up to $60 billion is needed annually to meet the Millennium Development Goals, including an end to poverty, while global military spending reached $1.2 trillion last year.)

• Ensure security through non-military means, including decent health care, universal education, democratic institutions, protections against crime and corruption, and trust-building among nations.

Most of these ideas have been discussed and debated for decades in various international venues. Many sustainable development advocates I have talked to, who have watched the slow progress of other critical international negotiations such as climate change, are sceptical of a major breakthrough at Rio+20.

However, the United Nations has added a new feature to this week’s conference: A call for governments and organizations to make concrete, specific and measurable voluntary commitments on sustainable development. The UN apparently intends to track progress on each of them.

At this writing, the number of commitments was approaching 400. If individual governments, organizations, corporations and communities commit to actions that help achieve some of the goals above, then we may yet see progress even where international negotiators refuse to tread.

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