A profusion of panels and pronouncements en route to Rio+20
February 13, 2012 6 Comments
The U.K.’s Fred Pearce is probably one of the more respected (albeit green-tinted) MSM commentators on climate change, aka global warming, and other matters environmental (or, as is appearing to be more au courant, these days, “sustainable development”). So I found it somewhat surprising that he provided no primary source(s) for a Feb. 10 article of his that appears on the NewScientist website:
We can forget about fixing the planet’s ecosystems and climate until we have fixed government systems, a panel of leading international environmental scientists declared in London on Friday. The solution, they said, may not lie with governments at all.
“We are disillusioned. The current political system is broken,” said Bob Watson, the UK government’s chief environmental science advisor, who chaired the meeting.
The panel, all winners of the prestigious Blue Planet prize, often seen as the Nobel prize for environmental science, were meeting to prepare a statement for the Earth Summit 2012, to be held in Rio de Janeiro in June – 20 years after the original Earth Summit in that city.
No one held out much hope that the forthcoming summit would usher in a new era. Politicians do not seem interested. [...] But this year’s event will last just three days, and so far China’s president Hu Jintao is the only head of state scheduled to attend.
The top priorities, according to Watson, are ending the fossil-fuel era to curb climate change, and investing in limiting population by making contraception available to all.
The laureates said leadership was most likely to come from local government, NGOs and corporations, rather than national leaders or the UN. [...]
“We do believe that the political system can be reformed, and that there will be technical solutions. But time is not on our side,” Watson said. [emphasis added -hro]
Bob Watson, sorry, “Professor Sir Robert Watson FRS” (which means that he’s a jolly good Fellow of the Royal Society) has a long string of chairmanships to his name – including the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), where he preceded Rajendra K. Pachauri, and during its gestation, the IPCC’s waiting-in-the-wings younger sibling, the IPBES.
Few will be surprised to learn that Watson is also Professor of Environmental Sciences; Director of Strategic Development, Tyndall at the University of East Anglia (home of the Climatic Research Unit [CRU]). Nonetheless, considering his other day job, that of DEFRA Chief Scientific Advisor (i.e. someone very close to the U.K. government), this particular panel’s proclamations are somewhat surprising. But perhaps Watson was
speaking through wearing a different hat.
OTOH, there is much to be said for this panel’s recognition that “leadership” is unlikely to come from the UN – an organization that does not seem to believe in practicing what it preaches, particularly in the accountability and green departments.
Nor is “transparency” an over-riding concern at the UN’s highest planning echelons. Evidently, Ban Ki Moon and his top advisors held a “closed door retreat”, last October, as George Russell of FoxNews reported a few days ago:
At a closed-door retreat in a Long Island mansion late last October, United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon and his topmost aides brainstormed about how the global organization could benefit from a “unique opportunity” to reshape the world, starting with the Rio + 20 Summit on Sustainable Development, which takes place in Brazil in June.
A copy of the confidential minutes of the meeting was obtained by Fox News. According to that document, the 29-member group, known as the United Nations System Chief Executives Board for Coordination (CEB), discussed bold ambitions that stretch for years beyond the Rio conclave to consolidate a radical new global green economy, promote a spectrum of sweeping new social policies and build an even more important role for U.N. institutions “to manage the process of globalization better.”
When it came to global issues, the U.N. chieftains were encouraged to think well beyond the environment and the international economy into a wide variety of social spheres, from human rights to health and education, where there was a “need for a global framework and national frameworks” for the development of new policies. The national policies “should be derived from the core values and norms that the U.N. system embodied, to ensure coherence between national level and global goals and aspirations”.
For some of those present at the gathering, those values seemed to include a heavy reliance on populist methods to push the U.N.’s Rio message to a global audience, bypassing member governments along the way.
There is a link to these confidential minutes from Russell’s article; however, each page is a scanned image. As a public service, I have downloaded a copy of these minutes and (using OCR) have converted the 15 image pages to text in a pdf, which makes it more convenient for searching and citing.
The first thing I noticed when reviewing this “Confidential Summary of Discussions” was:
In his introductory remarks, the Secretary-General welcomed [...] Mr. Janos Pasztor, Executive Director of his High-Level Panel on Global Sustainability, whom he had invited to join this discussion.
Hmmm … The “High-Level Panel on Global Sustainability” certainly rings a familiar bell, which is not surprising since I wrote about this panel’s pronouncements not too long ago! A few highlights from the paragraphs I had excerpted from their Jan. 30/2012 report, just to refresh your memory:
- sustainable development is fundamentally a question of people’s opportunities to influence their future, claim their rights and voice their concerns
- peoples of the world will simply not tolerate continued environmental devastation or the persistent inequality which offends deeply held universal principles of social justice
- governance across the world must fully embrace the requirements of a sustainable development future, as must civil society and the private sector
- Achieving sustainability requires us to transform the global economy. Tinkering on the margins will not do the job. The current global economic crisis, which has led many to question the performance of existing global economic governance, offers an opportunity for significant reforms. It gives us a chance to shift more decisively towards green growth
- Governments should establish price signals that value sustainability to guide the consumption and investment decisions of households, businesses and the public sector
- To achieve sustainable development, we need to build an effective framework of institutions and decision-making processes at the local, national, regional and global levels. We must overcome the legacy of fragmented institutions established around single-issue “silos”
- As international sustainable development policy is fragmented and, in particular, the environmental pillar is weak, UNEP should be strengthened
Remember the silos? Funnily enough they also appear (pp. 6, 10 and 12) in the “Confidential Summary of Discussions”. One instance appears on p. 12. But first some context …
Mr. Harris took the floor to present the HLCP report on “Moving towards a Fairer, Greener and More Sustainable Globalization”. He apologized for the delay in sharing the document with CEB members and added that it was in a large part connected to a very collaborative effort, taking into account the extremely comprehensive inputs and subsequent comments received from all agencies.
He emphasized that the report was not a reflection of the specific contributions of every agency to sustainable development or globalization, but rather a reflection on how to manage the process of globalization better. He outlined the focus and content of each [of the three sections].
“Mr. Harris” is evidently Elliott Harris, Vice-Chair of the HLCP. Assuming that Google has not led me astray, though, it would appear that the HLCP is the “UN Systems’ High Level Committee on Programs” (not to be confused with the “UN Systems High Level Committee on Management (HLCM)”). And what the world definitely needs is, of course, a warm and fuzzy “Fairer, Greener and More Sustainable Globalization”, right?! Now that this has been cleared up … back to the “Confidential Summary” … Mr. Harris’ report continues [text reformatted for ease of reading -hro]:
Global institutions had proven unable to deal effectively with some of these key global issues, in part because of silo-based implementation and the absence of effective mechanisms for global level coordination.
The crisis provided an opportunity to review the process with
1} a renewed recognition of the role of the State;
2) an acknowledgment that social policies had positive economic and development consequences; and
3) an appreciation of the value of collective and coordinated action at the global level.
The reflection had also shown that adopting policies that ensured that globalization generated fairer, greener and more sustainable outcomes also fostered sustainable development.
Unfortunately (as I had noted in my earlier post) not all of the minutes of the High-Level Panel on Global Sustainability (HLPGS) are available for public perusal. So I cannot confirm this, but it does not seem unreasonable to assume that Janos Pasztor (Executive Director of the HLPGS) carried the “secret” message from Mr. Harris regarding the lack of effectiveness of the “silo-based” approach.
14 instances of “green economy” are found in this “Confidential Summary”. There are a few occurrences which would suggest at least one reason why Achim Steiner – who happens to be the head of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and who, evidently acted as “moderator” for the session – had determined
that the proceedings would not be made public [text reformatted and emphasis added -hro]:
On the green economy theme, [Mr. Sha] stated that Rio+20 should be the catalyst to integrate the economic, social and environmental pillars of sustainable development, energize implementation of the sustainable development agenda, and lead to coherent policies and programmes at all levels – integration, implementation and coherence.
He stressed, however, that reaching a common understanding on the meaning, scope and implications of the green economy had been generating considerable debate. Many agreed that the Conference should first clarify what the green economy was not, in order to help define what it could be. He outlined that it was not an one-size-fits-all approach to development, an excuse for green protectionism in trade or for green conditionality in aid and fmance, a way to put nature under corporate control, or a model of tinkering at the margins of “business as usual”.
It should be based on the set of principles agreed upon at Rio 1992, including the concept of common but differentiated responsibility, and seen as a way to help accelerate progress towards sustainable development and poverty eradication. It should re-orient public and private decision-making to reflect and respect natural capital, synergize growth and environmental protection, and include the poor as main beneficiaries, as well as active participants in building such a green economy.
The (al)most sensible voice at the table seemed to be that of Mr. Panitchpakdi (who may – or may not – be the Secretary-General of the UN Conference on Trade and Development [UNCTAD]) who:
stated that the peer review (! -hro) concept within a revised global institutional governance mechanism for sustainable development was good but premature given the fact that there was as yet no common agreement on a definition of the green economy. He also renewed his call for caution about adding yet new institutional layers. When a sectoral structure and silo approach still prevailed within the system, he advocated for renewed efforts at syncronization and harmonization of existing structures, rather than the creation of new ones.
So the alarmists and green-growthers of the world have been yammering on for years about the need for a “green economy”, yet it would appear that even those at the the highest echelons of the UN have not yet agreed on a definition!
The astute reader, however, will notice that this did not seem to prevent Pasztor from picking up yet another expression (“tinkering at the margins”) and dropping it on the table of the HLPGS.
One other excerpt from this “Confidential Summary” is rather noteworthy. It was part of Harris’ report (p.12):
The UN also suffered from a double perception problem – a general scepticism as to whether the UN was the appropriate forum for timely decision-making; and a feeling that the UN only dealt with development and was not relevant to all its member countries.
Perhaps all these panels should consider skipping the pronouncements … and singing a different tune … Let’s call the whole thing off?!