A profusion of panels and pronouncements en route to Rio+20

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:

Earth Summit is doomed to fail, say leading ecologists

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]

Hmmmm … 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?!

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6 thoughts on “A profusion of panels and pronouncements en route to Rio+20

  1. Excellent post. They’ve had 20 years since the original Earth Summit to figure out exactly how to implement the principles of Rio 1992, and they haven’t quite managed it yet, so maybe we’ll have to wait until Rio +40 in 2032 before they finally nail it down? Or a little longer? Rio +60 in 2052? …

    Re Bob Watson, Defra and leadership from corporations, local government, etc., Defra has recently produced a 2,000-page report about the impacts of climate change in the UK, that will presumably provide a road map for such leaders, but the BBC’s science editor doesn’t seem overly impressed by its usefulness:

    https://sites.google.com/site/mytranscriptbox/home/20120126_r4

    Watson has recently opined: “Cold spells will not disappear, although there will hopefully be less of them.” Amen to that!

    • What?! Yet another massive missive that few will read in its entirety?! I wonder how many trees will be killed en route to Rio+20!

      I should probably listen to the actual broadcast, but your transcript suggests that Shukman was remarkably “balanced” (either that or the report was, and Shukman couldn’t avoid saying so) e.g.:

      It all relies on modelling, and of course that brings an inherent set of weaknesses, because you have to make assumptions. So they have different scenarios for how much and how fast greenhouse gas emissions will go up in the coming years, and then on top of that, another range of assumptions about what effects those rises might have. Now they acknowledge the huge range of uncertainties here. [...] with this enormous possible range of outcomes, it’s actually quite difficult to plan.

      I cannot imagine CBC’s Bob McDonald (Shukman’s equivalent on this side of the pond) ever letting such words pass from his lips to the ears of his listeners!

  2. So, unsatisfied with the measures taken by national governments and the UN despite earlier successes from deep penetration by green operatives, the new plan is to bypass and subvert those governments by working from below, using everything from ‘vox populi’ propaganda to takeover of municipal governments etc. to present an irresistible fait accompli to the recalcitrant reactionary anti-sustainability forces.

    Bah! May the lot of them host infestations of lethal crabs.

  3. The whole concept of “sustainability” in an ever-changing world is nonsense. A CE poster a few weeks ago noted that in the “sustainability” push there is the implicit concept that “there’s a hidden corollary – that anything unsustainable is bad.” I responded that that would mean that everything is bad, because NOTHING is sustainable. Everything that exists, or has ever existed, is in a state of constant change. Denial of change is denial of reality.

    At the deepest, most basic level, all matter is composed of particles that arise and pass away with great rapidity – 10 pwr 22 times a second according to Luis Alvarez. At the more gross, apparent level, you are different from last night, everything has aged, hair has grown, etc. The whole concept of sustainability is absurd.

    The major question for all human beings is not climate change, it is, with what we have, and what we know, what is the best we can do for the welfare of ourselves and other beings? This question has driven all human progress, blind alleys and horrific errors as well as higher living standards, better health, the capacity to adapt to changing circumstances and to take account of long-term costs and benefits as well as immediate ones, philosophy, and so on. The whole CAGW palaver seeks to extract from that great maelstrom one tiny part, seeking to give it over-riding importance and failing to see the broader context of the brief but so far pretty successful human saga. It would be too kind to call it petty, blinkered and short-sighted.

    And this human progress has not come from central planning and ideology, it has come from human adaptability, initiative, vision and entrepreneurship, all of which are stultified by leftist/UN/CAGW proposals.

    • As you may have gathered, I cannot disagree with you, genghis, particularly:

      And this human progress has not come from central planning and ideology, it has come from human adaptability, initiative, vision and entrepreneurship, all of which are stultified by leftist/UN/CAGW proposals

      I haven’t had time to post on this, but in the last day or so, I learned of the existence two more UNEP acronymic offspring, and/or facsimiles thereof, to add to the profusion:

      The 12th Special Session of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) Governing Council/Global Ministerial Environment Forum (GCSS-12/GMEF) opens [Feb. 20] at the United Nations Office in Nairobi, Kenya, and continues until 22 February 2012. The ministerial consultations during the 12th Special Session will focus on emerging policy issues under the overall theme of “The environmental agenda in the changing world: from Stockholm (1972) to Rio (2012)”. This year marks the 40th anniversary of the establishment of UNEP, and the Symposium “Environmental change and global responses in 2012” will be organized as part of the commemoration activities. The Committee of the Whole is expected to take up consideration of emerging policy issues on environment and development. Various side events, as well as the 13th Global Major Groups and Stakeholders Forum (GMGSF-13) are also taking place.

      You can read all about it here

      The proceedings of the GMSF, as reported by the IISD are quite revealing. UNEP head honcho, Achim Steiner – who’s never known a perceived problem that he couldn’t turn into the greatest threat to the future of the planet, which of course requires immediate action – was in attendance (for at least one session). He’s no doubt drumming up additional support for “strengthening the UNEP”, but some remarks attributed to him are quite revealing (my bold):

      Sharing his views on preparations for Rio+20, Achim Steiner, UNEP Executive Director, emphasized the need for immediate action, noting that the diffuse Rio+20 preparatory discourse is a reflection of current global realities. Acknowledging concerns that the economic dimension has been overemphasized, he said focus should be on the nexus between development, equity and justice, suggesting that the phrase “inclusive green economy” might be more appropriate. On IFSD, Steiner observed the need to overcome the UN “political paralysis” and called for an aggressive discussion at Rio+20, stressing that “if we don’t move now, environmental governance will remain in the dustbin of the economic juggernaut that is driving this planet.” He further noted that a systemic fix for the current dilemma with UNEP may not exist.

      I’m not sure how an “inclusive green economy” is going to address the fact that – as he well knows – there is no agreement on the definition of a “green economy”. But the thought that “environmental governance” might be consigned to the “dustbin” is an idea worth exploring further, don’t you think?!

      More depressing bureaucratic double-speak details available here

  4. Your ability and willingness to comb through mounds of said bureaucratic double speak awes me. You would have to pay me large to do that, and I’d probably quit after accumulating a very small nest egg.

    I suspect it’s the “economics” juggernaut they’re really opposed to. “Demand”?! It must be suppressed to preserve supply!

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