Of hypocrites, high-level panels and … sherpas and silos

As Donna Laframboise noted in a post, yesterday, from Feb. 2-4, Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Chair, Rajendra K. Pachauri, will be donning yet another of his many hats, as he engineers a bridge from “climate change” to “sustainability” (en route to Rio+20).

TERI, another of Pachauri’s enterprises, will be hosting the “12th Delhi Sustainable Development Summit”, the theme of which is “Protecting the Global Commons 20 Years Post Rio”. Will this Summit be a demonstration of Pachauri and his fellow summitteers practicising what they preach? Not a chance, as Donna’s post confirms. As Director General of TERI, Pachauri will have a starring role in the proceedings (he is listed as appearing, in one role or another, no less than five times – but always with his TERI hat, never with his IPCC hat).

The agenda for this Summit is, well, interesting! From a strictly Canadian perspective, there will be two participants, one, Stéphane Dion, is included in the list of “Government” speakers and the other, Dr. Yves Bolduc, is listed among the participating “Ministers”.

But here’s the thing … Dion is shown as being “M.P., House of Commons Canada”, which he is; however, given the current status of the political party he once led, he isn’t even a member of the Official Opposition – let alone of “government”. He may well have been invited due to his (disastrous, and resoundingly rejected) “Green Shift” (carbon tax) plan – or perhaps because he and his wife had decided to name their dog “Kyoto”.

Bolduc is listed as “Minister of Health & Social Services Quebec”, which he is; however, while all the other “Ministers” on this tab appear to be representatives of countries, last time I checked, Quebec was still a province, not a country! I also wonder how he got his invite as a speaker; he seems like a nice enough fellow, I suppose; and it could be “His desire to continually find ways to improve the lives of his fellow man […]” that earned him such a prestigious invitation. Or perhaps it was his “degree in bioethics”. But enough about the small fry Canadian content …

The agenda is quite full. On the first day, following a 15 minute “Tea with the Prime Minister” (who will then conduct a 45 minute “Inauguration”) and a subsequent 45 minute “Leadership Panel I”, there will be a 50 minute session of “Keynote Addresses”, chaired by Yvo de Boer who, you may recall, jumped ship as Executive-Secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) following the Copenhagen débacle in December 2009. de Boer has moved on to greener pastures, as the “Special Global Advisor, Climate Change and Sustainability, KPMG International, UK”. There will be three “Keynote Addresses”:

  • Protecting Our Common Future through Multilateralism
  • Asian Actions to Improve Prosperity while Protecting the Global Commons
  • Thinking About Climate Change: What Can We All Do?

The last of these three will be delivered by “Nobel Laureate, Dr Elinor Ostrom

Among other speakers/participants (as “Heads of State/Government”) is Dr. Gro Harlem Brundtland “Former Prime Minister of Norway”. Brundlandt definitely has “form” (as the Brits would say) when it comes to matters sustainable:

Throughout her political career, Dr Brundtland has developed a growing concern for issues of global significance. In 1983 the then United Nations Secretary-General invited her to establish and chair the World Commission on Environment and Development. The Commission, which is best known for developing the broad political concept of sustainable development, published its report Our Common Future in April 1987.

The Commission’s recommendations led to the Earth Summit – the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED) in Rio de Janeiro in 1992.

And in case you’re wondering what this “broad political concept of sustainable development” might be, allow Ask Earth Trends (which seems to be a somewhat dormant offshoot of the World Resources Institute [WRI]) to enlighten you:

‘Sustainable Development’ is an official term, coined in a 1987 report produced by the World Commission on Environment and Development. Entitled Our Common Future or the Brundtland Report (after the Chairman of the commission, former Norwegian Prime Minister Gro Harlem Brundtland), the report defines ‘sustainable development’ as “development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs”; this includes economic growth, environmental protection, and social equity [which, if I’m not mistaken, are known as the “three pillars” of sustainable development -hro].

After Lunch on Day 1, Brundtland will be one of four speakers at “Leadership Panel II” (these two “Leadership Panels” will both address the topic “Leading to Preserve the Global Commons”). Brundtland’s billing for this agenda item includes an additional detail: she is a “Member of the UN Secretary General’s Global Sustainability Panel, Norway”. And, by happy coincidence, a few hours later, there will be a 15 minute “Launch of the Report of UN Secretary General’s High-Level Panel on Global Sustainability”.

It may (or may not) be reasonable to assume that the “UN Secretary General’s Global Sustainability Panel” is the same as the “UN Secretary General’s High-Level Panel on Global Sustainability”. Whether they are the same or not, Brundtland is a member of the latter, and an “Overview” of this Panel’s (full) report contains 56 recommendations. Some excerpts from the Overview (all emphases are mine -hro):

United Nations Secretary-General’s High-Level Panel on Global Sustainability (2012). Resilient people, resilient planet: A future worth choosing, Overview. New York: United Nations.

[p. 2]:

The Report of the High-level Panel on Global Sustainability, entitled Resilient People, Resilient Planet: A Future Worth Choosing, contains six sections in its entirety: Section I – The Panel’s vision; Section II – Progress towards sustainable development; Section III – Empowering people to make sustainable choices, Section IV – Working towards a sustainable economy, Section V – Strengthening institutions; and Section VI – Conclusion: A call for action. This overview reproduces Section I from the Panel’s report. The Summary of Sections and the Call for Action are taken from the report’s Executive Summary. The Panel’s recommendations are reproduced in full.

Disclaimer: The members of the Panel endorse the report and generally agree with its findings. The members think that the message of this report is very important. The recommendations and the vision represent the consensus the Panel members reached, but not every view expressed in this report reflects the views of all individual Panel members. Panel members naturally have different perspectives on some issues. If each Panel member had individually attempted to write this report, she or he might have used different terms to express similar points. The Panel members look forward to the report stimulating wide public dialogue and strengthening the common endeavour to promote global sustainable development.

Hmmm … seems like it’s a “consensus”, but perhaps not quite!

[pp. 3-6 The Panel’s Vision]:

5. The truth is that sustainable development is fundamentally a question of people’s opportunities to influence their future, claim their rights and voice their concerns. Democratic governance and full respect for human rights are key prerequisites for empowering people to make sustainable choices. The peoples of the world will simply not tolerate continued environmental devastation or the persistent inequality which offends deeply held universal principles of social justice. Citizens will no longer accept governments and corporations breaching their compact with them as custodians of a sustainable future for all. More generally, international, national and local governance across the world must fully embrace the requirements of a sustainable development future, as must civil society and the private sector. At the same time, local communities must be encouraged to participate actively and consistently in conceptualizing, planning and executing sustainability policies. Central to this is including young people in society, in politics and in the economy.

6. Therefore, the long-term vision of the High-level Panel on Global Sustainability is to eradicate poverty, reduce inequality and make growth inclusive, and production and consumption more sustainable, while combating climate change and respecting a range of other planetary boundaries.

7. […] We must recognize that the drivers of that challenge include unsustainable lifestyles, production and consumption patterns and the impact of population growth. As the global population grows from 7 billion to almost 9 billion by 2040, and the number of middle-class consumers increases by 3 billion over the next 20 years, the demand for resources will rise exponentially. By 2030, the world will need at least 50 per cent more food, 45 per cent more energy and 30 per cent more water — all at a time when environmental boundaries are throwing up new limits to supply. This is true not least for climate change, which affects all aspects of human and planetary health.

Oh, my … that does sound scary, doesn’t it?! Well, you get the flavour of their “vision”. In case you were wondering “civil society” is UN-speak for Non-governmental organizations (NGOs), such as Greenpeace, WWF etc. But I haven’t yet come across a definition for “planetary boundaries” or “environmental boundaries”. Perhaps they are the new, improved “tipping points”. Oh, wait … here they are:

17. b. It is time for bold global efforts, including launching a major global scientific initiative, to strengthen the interface between science and policy. We must define, through science, what scientists refer to as “planetary boundaries”, “environmental thresholds” and “tipping points”. Priority should be given to challenges now facing the marine environment and the “blue economy”;

c. Most goods and services sold today fail to bear the full environmental and social cost of production and consumption. Based on the science, we need to reach consensus, over time, on methodologies to price them properly. Costing environmental externalities could open new opportunities for green growth and green jobs;

Well, looks like they haven’t “defined” these terms yet, either; and they are looking to “science” to define that which “science” has named.

But, just a minute! The “blue economy”?! Will the “green growth and green jobs” take care of the “blue economy”?! Stay tuned, folks! And <sigh> it looks like we might be in for yet another “major global scientific initiative”.

[p. 9 Moving Towards a Sustainable Economy]:

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 — not just in the financial system, but in the real economy. Policy action is needed in a number of key areas, including:

  • Incorporating social and environmental costs in regulating and pricing of goods and services, as well as addressing market failures
  • Creating an incentive road map that increasingly values long-term sustainable development in investment and financial transactions
  • Increasing finance for sustainable development, including public and private funding and partnerships to mobilize large volumes of new financing
  • Expanding how we measure progress in sustainable development by creating a sustainable development index or set of indicators

I don’t know where they think this “large volume of new financing” is going to come from, but brace yourself for yet another call to “put nature on the balance sheet” [as per IPBES and the “new testament” of the climate bible, TEEB]

[p. 14-16 Recommendations for a Sustainable Economy]:

27. Governments should establish price signals that value sustainability to guide the consumption and investment decisions of households, businesses and the public sector. In particular, Governments could:

a. Establish natural resource and externality pricing instruments, including carbon pricing, through mechanisms such as taxation, regulation or emissions trading systems, by 2020;

37. Governments should seek to incentivize investment in sustainable development by shaping investor calculations about the future through, in particular, the greater use of risk-sharing mechanisms and the enhancement of certainty about the long-term regulatory and policy environment. Measures could include targets for renewable energy or conservation, waste reduction, water conservation, access to carbon markets through the Clean Development Mechanism of the Kyoto Protocol or sustained prospects for public financing.

Didn’t anyone tell this Panel that “carbon pricing” and “carbon markets” (not to mention Kyoto) are kinda dead in the water?!

Ooops … I almost forgot the “silos” …

[p. 9 Strengthening Institutional Governance]:

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” […]

This High-Level Panel evidently held six meetings between September 19, 2010 and January 12, 2012; although only the final reports and reports of the first three meetings appear to be publicly available – unless you happen to land on the right part of the new, improved Panel site which indicates that reports of the first four meetings are available. If your mouse should take you to the latter, you will see that the Panel appeared to have the assistance of (anonymous) Sherpas – who held eleven meetings of various lengths in various locations. But you’ll need to go back to the original site to find the reports of the Sherpa meetings, well, at least the first four such meetings.

And while you’re there, you might want to take a look at the “Related Documentation” – the first item of which is the “NGLS Summary Report: Civil Society Consultation Conducted for the Global Sustainability Panel”, because of course, no UN report would be complete without input from “civil society” aka NGOs. This “Summary Report” is a convenient 27 page “compilation” derived from 38 “submissions from a diverse array of organizations and networks. Many […] were from international networks representing several hundred to over one thousand organizations each.” Should you choose to peruse the pages of this “compilation” (as I did), I doubt you will find many surprises!

Other “related” documents include a Background Paper (“Sustainable Development: From Brundtland to Rio” prepared for the first meeting of the Panel by two people from the International Institute on Sustainable Development (IISD) the good folks who produce the Earth Negotiations Bulletins (reports of the multitude of meetings pertaining thereto – including those of the IPCC). But I digress (although I did so for a reason!)

Recommendation 47 is interesting:

[p. 17]:

As international sustainable development policy is fragmented and, in particular, the environmental pillar is weak, [the United Nations Environmental Program, parent of the IPCC, IPBES, and a host of other acronymic offspring purveyor of increasingly scary stories since 1972 -hro] UNEP should be strengthened.

Seems to me, that – based on the inability of the Panel Secretariat to even get its web-act together (as noted in my above digression) – a way must be found to overcome the “fragmented institutions established around single-issue ‘silos'” of the UNEP. Perhaps the UNEP could benefit from the assistance of some … Sherpas.


9 thoughts on “Of hypocrites, high-level panels and … sherpas and silos

  1. Great stuff. Thanks for digging into this more fully. Lots of fertile ground, it would seem. Re: the statement you highlight

    The peoples of the world will simply not tolerate continued environmental devastation or the persistent inequality which offends deeply held universal principles of social justice. Citizens will no longer accept governments and corporations breaching their compact with them as custodians of a sustainable future for all.

    How do they know this? How dare any group claim to speak for the “people’s of the world”!!

  2. Yes, there is a certain amount of presumptuousness, isn’t there?! I haven’t had a chance to trace it back, but my guess would be that it came from one or more of the “members” of “civil society”.

    Another thing I noticed (but haven’t had a chance to double-check) is that there seems to be some “cross-polination” between this Panel and the IPCC honchos.

  3. Pingback: What Pachauri Means by ‘Sustainable’ « NoFrakkingConsensus

  4. Dion’s speech(es), if any, should be hilarious. “If I ever get back near the centers of power again, you can be sure …”

    Not happening, Marcel. Not in this lifetime.

    Be interesting to know which countries have, like, actual members/representatives of government there. And how near/distant they are from actual power at home. It might provide a sensitive (inverse) measure of enlightenment. By that measure, Canada is now enlightened, indeed.

  5. I’ve had to put up with this claptrap for years.

    Local authorities in the UK (especially but not exclusively those in Labour or Liberal-Democrat control) adopted Agenda 21 lock, stock and barrel without, in most cases, having a clue what any of it meant.

    These were the same people who created “nuclear-free zones” and celebrated with “anti-apartheid Burns’ Suppers” (no, Hilary, I’m deadly serious). In my local area the whole thing crumbled to dust when one of the local worthies, either the worse for drink or having left the other brain cell at home, celebrated the fact that his council (I don’t wish to embarrass his successors so I shan’t name it) even after the upheavals in S Africa would “continue to be an anti-apartheid free zone”. My editor spiked my report, rot him!

    But I digress. Or do I?

    Those who devised this farrago created a range of buzz words (most if which you have managed to find!) which appeared to act in a way that would have sent Dr Pavlov into spasms of delight.

    It all sounds very laudable and plausible until you dig into things like:

    “… eradicate poverty, reduce inequality and make growth inclusive, and production and consumption more sustainable…”

    at which point you start asking questions like what the hell have you been doing all these years? When are you going to stop swanning off to talkfests in sunny places and actually do something constructive for the people who are poor or unequal or excluded?

    Oh and there’s that word “sustainable” again. Has no-one explained to these people that sustainable=subsistence=poverty? And that means for them as well.

    The only consolation is that I don’t think there is one among them with the vision to actually do any of the things they’re waffling about. They’re all mouth. At least I hope to God they are!

    [Mike: hope you don’t mind, but I’ve added line-breaks to your paragraphs, just to make your text a little easier to read :-) -Hilary]

    • Local authorities in the UK (especially but not exclusively those in Labour or Liberal-Democrat control) adopted Agenda 21 lock, stock and barrel without, in most cases, having a clue what any of it meant. [emphasis added -hro]

      Therein lies much of the crux of the matter; this, plus the fact that actual implementation of the consequences of such adoption are so many years in the future that most don’t really stop to think about what they are endorsing.

      I remember back in ’88 (the year after “sustainable” had entered the politically correct lexicon!), I was invited to be a “founding member” of a [now defunct, I believe] development aid group. My interpretation of “sustainable development” in that context was, “OK, we raise funds to give to you, so that you can find ways of supporting and bettering your lives.” Or something along those lines! Whatever it was, it made sense to me at the time! But if I knew then, what I know now …<shaking head in disbelief at my folly>

    • You maybe overdid the para breaks! But it beats stream-of-consciousness run-on megasentences. Writers thereof must have the illusion of fascinated tightly focused readers who would resent the millisecond delays and pauses that paragraphs impose. Compositional egotism, IOW.

  6. Pingback: What Pachauri Means by ‘Sustainable’ | CLIMATE HIMALAYA-Fostering Knowledge, Innovations and Adaptation

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