Green Economy Not Just about Environment, Say Panellists at DPI/NGO Conference; It Can Help Eradicate Poverty, Advance Social Justice

6 September 2011

Green Economy Not Just about Environment, Say Panellists at DPI/NGO Conference; It Can Help Eradicate Poverty, Advance Social Justice

6 September 2011
Press Release
Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York

Green Economy Not Just about Environment, Say Panellists at DPI/NGO Conference;

It Can Help Eradicate Poverty, Advance Social Justice


(Received from a UN Information Officer.)

BONN, 4 September — Speakers at this morning’s DPI/NGO Conference round table held a spirited discussion on the role of the green economy, not only in environmental stewardship, but also in ending poverty and advancing social justice.  The discussion was the second of four scheduled round tables at the sixty-fourth annual DPI/NGO Conference in Bonn, Germany.

Opening the discussion, entitled “The Green Economy and Poverty Eradication:  Climate Justice as a Bridge to a New Global Economic Paradigm”, Nick Nuttall, Spokesperson and Head of Media at the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), said many people were asking whether the green economy was unrealistically seen as a panacea for all the world’s environmental problems or whether it was really the way forward in addressing them.  It had been shown that the green economy was creating jobs, that it generated billions of dollars in revenues and that it was absolutely relevant to developing countries, he said, citing the example of Kenya, where geothermal power was a huge, barely tapped source of renewable energy.  The green economy was also relevant in terms of development because it could create jobs and improve economies in other ways.

Surveyor Efik, Civil Society Representative in Nigeria’s National Inter-Ministerial Committee on Climate Change and National Technical Committee on REDD+, said that when people considered the green economy they should think about social equity, human well-being and environmental justice.  A green economy was a low-carbon economy, and a departure from the “business-as-usual” approach was needed when building it.  A “global commons principle” should be applied and the benefits reaped from the green economy shared by all, he recommended, emphasizing that the green economy was not only about the environment, but about reducing poverty and must be approached with an understanding that those concepts were all interconnected.

Bruce Crowther of Garstang and New Koforidua Linking Association and FIG Tree, said fair trade could contribute to the green economy by offering better trading conditions to and securing the rights of marginalized producers and workers.  In that way, societies could encourage and ensure sustainable farming because when producers were paid a fair wage and fair prices for their produce it gave them the incentive to continue using sustainable-farming methods.  One of the keys was to get everyone involved, including children, schools, community members, local authorities and businesses, he said, pointing out that when towns participated in fair trade campaigns there were benefits for everyone in terms of increased social capital, growth in enterprise zones and consciousness-raising.  There were now more than 1,000 fair trade towns around the world, as well as the possibility of creating the largest such network in the world, he said.  The flame was sparked by people on the local level, but it was up to Governments to recognize that groundswell of support, harness that flame and use it to effect social change.

Daniel Mittler, Political Director of Greenpeace International, said investments in renewable energies were increasing and improved forestry methods were being employed, but there were still many negative environmental practices in place that were headed in the wrong direction.  In order to make real and lasting change, the international community would have to change the economic paradigm.  While the 1992 Rio Conference did represent a watershed and a commitment by Governments, as everyone knew, Governments had failed to deliver on those promises, he said, clarifying, however, that they were not the only ones to blame.  There were corporations that had caused Governments to fail through policies that sought to benefit the few at the expense of the many.  There were specific actors who should be held responsible as Rio+20 approached, but the good news was that, despite all that, changes were happening, he said.  There was a need for commitments to zero deforestation by 2020, and Brazil had shown that deforestation could be stopped, he noted.  Governments must accept responsibility for allowing corporations to ruin the environment without consequences, and the robbery of ocean resources by corporations at the expense of small-scale fishermen must also be stopped.

Constanza Martinez, Senior Policy Officer at the Global Policy Unit of the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), stressed the importance of having a diversity of thoughts, but also a unified voice when working on the draft declaration.  Contributions to the text should focus on how change could be brought about, not just why they should happen.  It should be clear what people wanted Governments to do, and a deadline or target date, as well as accountability criteria, should be provided, she stressed.  On the green economy, she said it would only be sustainable if the cornerstones of governance and societal participation are in place.  It must be for and by the people, which meant that people should be informed and be included in decision-making, as well as enforcement.  She received a round of applause when she said it was not about criticizing Governments or the United Nations system, but about people taking responsibility to ensure that the work of the supporting agencies remained relevant to families around the world grappling with unemployment, food insecurity, water scarcity, lack of access to education and other issues that governmental and international agencies spent so much time discussing in capitals around the world.

Bedrich Moldan of the Czech Republic, speaking as a respondent, said fair trade should be incorporated into the Rio+20 agenda because it was connected to so many other issues.  But while many speakers had said that Governments “must” do something, or businesses “must” take action, it was the public at large who had to push the green economy from within, so responsibility lay with them.

In the ensuing question-and-answer session, one speaker suggested that best practices be gathered from a wide array of green economy projects and presented as a document at Rio+20 as the basis for a global green economy.  Another participant asked for tips on how to take small, grass-roots organizations to the next level.  Another speaker asked how fair trade could be implemented on the local rather than the regional level.  Another speaker said that, in terms of holding Governments responsible, people had to make demands on their Governments and continue to pressure them to make changes.  Yet another audience member asked how economies could be reoriented to be more “green”.

Responding to some of the questions raised, Mr. Crowther said he had no answer on how to grow a small grass-roots organization, adding that people just had to rely on their passion and the enthusiasm of others to make it happen.  It was also important to convince people that it was worthwhile funding their efforts.  Educational efforts and awareness-raising were also important.

Mr. Efik said the World Bank was increasingly investing in climate funds and if a declaration was adopted in Rio next year, that would spur further investment in the green economy.

Mr. Mittler emphasized that the scientific reality was that Governments and corporations were exhausting the world’s resources and he would not apologize for saying they “must” make change.  While NGOs could not change the science, they could make Governments and business change their policies.  Businesses had made some significant and real changes, so there was also a lobbying voice within the business community for real change, and NGOs should work with them as well.

In a second round of questions and comments, a member of the audience said she was disappointed that the panellists had not talked about the fact that Rio was “unravelling”, going from compulsory targets for developed countries to voluntary actions and commitments.  Many countries and corporations were invoking the green economy, free trade and intellectual property law actually to prevent developing countries from obtaining the necessary technology for building green economies, she said, asking what could be done to prevent corporations from hijacking the green economy agenda and using it to undermine the very principles that so many were trying to advance.

Another participant pointed out that the Conference was not very energy-efficient because of the hundreds of programmes and other unnecessary printed matter.  Was that how the younger generation was supposed to learn energy efficiency?

Ms. Martinez said people must collectively change their mindsets and way of consuming.  Non-governmental organizations must be ambitious and bold, but also realistic and concrete when they made demands of Governments.  They needed clear indicators, targets, requirements and standards that they could measure and thereby hold Governments accountable.  She added that there had been progress on the environmental agenda and people should recognize that and use the resources at their disposal to keep pushing the agenda forward.

An audience member asked Mr. Crowther for details about how his organization had changed consumer practices so that people were willing to buy fair trade products rather than those mass produced by multinational corporations.  Another speaker said there were clear data to indicate that women formed the vast majority of the world’s farmers, asking what efforts the panellists’ organizations were making to ensure that women were part of the debate on fair trade and sustainable farming.  Another speaker asked how corporations and big business could be engaged since they were a critical part of the equation.

On the question of gender and the green economy, Ms. Martinez said her organization was doing a great deal on women and gender strategies in areas such as desertification, and welcomed a discussion on the role of women as decision-makers on household consumption as well.

Mr. Mittler said Greenpeace supported small-scale farming and one of the reasons for doing so was the awareness of the role that women played in small-scale farming, which was the first to be destroyed when large-scale agribusiness moved in.

As for energy efficiency at the Conference, he encouraged anyone involved in organizing Rio+20 to do a better job of being resource-efficient because it was true that conferences could be incredibly resource-intensive.  He also cautioned that it was important for NGOs to be alert to misuse of the phrases “green economy” and “sustainable development”, and to point out whenever they came across it.

The DPI/NGO Conference will reconvene at 4 p.m. this afternoon for a round table discussion on the role of civil society in a fast changing world.

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For information media • not an official record
For information media. Not an official record.