Press Conference by Civil Society Groups on ‘Green Economy’

4 May 2012

Press Conference by Civil Society Groups on ‘Green Economy’

4 May 2012
Press Conference
Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York

Press Conference by Civil Society Groups on ‘Green Economy’


Ahead of the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development planned for June, representatives of international non-governmental organizations exchanged a variety of views on the idea of a “green economy” this morning at a Headquarters press conference.

According to moderator Michael Strauss of Earth Media, the green economy was one of the two main themes of the Conference, which is also known as “Rio+20”.  It was a very broad, overarching idea that held that engaging major economic actors in the transition to sustainable practice could achieve multiple goals for the future.  It was also an idea that was still defining itself, he added.

At today’s event, a representative of the International Chamber of Commerce, Martina Bianchini, focused on conditions that needed to be put in place by Governments to enable the private sector to pursue what she called green growth.  On the other hand, Marcelo Furtado of Greenpeace Brazil, Paul Quintos of Ibon International, based in the Philippines, and Adrian Fernandez of Earth in Brackets expressed concerns that such a business-oriented model relied too much on a voluntary approach, through which major elements of sustainable development were being lost as negotiations proceeded toward an outcome for the Rio conference.

In her statement, Ms. Bianchini said that the green economy idea put a lot of importance on the private sector, for which innovation, collaboration and governance were priorities, as well as a better definition of the concept.  Business felt that bottom-up green growth was its area of responsibility and that the top-down provision of an enabling environment was the responsibility of government.  A green economy road map was being developed by business, which described 10 conditions that needed to be put in place for green growth. 

She said that collaboration in creating the green economy was crucial.  The chemical industry’s responsible global product strategy was a good example, involving a range of actors.  She noted that, in Rio, on 19 June, there would be an all-day business event featuring best practices and directions for the future.  Right now, the zero draft of the Rio outcome gave many tasks to the private sector, but provided for less than adequate business involvement in the process, she added.

Mr. Quintos said that many civil society organizations were deeply uncomfortable with the green economy concept as it was currently being discussed in multilateral forums.  From their perspective there was great reluctance among Governments to make concrete commitments in the form of policy and funding.  For that reason, there was more emphasis on the private sector, with the public sector confined to providing an “enabling environment” and dwindling efforts to hold businesses to social and environmental responsibilities, with provisions on corporate accountability in the outcome document being opposed by powerful Member States. 

Instead, he said, there was a trend toward an emphasis on voluntary commitments and tighter observance of rules in some areas, such as respect for intellectual property rights.  Regretting the trend towards the further commodification of nature, he said his organization encouraged a diverse, sustainable, community-based economy, protected by corporate accountability and enabled by fundamental reforms on global economic governance.  It also advocated more resources for sustainable development in accordance with the principle of equitable burden sharing, he added.

Mr. Fernandez emphasized the dire need for policies that encouraged decent and green employment for youth.  There was money to pursue projects in that area, but it was being used for the wrong purposes; for example for harmful subsidies to industry and for huge profits in financial markets.  He concurred that the negotiation process toward a Rio outcome was not going well.  Countries, he said, were prioritizing their national interest.  Civil society needed to pressure Governments to push for concession, with major groups speaking with one voice. 

Mr. Furtado agreed with that view of the negotiations, saying that there was great distance between “the world we want”, a Conference catchphrase, and the world that could be agreed upon.  The green economy was difficult to define, but it was easy to define what it was not:  fossil fuels, overexploitation of the oceans or the land, the end of safe water, the death of vulnerable societies.  Unfortunately, the fossil fuel industry was dominating negotiations and there was no real discussion on the shift of subsidies away from it, which he said could otherwise be a plausible accomplishment.  It was questionable whether a treaty on fisheries and the high seas will actually come to fruition.  Renewable energy and universalism were being left out.  Voluntary commitments were an unacceptable outcome.  A regulatory framework must apply to everyone, he stressed.

Taking the microphone once again, Ms. Martina replied that the right balance of regulatory and voluntary action had to be found.  There was a lot of discussion on required reporting and her company could comply with such requirements, but there were a wide variety of business.  A flexible system that encompassed all business areas was needed.

To questions about the progress of negotiations, Mr. Quintos replied that some negotiators were actually trying to raise the bar in achieving environmental goals, including the European Union, but the means of implementation were not being addressed to the satisfaction of developing countries.  The rich countries were, in general, reluctant to agree to binding obligations.  There was also the trend of shifting the emphasis to the private sector and voluntary implementation. 

Mr. Furtado added that the outcome document should be the basis of a new model.  Means of implementation and technology transfer was an obvious place to start, as was shifting away from harmful subsidies.  The resources of the high seas and energy also represented critical issues.  Voluntary pledges were counterproductive; the idea of social licensing, or responsibility to the good of people needed to be reaffirmed.  “We can all agree that the current economic system is not working,” he said.

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