Recasting of Sustainable Development

 “The Future We Want”, the agreement produced at Rio +20 held in Brazil from June 20-22 has not unexpectedly disappointed us although mega summits such as UN Conference on Sustainable Development have hardly proved successful in the past with a few exceptions. Conspicuously, the above high-level meeting organized to galvanize world support for environmental protection after 20 years from the 1992 Rio Conference, which had then produced three environment related conventions, was not attended by the top-ranking leaders from the U.S., U.K., and Germany.

The critics have contended that Rio+20 has given us a clutch of potentially useful ideas and promises overwhelmed with many “Mays” and less “Musts” that reflect reduced commitment to implement what has been agreed to improve environment. Nevertheless, one of such innovative ideas as devising new environment friendly development benchmarks especially in renewable energy and food security, to replace 2000 Millennium Development Goals (MDG) is significant given the fact that MDGs will expire in 2015. These goals were agreed by the UN General Assembly during the Millennium Summit, the 55th session, to achieve many developmental objectives in a time-bound fashion including particularly reducing extreme global poverty by half within 2015.

In the opinion of optimists the Rio+20 has made useful contribution to scrapping fossil fuel subsidies, which have ballooned in recent years, to an estimated annual cost of $400 billion albeit skeptics have concerns that the oil producing countries have buried the fuel subsidy agreement in caveats. The latter’s view is bolstered by the use of diluted language. The said agreement has merely invited governments to “consider” rationalizing inefficient fossil fuel subsidies…in a manner that protects the poor and the affected communities.

Joining the chorus of those who have felt betrayed by the outcome of Rio+20, Jagdish Bhagwati, a Nobel laureate and professor at Columbia University, has in his article “Rio’s Unsustainable Nonsense” said “Rio+20’s lack of action shall be regarded as an historic failure”. His comment is connected to the issue of failure on the part of UN Conference on Sustainable Development to agree on a successor pact to replace Kyoto Protocol which is expiring in 2012. His conclusion in aforementioned article is that less excess and more access, which he means reducing unnecessary consumption by the rich and providing the poor an access to health and education, is only a policy mix which when implemented can guarantee that human societies remain viable and achieve genuine sustainability.

Similarly, another professor and development expert Jeffrey Sachs, who once served as an adviser to the former UN Secretary-General on Millennium Development Goals, had hoped on the eve of UN conference that the delegations would adopt a set of Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) that will inspire a generation to act. His argument through his essay “A Rio Report Card” was that the MDGs have opened our eyes to extreme poverty and promoted global action to fight AIDS, tuberculosis, malaria. His conviction is that SDGs can open the eyes of today’s youth to climate change, bio-diversity loss and the disasters of desertification.

The outcome document of UN Conference on Sustainable Development has acknowledged that climate change is a cross-cutting persistent crisis. It is beyond doubt that the scale and gravity of the negative impacts of climate change affect all countries and ironically the poor developing countries like Nepal, whose share of global carbon emission is so meager. Her case was unsuccessfully lobbied by our prime minister at the summit, who despite leading a mammoth delegation, lacked the domestic political consensus with country’s parliament no more existing following the collapse of the Constituent Assembly on 14 Jestha, 2069.

Our partnership with like-minded mountainous countries facing similar catastrophe due to global warming would have been effective had we not been so paralyzed by political impasse at home. Despite urgent need to tackle problems like glacial lake melting, among others, Nepal is crippled at the moment to strongly plead her case, whatsoever genuine it may be. Keeping our house in order is crucial to convince the international community. Who would have confidence in our ability to properly utilize the international funds when we struggle so painfully to agree on the country’s annual budget to be tabled through an Ordinance.

Under such circumstances we have to contend with the traditional UN rhetoric that the document of Rio+20 reaffirms the Istanbul Program of Action for the Least Developed Countries for the Decade 2011-2020 outlining LDCs priorities for sustainable development and defines a framework for renewed and strengthened global partnership to implement them.

Not surprisingly, the UN agreement also reaffirms our commitment to the full implementation of three major conventions such as UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), UN Convention on Bio-Diversity (CBD) and UN Convention on Desertification (UNCD). Combating climate change requires urgent and ambitious action, in accordance with the principles and provisions of the UNFCCC.

Analysts have observed that much has changed since 1992 Rio Conference on Environment, from the rise of emerging economies, whose shares of global carbon emissions is significant, to increasing urbanization as China and India alone will add 500 million people to their urban population in the next 20 years, the global financial crisis and the “summit fatigue”.

Therefore, tremendous population growth, unprecedented urbanization, particularly in low and middle-income countries and rise of emerging economies will likely put pressure on the environment and the social systems.

There is a noticeable fatigue with UN summits characterized by lack of consensus, particularly on broad, systemic issues, on how opportunities and costs should be shared by major powers.

The need of the hour is to broaden sustainable development notion to encompass the concepts of poverty eradication and social inclusion. While emphasizing on sustainability advocating for sustainable development goals with a view to replacing the MDGs, we should not lose our focus on global poverty. Sustainable livelihood as argued by Jagdish Bhagwati demands increased access to better health and education for the poor. If this is the case there is no reason why devising sustainable development goals will be problematic for the world leaders in the near future.

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