Last month, world leaders gathered in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, for the Rio+20 conference (otherwise known as the “United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development”). The event was billed as the follow-up to 1992’s UN “Earth Summit”, when over one hundred heads of state and government (along with assorted NGOs, celebrities and representatives of civil society) met in Rio to discuss the environment. The results of this year’s conference, however, have been criticised as “disappointing“, with many blaming the global economic crisis for pushing the environment down the international policy agenda.
The conference produced a 49-page non-binding document called “The Future We Want” (PDF), which supports (amongst other things) the green economy, renewable energy, protection of the oceans and seas and action on securing clean and sustainable water supplies. Critics point out that the document lacks hard timetables or targets, and fear that implementation will be difficult to enforce whilst governments are focusing on growing their economies at all costs.
Earlier this year, Debating Europe attended the Green Week conference in Brussels; a four-day event that, this year, had the theme of water security. We had the opportunity to talk to a series of academics and experts on the topic of water and on the environment more generally. We began by talking to Dr. Seetharam Kallidaikurichi, Director of the Institute of Water Policy at the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy.
We asked him to respond to a comment from Peter, who argued:
Our economy is geared to achieving growth and, in times of recession, the economic policy is all about returning to growth. The financial crisis is an opportunity for some basic rethinking about what the economy is for, and how, through some fundamental restructuring of our financial system, we can safeguard our economic stability in the future, as well as achieving wider social and environmental benefits.
Is Peter right? Rather than focusing on returning the European economy to growth, is now the time for a paradigm shift to a different development model?
We put the same question to Monica Scatasta, Deputy Economic Adviser, Water & Waste Management Division, European Investment Bank (EIB). Here’s her response:
Next, Tom left a comment arguing that part of the problem is how we measure success. GDP is, according to Tom, the wrong way to measure progress; there are other factors, such as social and environmental costs, that should be measured as well. In the context of water, could the problem be that we aren’t attaching sufficient “value” to our water resources? We put Tom’s question to Saleem H. Ali, Director for the Centre for Social Responsibility in Mining at the University of Queensland, and asked him to respond.
Finally, we had a comment come in from EU blogger and Debating Europe commenter Protesilaos, who wrote that the “crisis of the euro, should not dominate political talk, marginalizing the major challenges humanity will be facing in the upcoming years. A viable climate is much more important in the long-run than a functional monetary system.” We asked John Kuylenstierna, Incoming Executive Director, Stockholm Environment Institute, to react to this one.
What do YOU think? Is the eurozone crisis an opportunity to prioritise a different model of development, with a focus on sustainability over growth? Or is it naïve to think that people will accept lower growth, even if it might be better for the environment? Is “green growth” achievable, or is it ignoring the constraints of finite resources? Let us know YOUR thoughts and comments in the form below, and we’ll take them to policy-makers and experts for their reactions.