Rio+20: Flagging the key issues however flimsy the agreement

Key agendas for the future were given an airing in Rio, whilst the agreement itself remained timid, not least on the Green Economy. Without substantial international commitments to move forward, the Green Economy will rely on action by individual countries, blocs (the EU), companies and others. Some however, are keen to move and are making the link with nature regardless of the agreement’s silence on this point.

IEEP played an active role in keeping this issue in the Rio bloodstream. Our report, supported by UNEP, Nature and its role in the transition to a Green Economy, was launched in an event dedicated to The Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity (TEEB) initiative. It argues that nature's capital - ecosystems, genetic resources and species - is a foundation for a green, equitable and resilient economy. Nature underlines the very functioning of our socio-economic systems, creates a range of business opportunities and provides cost-effective solutions for different sectors. The recognition that natural capital is fundamental for our well-being and should be appreciated for its many values suggests that sustainable use, protection and restoration of nature needs to play a key role in the development of more sustainable economies.

Similar themes were explored in an event on natural capital and Green Economy organised jointly by the Nordic Council of Ministers (NCM) and the UNEP-TEEB Office (with IEEP’s support). Building on the views of several high-level guests, including the leader of TEEB initiative, Pavan Sukhdev, Greenland’s Minister for Finance, Maliina Abelsen, President of WWF, Yolanda Kakabadse, and the Environment Ambassador at the Swedish Ministry for the Environment, Annika Markovic, the event concluded that while Green Economy is gaining prominence in both global and national fora, the critical ‘green’ in Green Economy – nature itself - is often forgotten in the discussions. Better ways to evaluate and integrate the true contribution of natural capital into our economies are needed to ensure the sustainability of our economies in the long term.

While approaches to Green Economy are likely to be country specific, regional cooperation and dialogue can play an important role in facilitating the transition. For example, Minister Abelsen underlined the importance of fisheries for the Greenland economy, the value of dialogue with fishermen to ensure acceptance of sustainable fisheries management, and the role of nature based tourism to reduce Greenland’s reliance on fisheries. For Sweden, Ambassador Markovic underlined the importance and success of environmental taxes and targets. The panel agreed that the successes or failures of Rio would depend on what actions different countries, business and other stakeholders would implement, and rallied around the phrase ‘What are you going to do [to make Rio work] on Monday?’

While welcomed by many countries and stakeholders (including the EU), Green Economy also faced ample opposition in Rio. Many developing countries continue to fear for their national sovereignty over the use of natural resources, and several NGOs consider that valuing nature in the context of the Green Economy is unethical and could lead to the commodification of nature. Due to these concerns, the final draft outcome of Rio+20 – due to be adopted by the Heads of State on Friday – includes no common global commitments on the Green Economy but simply encourages each country to consider the implementation of the Green Economy in the context of sustainable development and poverty eradication. The text concludes that, while a transition to Green Economy plays an integral role in supporting sustainable development, it should be seen as only one of the important tools available for achieving the set goals. The transition to a Green Economy can and probably will, take different paths for different countries, depending on natural assets and political priorities etc. Consequently, continuous efforts will be needed post-Rio to ensure further steps are taken to ensure that natural capital is a key driver in the transition to a green economy.

More information: Patrick ten Brink & Marianne Kettunen