by Kennedy Graham
Before the UN conference officially opens, the Rio+20 World Summit of Legislators is meeting, Friday through Sunday.
It is a UN gathering of members of national parliaments. There are 233 of us from 76 countries. We aim to agree on a political declaration to feed into the UN conference. That conference is composed of diplomats and cabinet leaders. Ours, arguably, is the voice of the world’s people. Least, I hope so.
We are in the hands of two colleagues – a former British cabinet minister and the Brazilian committee chairwoman. She knows her stuff. They both do.
The Colombian has the floor. He is talking about globalising environmental responsibility. We all agree. He stresses the historical responsibility of the West for the planet’s resource depletion. A few stop nodding.
Now it is the Indian. He speaks, with exaggerated eloquence and at excessive length, on the need for governments to adopt a holistic approach to economic management. The general nodding resumes.
Now it is the Chilean. With stunning theatrical gestures, our friend appeals to governments to mesh environmental concern with macro-economic management. He could have come from the Green Party of Aotearoa. He is, he cheerfully volunteers by way of conclusion, a ‘right wing politician’. There is a reassuring ripple of supportive laughter. He sits down, pleased.
The professional focus is on adopting a Natural Capital Action Plan. Since Rio ’92, the UN has been developing a System of Environmental and Economic Accounting. It seeks to do what the Chilean is calling for. After much effort it has completed the methodology. In February this year, the International Statistical Standards body adopted the UN-SEEA as a recognised accounting methodology. It thus now has comparable status with the System of National Accounting (SNA) which underpins the orthodoxmacro-economic method of economic reporting and fiscal policy. This is huge step.
Similarly the World Bank, in 2010, launched the Wealth Accounting & Valuation of Ecosystem Services (WAVES). Working with UNDP, UNEP and UN Stats., it is running pilot projects in Botswana, Colombia, Costa Rica, Madagascar and Philippines. Support in finance or in kind comes from Australia, Canada, France, Japan and UK. New Zealand is nowhere to be seen.
Through the ‘90s, I used to interact with UNDP and the World Bank on this stuff. It is good to see their work beginning to bear fruit. But what riveted me in today’s discourse was the link between the politics and the practice.
Because in subsequent informal discussion, it became clear that MPs didn’t give much of a toss whether one was ‘left’ or ‘right’ in today’s imperilled world, but whether one was sustainable or not. The heretical notion occurred to us that the gathering should drop the fading phraseology of ‘left-right’ and substitute ‘sustainable’ and ‘unsustainable’.
In other words, introduce the idea of a ‘vertical axis of sustainability’ by which we judge others’, and our own, behaviour and politics. That is the way ahead, for the 21st century.
Perhaps there is hope.