Greetings from Rio de Janeiro! This is a lovely, lively city, with great music, crowds of people and incredible traffic. Brazil is working hard to tackle the cruel poverty of many of its people, but much remains to be done. The trip from our Passionist community to the conference centre can take two, sometime three hours. We see the rich and varied face of Brazil. But there is still too much poverty. And that is what this conference is about. How can we share our wealth more justly? How do we turn back the terrible damage done to the only earth we have to nourish us and gives us life? We are 9 people representing Passionists International here in Rio.
It is good to meet so many enthusiastic, committed people from NGOs who are passionate about working for a fairer world. But, after all our efforts to talk with governments in New York, it’s disappointing that the final document is so timid in looking at the great challenges we face. The title of this UN Conference on Sustainable Development is “The Future We Want.” But, the final negotiating sessions have shown deep divisions between countries as to what the document should say. There are three major differences: the concept of “green economy”. Many developing countries fear this is the way for corporations to take over the world. How do we define “sustainable development goals” so that there can be social justice for all, protection of the environment for now and future generations, and still encourage economic growth? What is the right institutional framework to build this right sort of development as we move into the future and who decides?
To make matters worse, some developed (rich) countries are trying every trick to water-down the Rio Principles agreed here twenty years ago. They want to get out of the commitments they made to assist developing countries with financial resource and by helping them to get the right sorts of modern technology to make the transition to a greener, healthier lifestyle and economy. For example, the principle of common but differentiated responsibilities was one of the 21 Principles adopted in Rio in 1992. This says that all countries share a common responsibility to protect the environment and the earth. But, since industrialized countries of the North have caused much most damage to the environment, they are the ones who should lead the way in cleaning up. The United States has made it clear that it does not accept this concept, and wants it deleted wherever it is mentioned in the text. Other wealthy countries – the US, along with Canada and New Zealand, among others – are don’t want any reference to “ new and additional funds” to help developing countries face the threats of climate change and make the shift to renewable sources of energy. They say that the private sector – that is business, that is corporations will make our new future possible. But they refuse to put any restrictions or supervision on these profit driven corporations! I think we know how the poor will make out in this arrangement.
President Roussef of Brazil, the host of the meeting, strongly urged her fellow heads of state to be more courageous and generous in shaping a new world where the common good of all is respected. Time is running out!
So we see narrow, national self-interest pushed by powerful countries crush commitment to the global common good every step of the way. Too many countries are using the excuse of hard times from the financial crisis to fail to meet their responsibilities in the community of the nations. So there is room for more work to call governments to their responsibilities. We must also remember that each and every one of us has a part to play by carefully examining how much we consume and how we can live more responsibly.
There is still time. There is still hope. There was a wonderful challenge from a 17 year old girl to all the Heads of State as the Conference opened. More later!
- Kevin Dance, C.P.