Freitag, 21. Juni 2013

One year after Rio+20: The movement for a better world is growing

One year after the biggest ever UN Summit closed at Rio de Janeiro, Brazil is in the news again. An impressive and large movement is standing up for their right to public transport and for a better future for all Brazilians. As with the recent Gezi Park protests in Turkey, the images of police brutality are chilling. But the colourful, humourful and determined spirit of the movements for change is a real inspiration.

A year ago, I hoped that the failure of Rio+20 would motivate more people to mobilize for a better world. I am not saying Rio+20 is the cause of the current protests. But Rio+20 certainly was a global symbol for governments failing to deliver the decisive transformation we need to achieve a decent environment for all. And while most people now out on the streets will never have read the Rio+20 outcome document, the movement of movements to force the future we want“ appears to be under way.

Already a year back there were encouraging signs: As we launched the Save the Arctic campaign at Rio as our signal of hope against the despair of the official outcome, the Guardian´s John Vidal predicted that the fight for the Arctic was “sure to grow into (one of the) great global causes over the next 20 years“. It looks like he was right. Since then, over 3 million of you have already come together to support our call to keep the oil industry and industrial fishing fleets out of the Arctic. Thank you.

And while things are looking bleak for the Amazon, the coalition of civil society that came together around Rio+20 to demand a zero deforestation law is going from strength to strength. Over 1 million Brazilians are now supporting our call for ending deforestation once and for all. Sadly, the urgency is growing every day as deforestation appears on the rise: trends for the period August 2012 to April 2013 show an increase of 15% compared to the previous year. Meanwhile, conflicts with indigenous communities are multiplying. Stand with Brazil by adding your voice to the call to the Save the Amazon.

Rio+20 failed to deliver the energy revolution needed and governments from Canada to Venezuela acted as voice pieces for their fossil fuel industries at the Summit. Meanwhile, bodies as varied as the International Energy Agency or the Australian Climate Commision acknowledge that the vast majority of fossil fuel reserves must stay in the ground. Rio+20´s failure increased the need for a global movement to keep fossil fuels in the ground. And that movement, too, is growing - and growing fast. Bill McKibben tells the story of it´s rise in a seminal Rolling Stone piece; the movement´s movie is online here; next week, 500+ leaders will gather at the Global Power Shift meeting in Istanbul – probably the most important climate event of the year. All of you can join the global resistance against fossil fuels: Pledge to end the age of coal and join the International Day of Action on Coal on June 29th.

As Rio+20 failed to make decisive decisions, the political progress report one year after Rio is mostly about processes. But even there, there are signs of movement building. As you may recall, we put governments under a lot of pressure to move forward on protecting the High Seas at Rio. As a result, governments will decide on the future governance of the High Seas by 2014 at the latest. France is championing the „Oceans Constitution“ we need. To support their efforts they have launched a global, public call to protect the High Seas. Some members of the global elite have already understood the need to end the plunder of the High Seas. I used to campaign against the likes of ex World Trade Organization head, Pascal Lamy. But that someone like him supports the new Global Oceans Commission and their call for proper governance on the High Seas is encouraging. It doesn´t inpspire me like people on the streets of Rio or Istanbul. But it does give me hope that – with enough political pressure – we may yet get the right political outcome for the High Seas in 2014. Help us build the pressure by signing our call.

One concrete thing that has happened since Rio is that the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) got strengthened a little bit. The UN General Assembly  agreed in December 2012 that UNEP will receive “secure, stable and increased financial resources from the regular budget of the UN“. It was about time to end a state of affairs where UNEP needed to pass around a ´begging bowl´ each year to secure vital funds for environmental protection. Other new bodies initiated in Rio – such as a High Level Political Forum on sustainable development - are still on the drawing board. The fundamental reform of global governance that we need will not happen without much more pressure from the streets.

Governments at Rio argued that the launch of a three year process to develop Sustainable Development Goals was a major breakthrough. And so it would be, if these goals were to enshrine important global goals – such as protecting the Arctic for all. However, as governments spent months arguing over who should be on the working group (some 70 nations now share 30 official slots ...), the best that can be said is that this global conversation is now - finally - under way. We hope the Co-Chairs will be bold – and not as timied as the High Level Panel on the (parallel) post-2015 development agenda.

A year after Rio, I feel less exhausted than I did after that negotiations marathon. I feel as angry as ever about our governments failing to take the decisive action we need. But I am truly inspired by the movements for a just, fair and sustainable world that do seem to be growing and gaining in strength. A year ago, I called for more movements to rise up. But not in my wildest dreams did I expect that one year on, protest movements the world over would be making their voice heard as they are – and making the front pages. 

Let´s build on the current momentum. Let´s redouble our efforts and make sure that soon - a year from now? - governments and corporations will have no choice but to finally deliver the future we want.

Donnerstag, 20. Juni 2013

Global Environmental Governance: Where are the teeth?

Like I am sure many of you, my mind has been in Istanbul in recent weeks. 
Especially so, because I was inspired by Gezi Park already last November. I was speaking at a conference on global governance in Istanbul arguing that "Achieving effective environmental governance is ... above all about changing power relations. ... It is about making the argument for change as much on the street as it is in the corridors of power." (see below). When I finished it was pointed out to me by the audience that Gezi Park and the wider urban transformation of the Taksim area was ripe to be the kind of conflict about power and who rules that I was referring to. And the whole world got to see how right they were over the last few weeks!
I have been inspired by the Istanbul protests not least for the many acts of day to day kindness that Jen, a team member of mine based in Istanbul, describes in her powerful blog: Home at Last in Istanbul.

I post my reflections on international global governance here as a tribute to all who stand up for their rights in Turkey. This article has recently been published in Turkish as part of a book documenting the conference (I will provide a link to the book once I learn of one).

So: Where are the Teeth?
Or why the weakness of International Environmental Governance is a question of power

The politics of the environment face a paradox. While climate damaging emmisions and the use of resources globally continue to rise, solutions are also starting to become mainstream. Unlike twenty years ago, we know today that renewable energy, for example, is not a pipe dream but a fast growing global industry. Indeed, solutions for most if not all envirtonmental ills are available and affordable, and investments in clean technologies are rising. At the same time, development in both North and South remains deeply unsustainable.

One key reason for this paradox is that globally, environmental governance systems are not as strong as they needs to be. Even where governments do promote sustainable practices, such as the use of renewables, they fail to put a decisive end to unsustainable practises. An economy based on nuclear energy, oil and coal, genetic engineering, toxic chemicals or the overexploitation of our forests and seas, however, will never be sustainable – and will not be able to provide prosperity for all in the long term.

Too many governments North and South have effectively been captured by corporate players benefitting from the destructive status quo. They are putting the interests of a few above the interests of the many. Asia Pulp and Paper, for example, has been able to undermine effective forest protection in Indonesia, while Volkswagen has fought against the climate protection rules in Europe and the US, to name but two. The finance industry, furthermore, has succeeded in making the taxpayer pay for its bad decisions and is stopping governments from effectively regulating global financial markets.

For the environment not to be overexploited, and people to prosper in the long term, governments must put regulations in place that secure the public good and give the institutions tasked to implement these regulations the tools to do so. It sounds simple, but it does mean changing some fundamentals in the way we govern our planet.

It is important to remember that global regulations with teeth are not impossible. The World Trade Organization (WTO), for example, can impose punitive tariff fines on countries flouting it´s rules. So while the negotiations to further liberalize global trade remain stalled, many disuptes are being taken tot he WTO as the existing powers oft he global trade institution persist – and the WTO remains the most powerful global governance instrument available.  

In contrast, environmental and sustainable development governance is not effective. Experts agree that while there are many institutions dealing with social agendas or the environment, they are not coordinated, lack adequate powers, and are much weaker than economic and trade bodies. Bodies such as the UN Environment Programme can only plead, coach and capacity build, where the World Trade Organization can impose punitive tariff measures on those breaking their rules.
The United Nations Environmental Programme (UNEP) was created as a compromise at the Stockholm Conference on Human Environment in 1972. Many attempts have been made since then to strengthen it. But while we have a UN agency even for tourism, UNEP remains a mere Programme, with very few offices around the world.
Similarly, the main international forum established in 1992 to deal with “sustainable development” is the Commission on Sustainable Development (CSD). The CSD was tasked to monitor the implementation of Agenda 21, the main outcome document of the Rio Earth Summit in1992. Sadly the CSD, which convened for two weeks every year since Rio, was never more than a talking shop. It could do nothing to actually deliver sustainable development. At best, it has been at times a forum where new ideas have been shared.
At the Rio+20 UN Summit in June 2012, governments buried the CSD and pledged to replace it with a new „high level“ body on sustainable development. As things stand however, there is no guarantee that that new body will be any more powerful than the CSD was. The risk of it being merely another talking shop is very real.
Rio+20 also failed to upgrade the UN Environment Programme to specialised agency status – a UN Environment Agency - which would formally upgrade it within the global UN structure (a move which has been under discussion globally for decades). The world therefore still lacks a global authority on the environment, especially one that has the power to monitor the implementation of global environmental agreements – and to sanction those failing to live up to their promises. However, UNEP was at least strengthened at Rio+20. Following the Rio decisions, the UN General Assembly in December 2012 finally agreed, for example, that UNEP will receive “secure, stable and increased financial resources from the regular budget of the UN“.This at last ends a sad state of affairs, where UNEP needed to pass around a ´begging bowl´ each year to secure vital funds for environmental protection. It was also welcome news that Brazil and China both used the occasion of Rio+20 to pledge significant additional sums to strengthen UNEP. This is recognition of the important role UNEP plays in emerging economies – and could possibly be a sign of countries such as Brazil and China starting to see the environment as an area where it is worth exerting „soft power“ globally – and may be even, at times, take the lead. This will be an area of environmental governance worth watching in coming years. Will Turkey take a similar approach and start contributing to UNEP more pro-actively?
For sustainability to thrive, we need much more than a strengthening and upgrading of existing institutions such as UNEP: We need global rules that change power dynamics and investment incentives. Environmental regulations (including Multilateral Environmental Agreements, MEAs) need much stronger sanction mechanisms. They need the ability to effectively penalise countries such as Canada, for example, who simply ignore the commitments they made under the Kyoto Protocol (on climate change). Global rules on corporate accountability and liability are also a must in order to ensure that damaging people and the environment is no longer a free for all, but has real costs. At the Johannesburg Earth Summit in 2002, governments acknowledged the need for global rules for global corporations. At Rio+20, however, they only called for slight – and voluntary – improvements in the way that corporations report their social and environmental impacts. A binding global instrument that ensures full liability for any social or environmental damage global corporations cause therefore stays high on any governance reform list. Indeed, it is a fundmental test of whether governments want to set rules for people and planet or abandon responsibility to a free market focussed on short-term gain.
Sustainable development cannot become a reality in a world in which short-term bets by the financial markets are all-powerful. Strong controls of financial markets are therefore an integral part of the global governance reform required. New fiscal instruments, such as a Financial Transaction Tax, need to be adopted to slow harmful speculation and deliver much needed finance for development and environmental protection. A complete social and environmental review of the global trade system is also long overdue.
So why are these steps not being taken? That´s where we have to return to the question of power. Post Hurricane Sandy, even the vast majority of Americans are supportive of effective climate action. The fossil fuel industry, however, has captured too many governments in North and South. On Capitol Hill, just like in Caracas, Brasilia, Ankara or New Delhi, the oil, coal and gas industries rule, not the people. Even measures like cutting fossil fuel subsidies are therefore unable to find majorities. Governments, for now, fear Shell and Exxon more than their average citizen.

Achieving effective environmental governance is therefore above all about changing power relations. It is about building a movement powerful enough to force governments to act in the public interest. It is about building alliances between grassroots initiatives and global organizations. It is about making the argument for change as much on the street as it is in the corridors of power.

Only if we change power relations, will we be able to transform global governance systems and get environmental governance bodies with real teeth, comparable to those of the WTO. The current lack of teeth of environmental bodies is a symptom of environmental interests not being strong enough - yet - within the global political system. No expert commission or think tank proposal will be able to change much until these power fundamentals are addressed.

Montag, 17. Juni 2013

G8 leaders: what about the climate?

The wonderful colleagues over at Greenpeace UK asked me to write a blog on this year´s G8, so here goes:

As leaders of Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Russia, the USA and the UK descend on Northern Ireland for their yearly G8 jamboree, even the most conservative of bodies are calling for urgent action on climate change. The World Bank, for one, has made it clear that the 4 degree warmer world we are heading towards if we fail to act urgently is not a place any of us want to be. And the International Energy Agency has just reminded the world that the vast majority of oil, coal and gas reserves need to stay under the ground if we want life on earth to be pleasant rather than chaotic (a long overdue recognition of the „carbon logic“).

Yet, if you look at the G8 summit´s website, climate change is consipicuous in its absence. That did not used to be so. Back in 2007, 2008 or 2009, for example, climate was a key issue these countries fought over. Now it reportedly took heavy lobbying from Germany and France for „greenest government ever“ Cameron to even agree to talk about climate change at all. With such bad preparation and lack of political capital being invested in getting the G8 to send a leadership signal on climate, it´s hard to see how the Summit can produce anything but meaningless platitudes.

But do prove me wrong, dear G8 leaders, please do! French President Hollande, after all, has already called on you all to do ... (your) part and give a strong political impetus to curb carbon emissions.“

Here is a simple guide to making me eat my words:

This G8 should:

-        set out clearly how existing commitments to finance climate action, adaptation and ending deforestation will be met and
-        how much „climate finance“ each G8 leaders will make available for countries in need between 2013-2015. It should
-        commit to innovate ways of generating the money urgently needed to fight poverty and climate change, including making the international shipping and aviation industries pay for their excessive damage to our climate, taxing financial transactions and redirecting the absurd amount currently being spent on fossil fuel subsidies to financing the energy revolution we need. As a German it makes my blood boil  that even a country like Germany spends 6.6 billion US $ on financing climate destruction through fossil fuel subsidies (but has only pledged some 500 million in terms of financial support to those countries that need support to act).

While they are at it, G8 leaders also need to show that they are serious about agreeing a new, legally binding, fair global treaty on climate change at the UN climate summit 2015 in Paris. To be credible, they need to deliver a peak in climate damaging emissions before 2020 and therefore need to set out immediate steps by each G8 nation to step up their efforts between now and 2020.

I am not holding my breath, but you are allowed to wake me up any time of night if you hear rumours of the G8 agreeing to such an action agenda. 

I am, by the way, not for a moment saying that the issues this summit will focus on instead of climate change – trade, tax compliance and transparency - are not important. The free trade agenda the G8 still holds onto, though, is likely to make our environmental vows worse, not  better. And it´s odd that the transparency discussion is not being linked to climate change. After all, climate change is a driver for „land grabbing“ and initiatives such as the „Publish What you Pay“ initiative, however welcome, are all too often about payments that facilitate the extraction of the very oil, gas and coal reserves that we know we need to find ways of leaving in the ground ...  

That said, on tax this G8 may yet deliver something positive for people and planet. I can only salute the excellent work done by other civil society groups on the outrage of corporate tax dodging. Their campaign work has indeed resulted in the „highest pressure yet on the tax dodgers“ this week. Corporations avoiding taxes is not only plainly unfair, it also results in there being less money available to tackle climate change, poverty and to pay for other vital public service. So here is to hoping that public pressure will result in a real step forward on ending tax evasion. I am keeping my fingers crossed.

Frankly, the G8 should have an interest in delivering something on tax compliance as doing so could allow them to argue that the G8 is not completely irrelevant in a multi-polar world. For the climate, the importance of the G8 is not in doubt. For starters, the G8 nations still emit a huge amount of all climate damaging gases worldwide (and have emitted the vast majority historically). And while everyone who has a high carbon footprint needs to act no matter where they live (from Manila to New York), there is no question that if the G8 nations sent a signal of leadership on climate change that would be a huge deal. It could change the „you go first“ dynamics of the climate negotiations and send clear signals to markets and investors that they cannot assume that fossil fuels will be a good long term investment.

I am not holding my breath. But especially if our leaders fail us – again - in Northern Ireland this week, I am asking for your help. We must hold their feet to the fire at home and make them act. One first opportunity to do so will be the End the Age of Coal action day on June 29th. Join in and remind world leaders that we need to keep fossil fuels in the ground if we are to have a decent future for all.