Do They Really Want a Common Future?

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I’ll be honest. I was one of those that didn’t have high expectations for Rio+20. If trying to agree with your partner can sometimes be challenging and requires good negotiation skills and patience, I can’t even imagine which kind of super-powers decision-makers and negotiators would need to reach a satisfactory outcome. How can people from all over the world, with completely different backgrounds and capabilities, needs and interests, ideals and understanding of reality agree upon something that might go against their countries’ short-term development and interests? I don’t think there are too many brave leaders that would be willing to sacrifice their political lives for long-term development and progress, whatever that really means.

In “The Future We Want” document, part “I. Our Common Vision”, governments commit to “free humanity from poverty and hunger as a matter of urgency.” The word “urgency” however is not defined in terms of timelines or frameworks for action. Would negotiations have been more effective if any of the negotiators had ever suffered of hunger, or lacked resources and opportunities? How can one understand these concepts while sleeping in luxurious suites, eating fruitful buffets, and hanging around with others like them?

Policymakers also “strive for a world that is just, equitable and inclusive, and … commit to work together to promote sustained and inclusive economic growth, social development, environmental protection and thereby to benefit all.” But with the needs of major groups not integrated into the main document that is to come out of this summit, and disappointment levels riding high, it is debatable how much of what is being said is nothing more than pure sentiment. In political jargon you might call this agreement a ‘success’, but in concrete outcomes, the agreement is a failure. There has been progress in granting access to civil society groups, but their influence in the outcome document is negligible.

Feelings of frustration and disappointment could be sensed yesterday at a  high-level panel on “Sustainable Development in an Unequal World.” At this event, past and present world leaders spoke about the urgent need for equitable and sustainable development. Some of the panelists expressed their frustration regarding the text and agreed that the cost of inaction is much higher than the one of action.

Gro Harlem Brundtland, Prime Minister of Norway (1986-1989 and 1990-1996) and former Chairman of the Brundtland Comission, which originated the most frequently cited defintion of the concept ‘Sustainable Development’ in the Brundtland Report, published in 1987, said the goal of the High-level Panel on Global Sustainability was “to eradicate poverty, reduce inequality and make growth inclusive and production and consumption more sustainable, while combating climate change and respecting a range of other planetary boundaries.”  Unfortunately, even though this is key for sustainable development, she could not find this statement in the document.

Mary Robinson, President of Ireland (1990-1997) and Member of the Club de Madrid, lamented that “we are seeing words being spoken, but the actions don’t align themselves. The text is very far from sustainable development and from what we need.” She highlighted that at the moment there is a disconnect between the world needing a new paradigm and the lack of leadership and vision at the political level, and asked the audience: “Is there something wrong with us human beings that we cannot see that there’s a need of a new paradigm? Listen to us! We are frustrated.” According to her, the young generation will have to clean up in the future what they are currently destroying. The age of politicians and their short term perspectives really disconnects with what it is needed. As a grandmother, Mary Robinson does not believe at the moment that their grandchildren will have a safer world than the one we have right now.

At the end of the day, I ask myself if they really want a common future. I doubt it.