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Two pathways to sustainability

By Luis Flores GEC · 23rd April, 2012
Rodion Kutsaev 14200
Photo by Rodion Kutsaev / Unsplash

There is general agreement among governments of the urgent need to address the current unsustainable patterns of development. However, as the international negotiation process continues towards the Rio+20 Earth Summit, there is little agreement on how to do it.

In terms of sustainable consumption and production (SCP) – the issues that most concern consumer rights groups – the Rio+20 negotiations are currently considering two approaches, but neither of them is sufficiently compelling at present.

First is the  ten-year framework of programmes (10YFP) on SCP.  This already has backing at the UN and could well lead to the creation of a specific international process to deliver sustainable consumption. It currently commands an explicit reference (paragraph 97) within the draft Rio agreement: ‘The Future We Want’.

Second is a ‘global pact’ on SCP. This would promote dialogue and collaboration in the exchange of information, knowledge and skills in support of a range of initiatives to accelerate SCP, including the UN Environment Programme’s regional work on SCP.

A ‘global pact’ sounds good, but it’s likely to be more of a political statement that – at this stage – still lacks specific content. Consumers International supports the adoption of the 10YFP at Rio, but inclusion in the final text alone will not guarantee its implementation.

So, what to do?

This was Consumer International's key question as governments resumed negotiations on the outcome document for the UN Conference on Sustainable Development (UNCSD or Rio+20) during meetings at the UN Headquarters in New York in March.
It is possible that both options could be adopted. But this would be a best-case scenario.

There is still a danger that the ‘global pact’ could turn in to a means for avoiding real institutional engagement around SCP and thus hamper the endorsement of the 10YFP at the Rio summit.

At this stage there are still too many questions unresolved and too many issues to get a clear sense of which of these two alternatives would address SCP in a more effective manner, ensuring real and concrete sustainable solutions to the many problems that we face today.

We will have to wait for a second round of negotiations, taking place at the UN in New York this week, from 23 April to 4 May, in order to asses which will be the best way forward.

Either way, governments should be able to take a step forward on SCP at Rio. They need to deliver a clear and concrete framework for action for all stakeholders – be it the 10YFP or the ‘global pact’ on SCP.

This could involve new work on the links between production and consumption and its impacts on people’s health and the environment; delivering more and better information for decision making.

All slow, but concrete actions towards sustainability.

Luis Flores

This article was originally posted on the Consumers International blog page.

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