The green economy - many paths, one direction

The first of November, more than 600 national governments, NGOs, international agencies and other interested parties submitted their contributions to what will be the first negotiating text for the Rio+20  Earth Summit. Once the United Nations has reviewed and synthesized these contributions into an initial draft, negotiations on the final document to result from Rio +20 will begin.  This means it is critical for governments to focus on ensuring that these negotiations are productive and make the Rio +20 summit a success. In particular, it is important that rather than delve into debates about the meaning of the "green economy" - one of the priority themes of the summit, governments and other stakholders begin to identify concrete measures and commitments to sustainability.

To date, seventeen countries in Latin America and the Caribbean have already submitted their official contributions, detailing their positions on sustainable development and the results they expect next year in Rio. The contributions from the region’s governments reflect the different perspectives on the "green economy" that have already been evident in recent months. Some countries are opposed to the concept, while others acknowledge that the green economy is a flexible mechanism that will let countries  achieve sustainable development under their particular  national circumstances. But with relatively little time left for Rio+20, it is time to put aside the debate about the meaning of the "green economy".  Instead, there is a need  to focus on identifying specific actions and commitments that will lead the region toward a more environmentally and socially sustainable future, in which different communities have access to economic opportunities without degrading the natural resources on which we all depend.

The green economy must be defined through precise and short-term  commitments on energy, climate, oceans, health, water and other issues where achieving sustinability is  critical. The final Rio+20 document should reaffirm the commitment of governments to work towards sustainable development, but even more important and necessary will be to begin to generate a list of commitments by countries, companies and civil society.

One proposal that has emerged in Latin America, from Colombia, is to adopt Sustainable Development Objectives. If this proposal moves forward in the coming months it is necessary for these objectives to be based on tangible actions, not mere aspirations. That is, the foundation of any long-term sustainable development objective should be the actions and changes to which countries commit to now.

Some countries have already begun to point to the need for specific actions. Costa Rica has signaled that a green economy should include the development of green accounts for national accounting systems, tax reforms that encourage sustainable production and the elimination of perverse incentives that discourage the efficient use of resources. Chile has also highlighted the importance of sustainable public procurement, the removal of subsidies, the importance of renewable energy and energy efficiency and the need to generate decent and green jobs.

Identifying general changes in policies and actions that are necessary is a good first step. It is also important that governments in the region begin to develop specific proposals on how they will achieve these changes. What subsidies will be removed? How will they encourage cleaner technologies? What will they do to meet existing commitments to protect biodiversity and natural resources? How much clean energy will they generate? Chile could, for example, produce 20 percent of all energy generated in 2020 from nonconventional renewable energy sources, as noted by President Piñera in 2010 and as proposed by a bill currently under debate in Congress. Costa Rica - which already prohibts shark finning in its national waters - could take the next step in the fight to eliminate this completely unsustainable and inhumane practice by also prohibiting shark fin imports, in this way closing a loophole that allows shark finninging to continue.

There are many ways and different paths for countries to achieve environmentally and socially sustainable development. Building national green economies - that promote sustainable production and consumption and protect natural resources - is one of the mechanisms that would allow such development. Since 1992, with the adoption of Agenda 21, we’ve know what direction we need to aim for. Now, as we approach the Rio+20 Earth Summit, it is time for each country, businesses and civil society to begin to define the concrete steps they will take to achieve sustainable development.