Friday, June 8, 2012

Sustainable development at Rio+20 and Nepal’s expectation

After hosting the Earth Summit two decades ago, Rio de Janeiro, starting June 20, is again welcoming more than 130 heads of state and thousands of people in what is expected to be the largest conference in recent times. Twenty years ago, the Rio Earth Summit emphasized on sustainable development keeping in mind the drive for rapid economic growth, rising population and environmental necessities, including conserving land, air and water. It also laid foundation for the Kyoto Protocol, established the Convention on Biological Diversity, and the Convention to Combat Desertification.

The three-day long meeting for the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development, or Rio+20, in June will also discuss similar issues, albeit with more urgency to balance growth with environment necessities. In effect, the problems have magnified in the past two decades. UN Secretary General Bin Ki-moon argued: "Global economic growth per capita has combined with a world population to put unprecedented stress on fragile ecosystems. We recognize that we cannot continue to burn and consume our way to prosperity. Yet, we have not embraced the obvious solution: sustainable development."

After failing to decisively address the challenges of balancing growth, population and environment imperatives, Rio+20 offers world leaders an opportunity to agree on a new course toward a future that does what the world should have done in the past twenty years. It is the most important global forum to seek balance among economic, social and environmental dimensions of prosperity and human well-being.

The UN secretary-general has recommended focusing on three issues:

  • creation of job-focused growth along with environment protection and social inclusion
  • empowering women and young people
  • smarter use of resources to minimize waste

Furthermore, he has asked governments, businesses and other coalitions to endorse Sustainable Energy for All Initiative, which aims for universal access to sustainable energy, and a doubling of energy efficiency and use of renewable sources of energy by 2030.

However, several countries that have just started to grow at breathtaking rate argue they cannot wholly afford to move onto a more sustainable pathway without compromising on their growth strategies. This might explain the reluctance to reach an agreement on emission controls during the latest UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) summit in Durban, South Africa. The summit in Rio should seek to find alternative courses for growth that boosts employment generation and puts nations on a low-carbon, resource-efficient development path. With the technological innovation and workable ideas that have emerged in the past two decades, it could be entirely possible to generate "green growth" that encompasses both growth and environment concerns. It could herald an age of a ‘green industrial revolution’.

While preparation of the global plan of action—entitled ‘The Future We Want’ worked upon by the UN preparatory committee PrepCom—to be adopted at the Rio+20 is still going on behind the scene, as of now no consensus has emerged from the negotiations. The action plan has to be ready for approval before June 20. Already a coalition of international NGOs has argued that the action plan “looks set to add almost nothing to global efforts to deliver sustainable development”. The main bone of contention is over the concept of green economy and its relevance and meaning to the global South. Other disagreements include issues such as equity, sustainable consumption, sustainable development goals (SDCs), production in global South, social justice, technology transfer and trade. There is also confusion over the commitments to be made by nations and their capacity to facilitate the inclusion of SDGs in national development plans and priorities.

Secretary-General Ban has urged nations not “let a microscopic examination of text blind us to the big picture […] we do not have a moment to waste”. It is very essential for negotiators to reach a consensus on the most contentious issues well ahead of the summit. It should be comprehensive and try to incorporate almost all the concerns raised by the global South. A global pact on finding the right balance between growth and environment is long overdue. The Rio+20 summit is a historic opportunity on this regard and its outcome should not disappoint global citizens, especially on issues surrounding SDCs, climate change and gender inequality.

Nepal will propose focusing on the following key areas of sustainable development:

  • Food security and sustainable agriculture
  • Water and sanitation
  • Energy
  • Sustainable cities
  • Natural disaster
  • Green job and social inclusion
  • Mountain ecosystem

Nepal expects Rio+20 to:

  • Renew commitment of Member States for preserving the Rio principles
  • Foster implementable consensus for fulfilling the implementation gaps in the Rio declaration and other associated commitments
  • Address new and emerging challenges in a fair and equitable manner based on the principle of common but differentiated responsibilities (CBDR)

Specifically, it wants developed countries to fulfill ODA commitment, ease transfer of technology, waive debt, ease trade barriers, and enhance capacity of LDCs. It expects an agreement on the Mountain Agenda adopted in 1992. It expects focus on green economy, especially support for harnessing its hydro-generation potential. It expects the Rio+20 Conference to “fully integrate the IPoA into its outcome document and underline renewed and scaled-up global commitment to achieve sustainable development in the LDCs.”

Amidst the political uncertainty and vacuum, just read that the Nepal’s Prime Minister Baburam Bhattarai is all set to fly to Rio de Janerio, Brazil, on June 18 to attend the Rio+20 summit with as many as 23 other officials.

Does democracy foster adoption of economic reforms?

Giuliano, Mishra and Spilimbergo argue that democracy has a positive and significant impact on the adoption of economic reforms, but economic reforms might not necessarily foster democracy.

Empirical evidence on the relationship between democracy and economic reforms is limited to few reforms, countries, and periods. This paper studies the effect of democracy on the adoption of economic reforms using a new dataset on reforms in the financial, capital and banking sectors, product markets, agriculture, and trade for 150 countries over the period 1960–2004. Democracy has a positive and significant impact on the adoption of economic reforms but there is scarce evidence that economic reforms foster democracy. Our results are robust to the inclusion of a large variety of controls and estimation strategies.