Dossier: Fairness in a Finite World – Rio+20 and Beyond

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Fairness in a Finite World – Rio+20 and Beyond

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Fairness in a Finite World - Rio+20


The Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro in 1992 was an important milestone of international policy. It put the concept of sustainable development into the international discourse along with the awareness that efforts to deal with development in a finite world need the consideration of the economic, social and environmental dimensions of human action and interaction. The Earth Summit’s outcome – including the United Nation’s Framework Convention on Climate Change, the Convention on Biological Diversity, the Convention to Combat Desertification and the Agenda 21 action plan, provided a framework for the urgently necessary multilateral agreements today. However, two decades later, neither a worsening of climate change nor the continued loss of biological diversity were avoided, with development challenges, global poverty and inequality persisting: We are today using up the resources of one and a half planets and carry on heating up the atmosphere without providing all people with a chance for a decent life.

20 years after the first Earth Summit, the international community will gather once more in Rio de Janeiro from the 20th to the 22th of June 2012. But for a greener, more equitable and more resource efficient world mere declarations will not be enough. A serious shift in priorities is needed. A greener economy is possible, but it needs to be socially just, gender equitable and democratic.

For us and our partners worldwide, Rio 2012 is a call to action and yet another chance to actively take part in the political debates on a socially and ecologically equitable future. We are searching for solutions and alternatives to the destructive model of economic growth as we have known it for the past 200 years of industrialization - for solutions that provide for a life in dignity but without destructing the natural resource basis on which we depend.

The Heinrich Böll Foundation North America’s contributions to discourse on Rio+20 and beyond focus mainly on these specific issue areas:

  • Green economy and green growth
  • Gender equity and sustainable development
  • Equitable climate and energy policies


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Green City - Greenery seems to be taking over the roof of one building in lower Manhattan. Picture by alykat under CC BY 2.0 License. Original: Flickr.


The concept of the green economy and the feasibility of “inclusive green growth” will be central to the discussions at Rio+20 and any action plans post-Rio. The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) and the World Bank are among lead organizations which have submitted their thinking and recommendations for Rio+20 and beyond.  Many developing countries and civil society groups view the proposals more critically – fearing a financialization of nature instead of a necessary overhaul of the existing global economic and financial system for the benefit of people and nature.

A Critique of the Green Economy
By Barbara Unmüßig, Wolfgang Sachs and Thomas Fatheuer, May 2012
Since the first UN Conference on Environment and Development in 1992, we've seen a worsening of all important ecological trends, such as climate change, biodiversity loss and scarcity of resources.  This essay describes a policy of less and wealth measured in "just enough" to allow a decent life without poverty for all.

Biomassters Battle to Control the Green Economy
By etc group and Heinrich Böll Foundation, June 2012
A “great green transformation” is being promoted as the key to our planet’s survival. The goal is to substitute petroleum with biomass. In this report, the Heinrich Böll Foundation and ETC Group reveal the new “Biomassters” and argue that in the absence of effective and socially responsive governance, the green economy could result in further environmental degradation and human rights abuses.

The World Bank’s Inclusive Green Growth Report – A Brief Assessment
By Liane Schalatek and Nancy Alexander
Is it possible and affordable to green the developing country economies without sacrificing growth as a new World Bank report claims?  The authors argue that the utilization of market mechanisms to govern natural assets and placing prices/ on ecosystems and ecosystem services could lead to enhanced resource exploitation and violation of human rights.

The G20: Playing Outside the Big Tent
By Nancy Alexander and Peter Riggs
This paper describes two events which will occur back-to-back in June 2012: the Group of 20 (G20) Summit hosted by Mexico and the UN Rio+20 Conference.  It identifies ways that the G20 and the Business 20 (B20) might influence the attempts of the more inclusive Rio+20 Conference to advance sustainable development

Inside a Champion. An Analysis of the Brazilian Development Model
Edited by Dawid Danilo Bartelt
In the past 10 years, Brazil has undeniably gone through a remarkable process of transformation. The international community sees Brazil as success story. This collection of articles addresses the discrepancy between the perception of Brazil abroad and at home where NGOs and social movements have been criticizing the Brazilian development model.

How Germany Became Europe’s Green Leader
By Ralph Buehler, Arne Jungjohann, Melissa Keeley, Michael Mehling
This article examines how German environmental policymaking over the last 40 years transformed Europe’s economic engine into the international driver of green growth.

The Green Economy – The New Magic Bullet?
By Barbara Unmüßig
Barbara Unmüßig, President of the Heinrich Böll Stiftung, looks at some of the green economy and green growth proposals and highlights some concerns and shortcomings that might hinder global acceptance.

Mental Infrastructures: How Growth Entered the World and our Souls
By Harald Welzer
The idea of endless growth has been embedded in our emotional and cognitive lives since the Industrial Revolution, and is shaping our sense of belonging and identity. The essay of Harald Welzer makes the mechanisms and principles distinct on which our ideals and wishes are based, and clears the way for change.

Green Deal Nigeria
By Heinrich Böll Foundation Nigeria
The Green Deal Nigeria study commissioned by the Heinrich Böll Foundation in Nigeria focuses in five separate articles on the potential for a greener Nigeria. The study provides an overview and practical examples of how to green Nigeria before 2020 and explains the long-term measures that Nigeria needs to take today to make the economy grow beyond oil.

Preventing Wall-E: Toward Adoption of a Ten Year Framework of Programmes for Sustainable Consumption and Production at the 2012 Earth Summit
By Victoria Floor
Since 2002, the world community has been struggling to formulate a framework for sustainable consumption and production. In this paper, Victoria Floor describes the struggle, the high stakes and the importance of a Rio+20 Agreement.

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Setting Up the Solar Array, Kenya 2009. Picture by otherpaths under CC BY-SA 2.0 License. Original: Flickr.


Some 20 years after the Rio Declaration and Agenda 21 explicitly recognized that ecology and development are not gender-neutral, sustainability as a concept is inconceivable, and cannot be realized, without the inclusion of gender equity into all aspects of development work. For Rio+20, an action plan centred on the green economy concept and proposing Sustainable Development Goals for the post-2015 time-frame might be the most concrete outcomes. Gender equity, women’s empowerment and adequate and predictable financial flows should be at the core of these commitments in order to turn the “bad economics” of business-as-usual approaches into a global economy guided by more care, precaution, inclusion and justice.

A Series of Think Pieces on Gender Equity and Sustainable Development
On the eve of Rio+20, the Heinrich Böll Stiftung North America has asked several of its partners from civil society to reflect in short commentaries about some of the linkages and synergies between gender equity and key issue areas of sustainable development.  This series of 11 think pieces covers topics such as access to resources such as energy, land or water, the care economy as well as women as consumers and gender implication of climate change responses.

The Future We Want. A Feminist Perspective
By Christa Wichterich
The Future We Want – the motto chosen by the UN in the run-up to the June 2012 United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development (Rio+20) – is certainly forward-looking. Rio+20 is supposed to define routes towards a safer, fairer, greener, and cleaner world. Christa Wichterich’s essay takes a closer look on the relations between feminism and ecology.

Gender Equity and Sustainable Development: Prioritizing Action for Achieving Results
Report of a one day HBF conference convened in 2012 with four roundtable discussions providing a gendered analysis of global governance processes, the global economy, the world’s food and agriculture system and climate change respectively. The Honorable Melanne Verveer, Ambassador-At-Large for Global Women’s Issues at the US State Department, gave the keynote address.

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Solar Panels in Sri Lanka. Picture by IFC Infrastructure under CC BY-NC 2.0 License. Original: Flickr.

Equitable Climate and Energy Policies

Low Hanging Fruit: Fossil Fuel Subsidies, Climate Finance, and Sustainable Development
By Elizabeth Bast, Traci Romine, Stephen Kretzmann, Srinivas Krishnaswamy, Lo Sze Ping
In a time of economic hardship, dangerous climate change, and growing demand for reliable and cleaner sources of energy, global fossil fuel subsidies for production and consumption remain staggeringly high; however, momentum for subsidy reform is growing internationally. Greater transparency and equity need to be at the heart of such reforms, argues this report.

An Endless Wait with Uncertain Future: Unpacking the Energy Crisis
Edited by Sunita Dubay and Srinivas Krishnaswamy
The urgent need to address climate change, the concerns of depleting fossil fuel reserves, volatile global oil prices and continued economic crisis amongst other reasons have put energy at the center of public policy debates.  While the discussions are centered around addressing energy security, often focused primarily around electricity generation, the more immediate energy crisis is in creating equitable energy access and eradicating energy poverty.

The Practical Challenges of Monitoring Climate Finance: Insights from Climate Funds Update
By Charlene Watson, Smita Nakhooda, Alice Caravani and Liane Schalatek
The international community is focusing increasing attention on the need for more informatioon and transparency on climate finance. This brief reflects on the practical experience of monitoring climate finance from Climate Funds Update (CFU), a joint initiative of the Heinrich Böll Foundation and the Overseas Development Institute.

Myth and Facts: The German Switch from Nuclear to Renewables
By Craig Morris
Germany’s decision to phase out nuclear power after Fukushima has been criticized as it would lead to rising emissions and a shortage of power supply. A fact check proves these claims to be wrong. Today, renewable energies provide for more than a fifth of electricity demand in Germany. The country is on track to surpass its ambitious climate targets and even exports electricity to Europe’s nuclear power house, France

Transatlantic Tar Sand Storms: Lobbying and Dirty Oils are Canada’s New Exports
By Eva Zschirnt and Arne Jungjohann
In its tar sands, Canada has the biggest oil reserves worldwide after Saudi Arabia. While delaying climate action at home, the Canadian government is undermining international efforts in fighting climate change. Low carbon fuel standards in the EU and California or the denial to build the Keystone XL pipeline through the US would be a major setback for Canada’s export of oil from tar sands.



Heinrich Böll Foundation Berlin Rio+20 Dossier
A collection of articles in English from Heinrich Böll Foundation Offices around the world discussion sustainability, equity and fairness issues.

Rio2012 – a commented link list
The international community will decide about the future of the international environmental architecture in Rio de Janeiro in June 2012. Another point on the agenda is the reform of UN institutions responsible for Sustainable Development. Find here a commented list of links.

Joint Submission by the Heinrich Böll Foundation and the Ford Foundation to the 2012 Earth Summit Outcome Document ‘Zero Draft’
By Nancy Alexander and Peter Riggs
The 2012 Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil is scheduled right "on the heels" of the Mexican G20 Summit. Will the G20 Summit support or undermine the goals of the 2012 Earth Summit? This paper, submitted to the Rio+20 preparatory process for consideration as part of the official negotiating text describes the risk that, unless the G20 changes its orientation, it could undermine hopes for positive outcomes at the 2012 Summit.