Report by Joan Kirby, Representative to the United Nations

The Final Earth Negotiation Bulletin, CSD – 19 (Monday 16 May 2011) reports the failure of the latest Commission on Sustainable Development. It cites numerous causes of the disaster – overemphasis on the environment to the exclusion of social and economic concerns, the absence of finance ministers who are replaced by environmentalists representing governments, the absence of enforcement conditions for CSD -17, and, above all, a politicized debating format leading to language refinement but not to action.

Despite considerable consensus on every item, the governments declined to endorse the Chairman’s text leaving the road to Rio 2012 full of holes and pitfalls.

The problems were technical and structural but at the heart of the failure I find the familiar inability to heal the division between the developed and developing states – not only different but disruptive values and expectations separate them. The divisive issue of developmental rights has prevailed for 20 years. The developing world (the south) claims its right to develop resources without restrictions in order to emerge from poverty, while placing strong emphasis on the responsibility of the developed world to provide adaptation and mitigation of the effects of the industrial age.

Meanwhile the developed world (the north) demands collaboration and shared financing from the south to repair the damage to the earth. These differing expectations and values interrupt common accord and progress appears to be impossible.

A holistic ethical vision for the earth is absent. That we are not separate, that we are one earth has not been sufficiently articulated in our ethical philosophy or by religions.

Carl Safina, in The View from Lazy Point (2011), reminds us that migrations of birds and fishes take us from the Arctic to Antarctica and across the tropics from the Caribbean to the West Pacific. There is only one Earth and we live on it. On this delicate piece of the universe our life survives and our challenge is to nurture and to share it with generations to come. The world is brimming with vitality but it is changing dramatically as it receives a human imprint that often enough destroys the wise pattern of nature.

Safina holds that we are running our world with ancient and medieval ideas; our philosophy, ethics, religion, and economics were all devised many centuries ago. They lack the ability to incorporate what we have learned about how life operates. “All life is related by lineage, by flows of energy, and by cycles of water, carbon, nitrogen; resources are finite and creatures fragile. The institutions haven’t adjusted to the new realization that we can push the planet’s systems into dysfunction”.

What we need is an ethical rebirth. “The geometry of human progress is an expanding circle of compassion, and, if the word “sacred” means anything at all – the world exists as the one truly sacred place”. Someday, the enormity of what we are risking will dawn on government decision makers. So far, it hasn’t penetrated politics. Environmental policy will need to accommodate the needs of people from developing and developed countries – and will have to be based on decisions and actions of a vast number of stakeholders and not just the nation states that have traditionally dominated environmental diplomacy.

In collaboration with the United Nations UNDP, UNEP, FAO, CoNGO Committee on Sustainable Development and the Religious NGOs, the Temple of Understanding attended the United Nations Framework Conference on Climate Change in Cancun in December 2010. Click here to read our position paper.

Share This