"Now more than ever, leaders need to focus on what matters most - the long-term resilience of people and the planet - the High-level Panel on Global Sustainability urged in its report presented today to UN Secretary-General BAN Ki-moon in Addis Ababa. The 22-member Panel, established by the Secretary-General in August 2010 to formulate a new blueprint for sustainable development and low-carbon prosperity, was co-chaired by Finnish President Tarja Halonen and South African President Jacob Zuma. The Panel’s final report, “Resilient People, Resilient Planet: A Future Worth Choosing,” contains 56 recommendations to put sustainable development into practice and to mainstream it into economic policy as quickly as possible."This is how the press release for the launch of the report of the High-level Panel on Global Sustainability present it. Unfortunately, the report doesn't really say almost anything how sustainable development can be mainstreamed into economic policy, and even less how it can be mainstreamed in the actions of economic agents, i.e. investors, companies, workers and consumers.
There are multiple layers of problems here. The first layer is that very little has happened since the Rio conference 1992.
"A quarter of a century ago, the Brundtland report introduced the concept of sustainable development to the international community as a new paradigm for economic growth (my emphasis), social equality and environmental sustainability. The report argued that sustainable development could be achieved by an integrated policy framework embracing all three of those pillars. The Brundtland report was right then, and it remains right today. The problem is that, 25 years later, sustainable development remains a generally agreed concept, rather than a day-to-day, on-the-ground, practical reality."The second layer is that as you can see above, economic growth was seen not only as possible but actually as a part of, a precondition for sustainable development. So one of the main expression of unsustainable development (an uncontrolled growth) is seen as a condition for it.
And the third layer is that the underlying analysis is flawed. Neither the Bruntland report nor this report has understood that it is the underlying economic drivers that destroys the environment and creates poverty (read for instance my posts Poverty, Property and Profit and Beyond Sustainability). Well, they do admit it to some extent, but they believe those things can be fixed by tweaking the system rather than changing the system. So we should have more green consumerism (recommendation 11); we should develop new indexes for measuring progress, over and above the GDP (recommendation 39), better sustainability reporting from companies (recommendation 32).
The report is full of language that makes the weak recommendations even weaker, expressions such as "explore a range of measures", "step up their efforts", and the "Panel calls for a process to explore the concept and application of the critical issue of equity in relation to sustainable development". The reports is full of jargon and wishy-washy language such as "Governments should use public investment to create enabling frameworks that catalyse very substantial additional financing"(recommendation 36).
When it comes the what really counts, how economic agents ACT, the reports is very weak: businesses "should seek to align their business practices with universally accepted principles concerning human rights, labour, environmental sustainability and the fight against corruption" "should seek" to align is far from "must", or "shall" or even from "should", and, of course there are really very few measures suggested leading in this direction.
In general, even if the report itself says: "to achieve sustainability, a transformation of the global economy is required. Tinkering at the edges will not do the job.", this is where the report really falls short. It does call for and end of subsidies for fossil fuel and it does call for increased internalisation of costs, and it calls for some regulation, but it is still only on the level of tinkering, in the same way as the other major UN effort towards Rio, the Green Economy report.
Greenpeace writes the following
"Its mandate was clearly recognized: “efforts to achieve the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) and other social and economic targets are hampered by the inability to agree on decisive and coordinated action in national and multilateral fora.” Yet in the end the politicians did what they always do – they kicked the tough issues down the road for someone else to deal with and bowed to what they thought could get agreed. No wonder there’s a leadership vacuum."