RIO+20 must build a new economic order

Published 13th February 2012 - 3 comments - 3090 views -

This post is a guest post from EESC President, Staffan Nilsson.

We may need short-term decisions to overcome the crisis, but we want our leaders to keep the long-term perspective of sustainability, which simply means that, by meeting our everyday needs, we don't restrict the ability of future generations to meet their needs. According to the WWF, since 2005 our pace of life has consumed 30% more of the planet's resources than it actually has to offer. We are already behind, it becomes urgent and yet, we do not fully appreciate what living in a finite world actually means.

It is this reality that the governments at Rio must take on when they meet in June at the Global Sustainable Development Summit, Rio+20. The challenge will be twofold: to agree on binding principles that ensure the greening of the economy while eradicating poverty, and to create an institutional global framework for sustainable development. We need to build a different world. It is cheaper to prevent than to repair. It is a make-or-break moment for putting our economies on a sustainable footing. In Rio, the United Nations must together build a new economic order.

"Greening" our economy involves a rethink of consumption and production practices. It is about the way we do business, work and consume. It is the everyday decisions and actions of civil society actors that will transform our economies and lifestyles into more sustainable ones. We call on political leaders to commit in Rio to a green economy roadmap with clear goals and monitoring mechanisms ensuring an economically efficient, socially just and environmentally sound transition to a green economy. We stress that the transition process must be accompanied by continuous dialogue with civil society, in particular by social dialogue.

In concrete terms, we can bring about sustainable consumption and production by using a broad range of policy instruments, including regulatory measures, fiscal policy tools, green public procurement, research into eco-innovation and market-based incentives. While taking measures to tackle the crisis, we must separate growth from environmental damage. This is a challenge where the EU can and must make a contribution. I am personally convinced that the EU can position itself as a leader in such multilateral negotiations, thanks to the experience, skills, technologies and resources that it has at its disposal. 

We believe that greening the economy is an opportunity for business. Sustainability is not just a passing trend; it's a new business model with long-term strategic gains for companies. This new model goes far beyond corporate responsibility because it influences the whole approach to business, all along the value chain. We call on political leaders to design clear, stable and predictable green economy policy frameworks to give business the confidence to make the necessary investments. It would not only give Europe first-mover advantage, it would also create new knowledge-intensive jobs.  

At the same time, the social dimension must be further incorporated, so that the transition to a sustainable economy is accompanied by growth, which eliminates poverty and social injustice. To this end, we call on political leaders to renew their commitment to meeting the Millennium Development Goals and to adopt additional measures backed up with the necessary funding. We call on developed countries in particular to implement their commitment to allocate 0.7% of their gross national income to development aid.

I'm happy to see that the "zero draft" forming the basis of the Rio+20 final agreement recognises the limitations of GDP as a measure of well-being. Of course, proposals for alternative indicators are subject to widespread public dialogue. For this, we recommend the setting up of a Council for Sustainable Development (replacing the old commission) and a United Nations Environment Agency, while supporting the proposal already on the table for an ombudsman for future generations.

The work of the European Economic and Social Committee (EESC) for Rio+20 is part of my political commitment to engage people for a sustainable Europe. Go sustainable, be responsible is the message of the EESC for the upcoming United Nations summit on Sustainable Development Rio+20 and the title of the conference we organised on 7-8 February to secure joint input into the Rio+20 summit. The EESC has been striving to formulate a strong joint message from civil society organisations across Europe to European and world leaders about the change we need driven by the Rio+20 summit. We all agree that we want our leaders to be more ambitious in terms of objectives, timing, funding, legal commitment and follow-up. 

It is true that the Rio+20 global summit will not solve the world's problems overnight. However, it can mobilise will, gather and give new momentum to sustainable development, and drive change. Action must continue so that sustainability is systematically and consistently incorporated into our policies and our behaviour. Let's imagine each one of us doing something small but significant for the environment around us. Let's imagine the accumulation of all these gestures by seven billion people. If we can do that, I'm sure we can make our planet Earth viable for future generations. 

Staffan Nilsson

President, European Economic and Social Committee


Staffan Nilsson’s personality, professional skills and commitment to civil society ideals, which the EESC has long nourished and has worked for over the years, led to his election as President of the European Economic and Social Committee on 20 October 2010. Staffan Nilsson is a staunch supporter of the EU, whose primary purpose is to bring lasting peace to the continent, and a tireless advocate of sustainable growth, which is the best way of financing a social model serving the common good of all Europeans, and of defending our values internationally. 

“Engaging people for a sustainable Europe” is Staffan’s political message for his term of office. He is politically committed to ensuring maximum civic engagement in Europe’s endeavours to foster environmental, economic and social sustainability.

Nilsson is a veteran leader in the EESC. Before becoming President of the EESC, he was President of Group III (Various Interests) for six years, and Vice-president for another six. Since 1995, when he became a member of the EESC and Group III, he has actively contributed his expertise to the work of the EESC, mainly in the fields of agriculture, sustainable development and international cooperation.

He has been rapporteur for opinions on the Soil Protection Framework Directive, the Communication on the Sustainable Use of Pesticidesagriculture and food safety in the context of the Euromed partnership, and the Action plan for Environmental Technology – to mention but a few. Nilsson has been an active member of the EESC Joint Consultative Committees (JCCs) established with accession countries in the past, and he currently plays a key role in the EU-Turkey JCC and the Euromed Committee.

An activist since his student years and now a prosperous farmer, Staffan Nilsson is a driving force for dialogue and inclusive development. Openness and cooperation are the hallmarks of this term.


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