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Can The Future We Want document show us the way?

Jan 31, 2013

Former heads of states cutting across countries and cultures believe that ‘The Future We Want’ document released last year at Rio+20 might still be the best bet to combat climate change

It is easy to speak in hindsight. South Asians know that well.

And our political leaders, one might say, do point out to all that is wrong in the decision of the day once they have demitted office. That was on display during the leadership panel discussion on ‘Defining the future we want’ at the high powered meet— the Delhi Sustainable Development Summit (DSDS)—that was inaugurated by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh in Delhi.

It must, however, be said that the panel of leaders – including former Finnish President Tarja Halonen; former Guyanese President Bharrat Jagdeo; former Qubec Premier Jean Charest, former British Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott; and former Florida governor Charles Crist– were all people with the right credentials to speak on the subject.
Halonen kicked off the debate with an account of the initiative that she led for the Future We Want document. “When we made the report, we thought we would get a consensus,” she said, explaining the soft wording the report employed. She explained the instance of the term ‘planetary boundaries’—inclusion was understood to belong here.
“I would continue with these goals, especially post-2015,” she said.
Halonen dwelt on three pivots for the future–human capital, youth and women—and gave a moving account while speaking of the poor. “They are not stupid. They are smart to survive.”

Jagdeo was critical of the strangulation on knowledge and expertise on all subjects pertaining to the poorest countries, be in the areas of fisheries, mangroves or agriculture. He felt that this would not change till nations summoned all the political will at their disposal. “Even if the best economists come up with the best formula, it won’t change the lot of the poorest in the world, for whom, the difference between having a job or not having one, or cutting a tree or letting it be is starvation,” he said.
Jagdeo voiced his concern about expertise getting confined in the hands of a few countries. “We have already defined what needs to be done,” he said, pointing out that it was time to implement.

It was a voice that was recognised and agreed to by other panellists. Lord Prescott for instance, drew applause for his views on negotiations post Rio+20–on how countries like Australia opposed the Kyoto Protocol but now talk of carbon trading. Of Obama, he said, it would not be worth expecting anything brilliant. “Obama worked against Kyoto 1,” he remarked.

Coming strongly on influence of big money on governments, Prescott wondered if governments could advocate their trickle-down theory without the prodding from business groups that harboured “special interests”.

“If there is to be equity, that means that developing countries have to develop at a faster rate than the richer countries,” the Lord said, saying that the way to its implementation is contained in The Future We Want document. All that was needed, he said, echoing Jagdeo, was a strong political will. “The problem with The Future We Want document,” Prescott said, “is that it did not talk of governance.”

On governance, the Quebec premier said that decisions on climate change were being taken by the federated, sub-national governments, not signatory governments to the Rio documents, and Rio+20 is important for the explicit recognition of their role.

“The good news story over the past 20 years is from the North Americans. The governments of Qubec and California came up with legislations keeping in mind the reality of climate change, he said, alluding to the laws for new cars in those states–driving home his point that real decisions were being taken at the level of the federated, sub-national governments.
Charest has an explanation for all that went wrong with Rio+20. It was about wrong timing, he says. The governments of the US, Russia, France and China—all Security Council states—were going to elections and the world was in the throes of the worst financial crisis since the great depression, was his explanation.

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