The Future We Really Want

Over the course of our winter term, the Global Politics of Sustainable Development class at COA prepared for the Rio+20 Conference in June. As a final product of the course, the Rio class looked at the Zero-Order Draft, decided it was not the future we wanted, and set out to write a document that outlined what we actually wanted our future to look like. After weeks of research and negotiations within the class, we finally (mostly) agreed on the final draft that covered most, though not all, of the topics and problems we wanted addressed.

Read on, and let us know what you think of the future we want! Is it what you want? What should we all really be striving for in Rio de Janeiro this June?

The Future We Really Want


I. Preamble


We, as representative youth from the College of the Atlantic in Bar Harbor, ME, United States, being voices of the future with a vested interest in the outcome of the UN Conference on Sustainable Development, have critically examined the history of sustainable development negotiations, and found it to be uninspiring, at best. Moreover, having reviewed the zero-order draft titled The Future We Want,  we have found it in its current manifestation to be insufficient for the proper implementation and execution of goals in the context of the social, environmental, and economic pillars of sustainable development.

In the forty years since the Stockholm Conference on the Human Environment, international actions addressing the issues raised on sustainable development and the environment have been underwhelming. As time progresses, the interconnected crises the world is facing are accumulating and intensifying. Biodiversity loss, climate change, desertification, water shortages and wealth inequality are but a few examples. The well-being of humanity and the Earth are inextricably linked. Today, we demand that negotiators appreciate the new level of urgency these issues have reached, and that they act accordingly.

What follows is our declaration to The People’s Summit, the UN Conference on Sustainable Development, and the global community. We charge negotiators at the Conference with the responsibilities and actions articulated in this document.

II. Renewing Political Commitment


1.  We see a distinct need for the negotiators meeting at Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, from 20-22 June, 2012, to be conscious of their responsibility to one another and to future generations and to keep in mind their failure to meet prior commitments. We therefore behest them to reinvigorate the political will and international commitment to the principles and objectives of sustainable development and call for the adoption of concrete measures, supported by adequate means of implementation, that would ensure accelerated fulfillment of sustainable development goals.

2.  Commitments to advance progress in the implementation of prior relevant declarations and programs, including, inter alia, the Rio Declaration on Environment and Development, Agenda 21, and the Programme for the Further Implementation of Agenda 21, must be re-examined and reinvigorated.

3.  States need to re-commit to inclusive, transparent and effective multilateralism and strengthen the United Nations by creating a Council on Sustainable Development, to better ensure the full and fair participation of developed and developing countries and all relevant stakeholders, and enable the international community to address the challenges of sustainable development.

4. In accordance with the Rio Declaration, we emphasize that States have Common but Differentiated Responsibilities and that there exists a historical ecological, social, and economic debt. The benefits arising from the historical exploitation of resources have been unfairly distributed: Countries that have done the most harm to the environmental space enjoy the most benefits. Countries should take responsibility proportional to the degree to which they have misused natural resources and space.


III. Issues and Recommendations for Action


5.  Unsustainable development, caused mainly by the pressures developed countries place on the global environment, has increased the stress on the earth’s limited natural resources and on the carrying capacity of ecosystems. The persistently increasing gap between developed and developing countries highlights the urgent need for developed countries to promptly adjust production and consumption to sustainable levels while providing  financial aid and support to for the sustainable development of the Global South.

6.  We recognize that states, particularly in the developing world, have the sovereign right over the natural resources within their borders, and should be able to use those resources for the betterment of their economy, infrastructure, and livelihoods.  However, environmental degradation as a result of a state’s wanton extraction and use of a resource must be seen as a violation of the environmental pillar of sustainable development, and states have the responsibility to use their resources in a way that does not damage the integrity of the environment or the security of citizens within and outside of their borders.

7.  It is important for governments to face the inequitable distribution of wealth, natural resources, and opportunities throughout the planet. Developed nations have a distinct historical responsibility to assist developing countries in evolving into societies that do not compromise the integrity of the planet or the global population. The equitable redistribution of resources, money, and social opportunities across the globe must be a goal of sustainable development.

8.  The extraction and consumption of fossil fuels has had drastic adverse effects on our Earth’s atmospheric and climatic systems.  There must be a concerted effort by the developed countries to phase out use of fossil fuels and develop alternative renewable energy sources, through the restructuring and revision of, inter alia, industry and the production and consumption of energy.  Developed countries should prepare to support developing countries through transfer of new energy-related technologies.

9.  We acknowledge the important role that know-how and technology play in the attainment of sustainable development. Technology transfers and flow of information between countries—especially in North-South relations—is vital. In order for developing countries to eventually become fully sustainable, appropriate tools must be provided. Capacity building and technology transfer, specifically in research and development of new technology, are vital for developing nations: it contributes to a technological independence from developed countries.

10.  Information and technology should be a shared resource. The current rigidity of Intellectual Property Rights (IPR) laws is detrimental for developing countries. It is necessary to modify regulations regarding intellectual property rights and to loosen restrictions on the use of research and development knowledge for an effective facilitation of technology transfer that is cost-effective for the providers and affordable for developing countries. Partnerships between private and public entities would be mutually beneficial.

11.  Though the international community has asserted their commitment to poverty eradication, the growing gap in prosperity between the wealthy minority and the billions living in poverty is testament to the disappointing progress made by the global community. States must take actions to free humanity from hunger and poverty and to conserve, protect and restore Earth’s ecosystem through equitable allocation and sound management of resources, in accordance with the principles inherent in the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).

12.  The member states should reiterate their commitment to the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights and other relevant international and regional human rights instruments, with a renewed emphasis on the rights to the necessities of life: clean water, food, shelter, education, health care, right to development, and the right to adapt to changing environmental, social, and economic conditions.

13. The ability of future generations to meet their needs must not be compromised. We believe an Ombudsperson for Future Generations should be appointed and charged with assessments of the long-term effects of policy in direct coordination with the constituency they represent.


IV. Economics of Sustainable Development


A.  Introduction

14. Effective action for sustainable development in the context of poverty eradication for all countries is urgent, and has been postponed for too long.  As time goes by, greater efforts are necessary to counteract the consequences of past inaction. The many challenges and difficulties we face today include ever-widening gaps in the tenure of wealth, social and economic instability, unsustainable lifestyles caused by over-consumption, resource scarcity and depletion, and climate change.

15. We find the neo-liberal economic policies unresponsive to those challenges, and inadequate to address the three pillars of sustainable development. For this reason, we consider a shift to a “Green Economy” to be a hindrance in confronting the underlying causes of the issues mentioned above.

16.  We believe that only a deep reform in the economic system will adequately address the problems and challenges we are currently facing and achieve sustainable development.


B.  Overarching principles

17.  The disproportional priority given to economic growth has been the main cause of resource depletion and is one of the biggest barriers to sustainable development and poverty eradication. We believe that the economy should be seen as a subset of the natural and social systems, and as such, natural and social systems should shape the way an economy functions.

18.  The economy should serve society by fulfilling basic human needs, facilitating a dignified life for all, and protecting natural resources, ecosystems, and biodiversity. Human activity depends on the functionality and stability of natural processes and economies should in no way threaten or modify those processes in any way that would endanger their existence.

19. The economic system should be based on cooperation that encourages the fulfillment of aspirations and happiness beyond consumption, and discourages excessive standards of life that inhibit this collaboration.

20. A distinction must be made between excessive, unnecessary growth, and economic activity that is necessary for the development that is essential to guarantee an equitably dignified life for all human beings without jeopardizing the preservation of functional ecosystems.


C.  Implementation

21. We recognize that a perfect formula for social, environmental and economic balance does not exist: Every nation has the sovereign right to determine a unique strategy for the transition of its economy, based on the distinctive individual needs of that nation. The Council for Sustainable Development should provide advice to countries at request, and work to safeguard the balance between all three pillars.

22.  Any reforms to the economic system must be implemented with urgency. Restructuring of UN institutions should be under way one year after the ratification of the document.

23.  Gross Domestic Product and Gross National Income are inadequate indicators for measuring the progress in sustainable development because they only measure economic growth. This institution must develop or adopt the use of indicators that can effectively measure the quality as well as the quantity of social, environmental and economic progress.

24.  We strongly encourage countries to develop their local economies, as this is a vital mechanism for accomplishing sustainable development and for increasing resilience, both at a local and national level. Countries should encourage and support internal markets through national programs; however, this type of governmental support should be seen as a mechanism for protecting the greater social good and economic distribution, and not as a mechanism to enable global competitiveness in specific markets. Forms of subsidies and price distortions that are harmful for the environment and incompatible with sustainable development should be eliminated.

25.  We also acknowledge the importance of global trade that encourages development of technology and allows access to goods that cannot be produced locally, but are necessary for basic human well-being. However, due to the undesired negative impact on the environment that is related with global trade, we encourage countries to reduce the import of goods that can be produced regionally through the development of a more localized economy.


V.  Institutional Framework for Sustainable Development


A.  Introduction

26.  The Commission on Sustainable Development is a body of soft law which lacks the capacity to fully address the issues of sustainable development. The infrequency of meetings and the unpredictable and erratic funding smother adequate implementation of sustainable development.

27.  Existing agencies lack communication and suffer from overlap. There is a need for an institution that will facilitate more collaboration and unity between the relevant agencies that address sustainable development. It is essential to have a framework that binds nations and obligates UN bodies to adequately implement the Sustainable Development agenda.


B.  Overarching Principles

28.  This institution should be equitable: all countries should be able to join and all countries should be able to participate equally. The institution shall have equitable representation of nations of the global south and north across all areas of economic prosperity.

29.  Multiple stakeholders, such as civil society, major groups, youth, and the private sector, must be part of the decision-making process in such a way that does not isolate governments from the humans they represent and that fosters transparency.

30. Every nation has the sovereign right to determine a unique strategy for the transition of its economy, based on the distinctive individual needs of that nation. Institutions under the Council for Sustainable Development should provide advice to countries at request.


C.  Implementation

31.  The General assembly should be charged with creating a Council on Sustainable Development which has the the task of coordinating, advising, reviewing and assessing the implementation of the sustainable development agenda through out the the multiple bodies that address sustainable development at the national, regional and local levels.

32.  This institution should provide support for countries to effectively communicate, negotiate, and implement their policies and needs. The institution should be a resource for information and best practice policies, including technology transfer and capacity building, and should provide a platform through which countries can effectively exchange and compile information pertaining to Sustainable Development.

33. The Council on Sustainable Development should assess, streamline, coordinate, and advise the programmes, specialized agencies and commissions related to sustainable development, which include but are not limited to UNEP, UNDP, and FAO.

34. This institution’s responsibilities would include the creation and implementation of the existing and future sustainable development action plans, as well as the monitoring and reviewing implementation and effectiveness. Multiple stakeholders must be included in this process.

35. The Council on Sustainable Development would help states transition to more sustainable and localized economies that encourage sustainable living and discourage over-consumption.


D.  Funds

36. The duties of the Council for Sustainable Development will include the assessment of the equitable distribution between the three pillars and efficiency of spending in the different agencies related to sustainable development. The Council will provide recommendations for balanced and effective spending.

37. The Council will assess the need for funding for the implementation of Sustainable Development and if necessary, the modalities of a Sustainable Development Fund.


VI. Thematic Issues



38. Water is a necessity for human life: countries must guarantee access to the basic safe water quota for a human being that allows life with dignity and well-being.  The right to water and basic sanitation must respected: denial of access or provision of water should be seen as a violation of fundamental human rights.

39.  The right to water must be extended to all of Earth’s organisms and ecosystems.  We must ensure that the ecosystems and their inhabitants, regardless of the value humans place on them, are sustained through the protection and substantial allocation of safe and clean water resources to natural processes and habitats. Human use of water should not endanger the healthy volume of, inter alia, rivers, wetlands, and aquifers that sustain life and hydrological cycles.

40. There is an urgent need for closer cooperation between nations to prepare for, mitigate, and respond to water-related crises, inter alia, natural disasters and scarcity-induced conflict.  There must be a strengthening of the international legal and institutional framework for the co-management of trans-boundary water resources and coordination of disaster relief.


Sustainable Cities

41. Cities are becoming our main habitat, and, in the 21st century, their evolution will determine the course civilization will take and the fate of the biosphere – there can be no sustainable world without sustainable cities. Cities today are generators of waste and pollution, and aggravate the problems of poverty and inequality.

42. In order to address international issues arising from city-level problems, States’ policies should support and facilitate the evolution of sustainable cities from both a national and local level, and allow the development of self-sufficiency in city management. Mobilization of local resources, bottom-up problem solving, and need-driven strategies and actions will be more effective than top-down decision making and planning and reliance on external support.

43.  In order to successfully make the change towards sustainable urban infrastructure, States must take into account their own resource constraints, political systems, and individual needs, and respect the differences between each urban area and regional populace.

44. There is a growing initiative to build new “green” cities in order to provide sustainable human settlements. However, building new cities would hamper efforts to achieve global sustainability: Not only will new cities consume more power, energy and time that should be invested in renewing, re-organizing and retrofitting existing cities and urban areas, but current city creation processes rarely put adequate consideration into the local availability of resources and environmental impacts.

45. Cities are built around their transportation systems. The usage of carbon-based personal vehicles heavily reinforces the unsustainable and detrimental lifestyles harming the planet and its inhabitants. Transportation infrastructure must be a focal point for sustainable urban development actions: Low-carbon or zero-carbon fueled public transport and zero-carbon personal transportation should be put in place in cities as catalysts for the shift to a fully sustainable, carbon-free transportation systems globally.

46. States should encourage intermediate city development in order to relieve pressure on large urban agglomerations. Policies and strategies have to be implemented towards the development of intermediate cities which create employment opportunities for unemployed labour in the rural areas and support rural-based economic activities.

47. Sound urban management is essential to ensure that “urban sprawl” does not expand resource degradation over an ever widening land area and increase pressures to convert open space, agricultural areas, or “buffer zones,” for development.

48. As a catalyst for these changes, there needs to be a common goal with a shared vision of sustainable urban development: The International Ecocity Framework and Standards (IEFS) address the full range of a healthy human civilization operating within the earth’s capacity (urban design, bio-geo-physical conditions, ecological imperatives and socio-cultural conditions), and should be adopted as a cooperative initiative emerging from Rio+20.


Sustainable Patterns of Production and Consumption

 49. Earth has a carrying capacity: there are scientific indicators of optimum and maximum sustainable yields that define the limits on how much humans can produce and consume.

50. In order to adequately discourage over-consumption, shift to cleaner production patterns particularly ones that promote adaptation to climate change, fulfill basic human needs especially in the areas of food, water, and energy, sustainable patterns of production and consumption must be adopted.

51. The 10-Year Framework of Programmes for Sustainable Production and Consumption as elaborated in the nineteenth session of the Commission on Sustainable Development should be adopted as a catalyst for action in implementation of sustainable development.


Food Security and Agriculture

52. Food is a fundamental human right that must be acknowledged by all states. Food security is closely intertwined with sustainable development and is a tool that can be used to strengthen local communities and shift away from international food dependency. The inequity in food security between the global North and the global South needs to be fully acknowledged and eliminated. International coordinated actions are necessary to fully and equitably address the food crisis. Subsidies that strengthen local communities must be created, while subsidies that are inherently unfair must be eliminated.

53. The revitalization of local economies and food sovereignty reinforce each other, and contribute to food security. Localized production creates a positive feedback loop whereupon as the economy is strengthened, the food security increases, and the quality of life improves.

54. The empowerment of farmers will have a positive impact on the eradication of inequities. Women and men must have equitable standing in the decision-making process and the right to secure access to land to work on, which will strengthen and reinforce localized food systems. GMOs must be phased out as quickly as  possible, because they create a cycle of dependence on the multinational companies that produce them.

55. Biodiversity must be recognized and protected, because it is necessary to maintain the equilibrium of the natural systems that facilitate food production. Monocultures and the use of harmful GMOs are becoming increasingly prevalent. This endangers communities and threatens the resiliency of the planet.

56. Humanity, particularly Island States and coastal communities, depends on the oceans to help provide a steady supply of food. Their food security is threatened by diminishing marine stocks as a result of the deteriorating condition of the oceans due to, inter alia, overfishing, and Illegal, Unregulated and Unreported (IUU) practices, pollution, ocean acidification, and unsustainable aquaculture. A framework must be created to ensure the enforcement of international policies regarding international waters.

57. Environmentally sound techniques in the production of food must be widely adopted. New and traditional agricultural methods need to be combined to create alternative forms of farming that have the least negative effect on the environment, while aiding recovery from previous degradation where possible.

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