Create momentum for change

Updated: 2012-06-20 10:38

By Li Enheng (China Daily)

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Political will to achieve sustainable development should be reflected in real and solid commitments at Rio+20

For a desirable common future for all, the leaders of more than 100 nations are gathering in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, this week for the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development, popularly known as the Rio+20 Summit.

Sustainable development has been a well-known concept for years and all leaders fully recognize the importance of this summit. However, despite the tremendous efforts made in the past few months, including last-minute negotiations before the summit started, large gaps still exist between the developed and the developing nations on several major substantive issues.

Among the controversial issues is the green economy. No doubt establishing a global green economy would benefit all mankind. But the green economy needs to be built from the bottom-up, responding to national development conditions. Many countries are pursuing national strategies related to the green economy, but countries need to consider them in the context of economic growth, environmental protection and social equity, including poverty eradication, which were recognized as key goals in the Rio Declaration on Environment and Development adopted at the Earth Summit in 1992.

With a consensus yet to be reached on the green economy, nations need to commit to specific goals. These goals should be ambitious, yet realistic. Goals that are not ambitious enough will be of little help in achieving a green economy or sustainable development within the shortest possible time frame. Goals that are excessively ambitious and therefore unattainable will only be empty words, which will frustrate the other members of the international community and damage the credibility of the leaders concerned.

In formulating the goals and policy measures for a green economy and sustainable development, whether of an obligatory or a guiding nature, the principle of common but differentiated responsibility should be reconfirmed and adhered to. Goals and measures for implementation beyond their economic capabilities or paying for the historical responsibilities of developed countries will be unacceptable to developing countries.

The developed countries must transfer money and intellectual property to developing countries. It is true that the world has changed, particularly with the fast economic growth of emerging economies in Asia and Latin America over the past 20 or 30 years, but their per capita GDP, in absolute terms, is still incomparable to that of developed countries. Financial assistance from outside sources may not be needed for each and every country within the developing group, however, for the low-income and least developed countries in particular, additional financial assistance is a must.

Meanwhile, although some developing countries have witnessed fast economic growth, this has not brought about the technological advancement needed to meet the sustainable development objectives of these countries. All developing countries are therefore still in desperate need of accessible and affordable technologies. Those countries that possess advanced technologies should adopt an open-minded and flexible attitude toward technology transfer in areas related to sustainable development if they genuinely want to create a global green economy. The traditional profit approach to IPR protection should be abandoned in relation to these technologies in order to facilitate the transfer of sustainable technology to developing countries.

Trade is another important area that the summit will deal with. Trade can contribute a great deal to attaining sustainable development goals. In this regard, policies and measures related to the rational exploitation and utilization of non-renewable natural resources for environmental protection and sustainable development should be allowed as a general rule, as well as within the specific framework of the WTO. Liberalization of trade in environmental goods and services facilitates environmental protection, mitigation of climate change and sustainable development, however, the interests of all countries must be balanced in this process.

Taking into account the many divergent views that exist on all the key issues, leaders attending the conference from both developed and developing countries will have to show their full political determination to make the conference a success.

For this purpose, the major nations, the developed nations in particular, should take the lead and make efforts to narrow the gaps so an agreement can be reached. Nationalism or any approach in pursuit of domestic political goals has no place at the summit and political will should be reflected in real and solid commitments to action and implementation of policy measures for the sustainable development of all countries. People around the world want the conference to produce more than just words.

The author is vice-chairman of China Society for WTO Studies and senior adviser to Shanghai WTO Affairs Consultation Center.