The Socialist International Commission for a Sustainable World Society met on Monday 24 March, in Santiago, Chile, in the midst of great media interest, with the participation of H.E. Michelle Bachelet, President of the Republic of Chile, and chaired by Ricardo Lagos, former President of Chile and a Special Envoy for the United Nations Secretary-General on Climate Change.
Shared goals and responsibilities of the international community
Welcoming the holding of this second meeting in Chile, Ricardo Lagos noted that the work of the Commission formed part of a long, proud tradition within the Socialist International fighting for equal societies living together peacefully. The issues before this Commission were for the first time truly global in nature and could only be resolved globally; problems might begin nationally but the effects soon spread worldwide. The perspective progressive forces could bring to the international agenda on climate change included initiatives for all, based on the principle of common but differentiated responsibilities. Each society was different and it was clear a “one size fits all” approach would not work. Ways of raising green issues higher up political agendas and promoting different types of development marrying environmental concerns with technological advances, growth and sustainability, and public and private cooperation were vitally important.
Recognising the huge inequalities and injustices that climate change risked creating, Elio Di Rupo, Minister of State and leader of the Socialist Party, PS, Belgium, asserted that ways of thinking had to be fundamentally changed. The cost of inaction would be far greater than the cost of taking action, he stated. Those on the left could not support a world model which marginalised the majority; the challenge before the Socialist International was how to ensure the international agenda was based on solidarity and the eradication of poverty. While some felt that there had not been enough progress at the United Nations Conference in December, the Bali Roadmap had provided a new framework for negotiations on the firm basis of specific, scientific recommendations. He added that acting globally did not mean underestimating the contribution to the issue at a local level.
Speaking at the opening, President Bachelet underscored the new sense of urgency felt by the international community in tackling climate change. The scientific case for global warming had been clearly stated and the recognition of the substantial contribution of human activity to the deterioration of the environment had removed the inertia and blindness of nations which had long relied on a vision of development taking for granted supposedly indepletable natural resources. A new political consensus was gathering to generate global political action, to which the role of progressive ideas was fundamental. The world was demanding equity-based environmental policies, which would help the most impacted sectors of society. Climate change was not simply a sophisticated concept that only applied to developed countries, she concluded, it was a reality for the world's most vulnerable which required a new global capacity.
Members of the Commission and invited participants took part in a lively and frank exchange of views.
Leading by example
Sharing the experience of his government, H.E. Martin Torrijos, President of the Republic of Panama and leader of the Democratic Revolutionary Party, PRD, gave a clear and detailed report on the plans to enlarge the Panama Canal. This showed, he reflected, that there was no incompatibility between major infrastructure projects and mankind's struggle against environmental damage. The expansion of the Canal had climate change issues at its core, both in the technology used to build it in a sustainable way and in the reduced carbon emissions the development would ensure through greater productivity. In this way, new investment, different kinds of development and green growth were very much possible.
Educating new generations
Bringing her perspective from Central and North America, Beatriz Paredes, President of the Institutional Revolutionary Party, PRI, Mexico, emphasised the role of education in commiting new generations to the issues of climate change. In societies, such as in Mexico, where green political forces did not have a strong tradition, future leaders, both of government and business, needed to be made aware of the implications of environmental developments. She commented that while there were many acts of solidarity to countries when faced by natural disaster, as was often the case in vulnerable nations in her region, there were no systematic procedures to assist in the difficult recovery of infrastructures.
Decisive role of politics
Mona Sahlin, Chair of the Swedish Social Democratic Party, SAP, said that the international community was now well aware of what needed to be done in the face of climate change and why, but social democrats could show how, with the spirit of solidarity becoming a global survival strategy. The role of politics had to grow with policies incentivising green technological development: the market made an excellent servant, she said, but a bad master. She added that while climate change effects might be global, concrete change with real impact could happen quickly at the local level and these experiences were highly valuable and best practices could be shared globally.
The major dilemma facing emerging countries, in the opinion of Mohammed Elyazghi, Minister of State of Morocco, was how to develop and industrialise without polluting. Solidarity between developed and developing nations was vital. Access to new technologies should be universal, when instead they were being sold to unindustrialised nations at a premium. With the diverse flora under threat in the Mediterranean basin, for example, where countries were without the means to protect such areas, the social democratic culture had a significant part to play in helping developing nations.
Solidarity at the heart of the international climate change agenda
Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma, Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of South Africa, reiterated that the response to climate change would need to be underpinned by an unprecedented solidarity between developed and developing nations, especially with regard to Africa, the continent which would bear the biggest brunt of global warming but had the least capacity to adapt. Climate change was no longer theoretical and the region was already experiencing rising temperatures and depleted natural food stocks. The challenge for Africa was how to move from a dependency on coal without losing economic momentum, and to accomplish this needed assistance to leapfrog into using cleaner technologies. This transfer was an imperative, not a choice, and the question of cost remained paramount.
Specific energy solutions
Marco Aurélio Garcia, PT, Brazil, gave a detailed account of his country's experience producing bio-fuels, an alternative that had been sought during the 1970s oil crises. Challenges remained today in the ensuring energy from these sources without environmental damage or loss or endangering the food supply. The importance of the experience was multifold: Brazil was self-sufficient in energy terms; it did not see the migratory movements to the cities but retained rural populations with productive, employment opportunities; bio-fuels in themselves opened up a range of other products that could be produced, for example bio-degradable plastics and fertilisers. He asked how this experience could be extended to other continents, particularly Africa, which could benefit in the same way, as well as rethinking development models and reducing tariffs to allow greater access to bio-fuels.
Sergei Mironov, Chairman of the Council of the Russian Federation, highlighted many areas for action ahead. More far-reaching scientific research was needed. The manmade impact on climate change had not been studied in full and further investigation on the measures required to combat environmental damages was essential. He underlined that any new international agreement could only be effective if it was comprehensive: necessarily all countries would need to share the burden. There needed to be adequacy standards in international agreements, both targeting economic growth and taking into account climate impact. Clearly, better instruments for adaptation were vital to any strategy promoting ecological viable ways.
Learning from past mistakes
Aleksandr Kwasniewski, former President of Poland, noted the encouraging commitment of the European Union to dramatically reduce emissions in response to climate change. He felt a practical contribution of developed countries could be to deliver new and clean technologies to emerging nations, so that they should not repeat the mistakes of the past in their industrialisation process. He suggested that the debts of such countries could be transferred into “eco-funds” only to be used for environmentally friendly development. He added that many political leaders also needed to be educated: climate change was still not at the top of political agendas in many countries.
China's actions in face of climate change
Zhijuan Zhang, Vice-Minister of China, described the situation in his country which was already suffering the negative effects of climate change: 180 million people had been affected recently by three weeks of ice rain which had paralysed power infrastructures in several provinces. China, he said, had a constructive approach seeking a balanced development model, with economic and social development and environmental protection. The parliament had recently upgraded the Environmental Protection Agency to the status of Ministry and the budget for environmental protection had been significantly increased. While the alleviation of poverty remained a daunting challenge in China, it was committed to upholding the principle of shared and differentiated responsibilities with regard to climate change. It was important, he added, not to exclude bilateral and regional cooperation and to study national experiences carefully.
Increasing the contribution of politics
Ricardo Lagos addressed several areas where politics could take the lead in increasing growth, fighting poverty and increasing efficiency in energy consumption. There was the key issue of public-private cooperation, as the financing and transfer of technologies required major investment from the private sector and the question of incentives was a real one. The need for a formula which understood the differences between countries, meaning particular national commitments could translate into the international community's agreements. And, he suggested, a possible sectorial approach where similar standards of emissions could apply across industries with similar standards of production.
The participants agreed that the important role of politics was to make investment possible and viable before markets could understand the economic possibilities of green technologies. Private-public partnerships were vital to the new models of development. However, there was concern that the environment was not always a priority for governments and the importance given to environment ministries, which needed to work across government, in different nations was marked.
Signposts along the road
Luis Ayala, Secretary General of the Socialist International, introduced the Statement to be issued by the Commission. Following on from the meeting in London, where the Commission had discussed the issues to be examined, the priorities of its work, and defined the road to be followed, the meeting in Santiago gave an opportunity to provide another signpost along that road, highlighting crucial areas of concern today for social democrats. Underlining the interdependency of the world where crises touched everywhere, as was currently the case with the financial turmoil, he said global governance was no longer a concept but an urgent need. Bali provided a window of opportunity but the multilateral system required leadership and an understanding of the global implications and consequences in a changing world. Development had to go hand in hand with sustainability, not dictated by markets alone and greater education was needed. The meeting unanimously agreed the Statement.
The Commission agreed that at its next full meeting in Sweden in September, it should consider more in depth ideas and proposals on financing, technology transfers and mitigation, in advance of the UN Climate Change Conference, in Poznan, Poland, in December 2008. It was suggested that like-minded ministers and representatives attending such meetings could gather informally on the eve to carry on building consensus.
The issues being dealt with by the Commission would be at the top of the agenda of the forthcoming XXIII Congress of the International to be held in Athens, Greece, from 30 June to 2 July. Furthermore, climate change would be a key area of discussion at a future SI meeting of socialist mayors.
With regard to regional meetings, the changes to be put in place in relation to the new Environment Ministry in China meant that the planned seminar there would need to be scheduled at a later date, but members agreed to assess the possibility of bringing forward the proposed meeting in Russia.