Stockholm meeting of the Socialist International Commission for a Sustainable World Society
Members of the Commission for a Sustainable World Society gathering in Stockholm on 5-6 September, hosted by the Swedish Social Democratic Party, SAP, warned that the worldwide economic downturn could not be allowed to slow down the pace of commitments to climate change and urged the international community to produce solid results leading to an agreement at the forthcoming United Nations Conference of the Parties to the Climate Convention (COP-14) to be held in Poznan in December this year. (Statement)
Midway point – from words to deeds
Goran Persson, Co-Chair of the Commission and former Prime Minister of Sweden, welcomed members of the Commission to Stockholm, encouraging them to enter the second phase of their work during which tough decisions would need to be taken in order to bring a progressive approach to “a global policy for a global problem”. It was up to the Commission, he said, to take sides on the crucial issues and to influence those negotiating the settlement which had to be reached at the UN Copenhagen Conference in December 2009 in order to allow its implementation before the expiry of the Kyoto Protocol. By presenting a clear and accessible political vision from the global social democratic family and engaging both public opinion and politicians, he was optimistic that the Commission could make a difference through its work.
Seeking agreement on key questions
Ricardo Lagos, Co-Chair of the Commission, former President of Chile and a Special Envoy for the United Nations Secretary-General on Climate Change, reflected on the outcome of the United Nations Climate Change Conferences held in Bangkok, Bonn and most recently in Accra in August this year. He felt that while many positive proposals had been put forward and some advances made concerning deforestation and sectoral approaches, commitments now needed to be tied down in formal negotiations. This in turn required that a range of areas needed agreement, including who measures compliance with any commitments; how to hold those that do not comply accountable; how clean technologies are financed; and, the criteria for setting carbon emission reduction targets in different countries, among others.
Luis Ayala, Secretary General of the Socialist International, addressed the matter of technology transfers and capacity building - an issue which was high on the agenda in the Commission's discussions, as it will be at the Conference of the Parties to the Climate Convention in Poznan in December this year. He said that the commitment to transferring technology and building capacity went to the core of the contribution of social democrats to the process, going to the very heart of North-South relations. The social democratic message was one of solidarity, with proposals aimed at moving the issue forward, for example by advocating that portions of the debts of developing nations could be transformed into funds earmarked for green-based economic development programmes and climate change adaptation.
Economic crisis as opportunity
Cristina Narbona, Spanish Ambassador to the OECD and former Minister of the Environment, expressed her belief that while many might fear the current economic crisis would be detrimental to advancing climate change commitments, she hoped it would be taken as a much-needed opportunity to reorientate the global economy. Socialists, she said, were offering a different discourse, so shifting the current economic paradigm towards one based on greater equity. In this way, for example, a developing country's adaptation to climate change was a basic question of equality. Clearly, burdens had to be shared and the European Union had made progress in setting out its regional approach. However, she viewed it as a responsibility of social democrats to denounce richer countries which did not comply with their commitments.
Highlighting the case of Africa
Mohamed El Yazghi, Minister of State, Morocco, asserted that while Accra had allowed African voices to be heard and the positive aspects of the recent Conference had been encouraging, nevertheless the particular vulnerability of the African continent to the impact of climate change had to be permanently underlined. Reports had clearly indicated that the risks posed to Africa's agriculture, infrastructure, wildlife and coastal zones from rising greenhouse gases were far greater than had been previously thought, he said, citing research that had estimated 30 per cent of Africa's coastal infrastructures would be submerged by 2080. Any strategy had to take into account the future and current needs of the continent, and adaptation demands clearly required supplementary research.
Green concerns with a social dimension
Elio Di Rupo, Minister of State, Belgium, welcomed the fact that public opinion was increasingly open and engaged in the debate on climate change and that social democrats could lead concrete initiatives to tackle the problem. Opportunities for dialogue existed on many levels – internationally, regionally and locally – and social democratic politicians needed to address the social deficit caused by climate change, for example tackling issues of rising fuel costs for the more vulnerable in their own countries as well as promoting sustainable development and solidarity in North-South relations. Emphasising this social dimension in practical proposals made by social democrats, he said, would clearly distinguish our message from the purely ecological concerns of our Green counterparts.
Disseminating technology and expertise
Sergei Mironov, Chair of the Council of the Russian Federation, warned that consolidated efforts to reach agreements on countering mankind's contribution to climate issues had to contend with the rapid pace of change. New facets were arising and he took the example of scientific studies identifying the spread of asthma and allergies due to warmer temperatures and increased blossom periods. Collective approaches were needed more than ever and bridging the technological divide was a crucial issue, he said. In line with strengthening the international institutions and complementing the different agencies within the United Nations system, he proposed the creation of an institution dedicated to assisting in the accumulation, distribution and transfer of clean technologies.
Recognising best practice
Aleksandr Kwasniewski, former President of Poland, shared his perception that the substantive political work of the Commission could be complemented by highlighting positive examples of effective pro-environmental actions. He set out an initiative to recognise and commend projects or programmes working in favour of the environment. Highlighting such practical actions – whether led by government, ecological organisations, scientists or individual campaigners – could raise ecological awareness and in turn stimulate further undertakings in different regions and countries.
Integrated environmental living – a practical example
Prior to the meeting, some members of the Commission visited Hammarby Sjostad, an environmentally friendly housing development in Stockholm. Offering a solution for sustainable city living by integrating water, waste management and energy systems, once fully built Hammarby Sjostad will house some 25,000 residents. Taking a coordinated planning approach with all those concerned from the beginning, the development has ambitious environmental goals and succeeds in its aims to make it easy for inhabitants to be environmentally friendly, with accessible recycling facilities and excellent public transport links, among other features. By 2015, those living in the area will produce half of all the energy they need, based on waste energy, including biogas. This visit was followed by discussions held by Commission members with SAP leader Mona Sahlin and other members of the party executive.
The Commission's activities
The Commission looked forward to its next seminar in South Africa in November, and agreed that a meeting should be held in connection with the UN Conference in Poznan due to be held from 1 to 12 December with ministers and representatives attending from the global social democratic family. In line with its agreed programme of activities for 2009, this would be followed by a seminar in China. Agreeing an outline. for its report to be presented in September 2009 at a meeting to be held on the occasion of the opening of the UN General Assembly in New York, members of the Commission emphasised that its vision for a sustainable world society went beyond commitments reached in Copenhagen in 2009 and was for a long term future of equitable and ecological development and growth