The first meeting of the SI Commission for a Sustainable World Society – the body established to address the global environmental agenda, climate change and the issues of governance required to deal with these common challenges - took place at 10 Downing Street on Monday 19 November, hosted by Prime Minister Gordon Brown, Leader of the British Labour Party, where members of the Commission, the President and Secretary General of the Socialist International, along with Ministers from the British government, took part in an exchange of views.
Addressing the meeting, Prime Minister Brown said that allying environmental care and stewardship with social justice and economic progress was the challenge facing social democrats everywhere. How these three elements were to be achieved, he continued, was transforming the role of government. His government recognised this change in emphasis and would be the first to place environmental commitments on the statute, with the Climate Change Bill. Sharing the urgency of the task, the Prime Minister welcomed the global, cooperative and representative approach of the Socialist International and its Commission in dealing with these issues, and felt sure the Commission would propose a progressive way forward to a post-2012 framework to tackle climate change.
Co-Chair of the Commission, Göran Persson, former Prime Minister of Sweden, highlighted the urgency of the task ahead of the body, reiterating that the scientific evidence indicated that action on climate change needed to be taken in the next five to ten years before it was too late to halt the environmental damage being caused. The Socialist International’s contribution would be vital, he went on, ensuring that the international agenda for climate change was based on solidarity and linked to eradicating poverty. The Commission, he said, would need to lead the way globally and regionally: now that the international community knew the scientific basis on which it needed to act and the multilateral mechanism within which to take measures, it was a question of starting real action – “From know-how to do now”.
George Papandreou, President of the Socialist International and leader of the Panhellenic Socialist Movement, Pasok, in Greece, said that the social democratic movement had to play a role in providing a viable and sustainable response to the question of climate change, based on its traditional ideals of equality, democracy and social justice. The recent crisis in his own country of extreme temperatures had led his party to create policies which were much more environmentally and ecologically friendly, encouraging regeneration and sustainable solutions, and he hoped that shared experiences among SI member parties and other partners could have a global impact.
The Secretary General of the Socialist International, Luis Ayala, recalled the discussions and decisions of the Council meetings in Santiago, Chile, and Geneva on governance, sustainability and climate change that led to the establishment of this Commission. He pointed out that the global nature of the International with its broad membership across continents and across peoples, and the fact that for this initiative we had brought other relevant partners to work together with us in this common effort, offered a unique opportunity to advance a common progressive view that was necessary, relevant, and timely.
Malcolm Wicks, Minister of State for Energy, United Kingdom, reflected that there was a clear responsibility to get the interaction right on meeting the challenge of sustainable development with energy security and environmental concerns. He highlighted the range of technologies which were being explored to offer alternative ways of supplying energy.
Participants paid particular attention to the situation in developing nations. The leader of the Socialist Union of Popular Forces, USFP, Morocco, Mohamed El Yazghi noted that developing nations would pay the price for climate change, with the vulnerable being the first to suffer from high energy costs and water scarcity. Addressing the latter issue, he outlined positive examples of water management programmes in his own country which had been carried out.
Raising the point that natural and technological disasters are increasingly global in nature, Sergei Mironov, President of the Federal Council of Russia, suggested that there needed to be a better coordinated international mechanism to give more immediate support to countries suffering from such catastrophes, advocating for a more responsive international institutional framework to effectively deal with these situations.
Hilary Benn, Secretary of State for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, United Kingdom, agreeing that although the climate change situation was not helpless, nor hopeless, the problem needed to be broken down to be tackled with identifiable aims for action. Countries, he said, could gain credibility in the global debate on climate change by their actions nationally.
Elio Di Rupo, leader of the Socialist Party of Belgium, asserted that tackling climate change could not be used as an excuse to slow down growth of developing countries nor to increase the price of oil and gas. He promoted the idea that fossil fuels should not be treated simply as a commodity but be considered as a common global heritage and managed in a different way. Ian McCartney, for the British Labour Party, added that the Commission could play a role in lending solidarity to communities suffering the effects of environmental damage.
During the exchanges, it was underlined that the citizen needed to play an active role in addressing climate change, both in urging politicians and taking voluntary action themselves. Beatriz Paredes, President of the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) of Mexico, maintained education would be key to this, with an emphasis on school programmes focusing on climate change issues, as well as designing sustainable projects with affected local communities, particularly on her own continent where skepticism on the issue largely dominated the debate. Aleksandr Kwasniewski, former President of the Republic of Poland, shared this view and also expressed concern that climate change was not yet central to the political debate in emerging democracies nor, the point was also made, in countries where poverty prevails. He added that the Socialist International was in a position to work with social democratic leaders to push the climate change issue higher up the agenda.
In terms of global governance, Rt. Hon. Lord Malloch-Brown, UK, Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office, proposed that the Commission would need to consider how to better democratise international institutions. It was vital that the institutions providing the framework for international agreements on the issue increased their legitimacy by becoming more accountable and representative.
A statement was adopted at the meeting outlining areas of concern for the Commission, as well as addressing the current environmental agenda ahead of the United Nations Climate Change Conference to take place in Bali from 3 to 14 December this year.
The Commission agreed on a programme of future work, outlined by the SI Secretary General. The activities of the Commission will be held in 2008 and 2009, with four meetings of the full Commission: the first in Chile in March 2008; then in Sweden in September 2008; India in March 2009 and culminating in the last meeting, together with the presentation of the Commission’s final report in connection with the United Nations General Assembly in New York in September 2009. In conjunction with these meetings, seminars with political and social leaders, and experts, will be held in China, South Africa and Russia, among other venues.