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Edmund Rice International
  • Date submitted: 21 Oct 2011
  • Stakeholder type: Major Group
  • Submission Document: Download
  • Additional Document:

This submission, from Edmund Rice International (ERI), a faith-based NGO with offices in Geneva and New York, draws on the work of several thousand colleagues, who, based on their faith, are working for social justice and ecojustice in over thirty countries, and building a global network to protect and promote human rights and ecological sustainability.

The RIO+20 Conference is undertaking, in its Outcome document, two major tasks: to re-design previous work on sustainable development into a more coherent and effective movement, and to meet new challenges. ERI is proposing a possible philosophical framework for this document, and a sharper focus for its goals.

The Need for Integration of Themes in the Rio+20 Outcome Document

The two major themes for Rio+20, the Green Economy and Sustainable Development Governance, seem to lack coherence. Is Green Economy to replace Sustainable Development in our language? Both promote an ongoing dualism between ecological and economic language, where ?Green? is pitted against ?Economy? and ?Sustainable? against ?Development?. Yet ecology and economics are both science-based disciplines, dealing with energy flows in systems. The Outcome document can reflect the fundamental unity that guides the energy flows.

Some acknowledgement is needed in the Outcome document of the relationship between ecology and economics, with economics being depicted as embedded within ecology. As both disciplines involve human reflection on human behaviour, including human interaction with the environment, the Outcome document can include both disciplines within a perspective of human freedom and human rights, working within a more fundamental respect for human limitations.

There are many documents already in circulation that integrate human aspirations within the limits of natural systems. ERI would suggest the Earth Charter is one that uses clear concise language to outline the fundamental issues, and its principles could underpin the Rio+20 Outcome document.

From both a faith-based and science-based perspective, the Earth Charter neatly includes the major issues facing the human race. It can serve as a philosophical context for the Outcome document.

While the Rio+20 Conference itself proceeds from an ethical imperative, it is important to highlight the ethics that proceed from the Earth Charter perspective. If 20% of Earth?s people consume 80% of the available resources , and if Climate Change is largely the result of this ?overdeveloped? 20% using these resources unsustainably, there is clearly a call for rational acknowledgement of this responsibility, and commitment to resolving the imbalance and the damage done by it. As all decisions have consequences, the ethical commitments by States, as enshrined in the Outcome document, need to specify outcomes, timeframes, and sanctions for non-compliance.

The Need for New Language

ERI suggests the last fifty years of international debate has left the word ?development? in semantic tatters. While the world celebrates twenty-five years of ?the right to development?, others are saying, more bluntly: ?Development causes Climate Change. Climate Change prevents development. We need a new paradigm.? The Outcome document can address this challenge by dropping the term ?sustainable development?.

ERI proposes that sustainability could well replace ?sustainable development? in the Outcome document. The term has a secondary meaning, of ?financial self-sufficiency?, in some circles, but the Outcome document can address the inclusion of balanced accounting within ecological sustainability.

ERI?s experience is that sustainability can be applied effectively as a guiding principle to large systems (such as nations, global economies, corporations) as well as to micro-systems (such as individuals, households, local centres). It is measurable (through such instruments as the Ecological Footprint, Carbon Footprint, Water Footprint, etc) and universally applicable, with variations in local climate and soils factored in.

Sustainability can emerge in the Outcome document as a personal, group, social, national, regional and global goal, thus providing unity to all the aspirations and recommendations. It avoids the ?parallel politics? of a ?global governance mechanism for sustainable development?. Yet it provides clear, measurable criteria for all nations and groups, and lends itself to easy monitoring and assessment. It also avoids the resistance to such notions as ?no-growth economics, or ?reverse development?, and stimulates human creativity, including the technological, in its achievement.


1. That the Outcome document adopt a philosophical framework that presents human aspirations within the limitations of natural systems, with principles such as those outlined in the Earth Charter being used to unite the goals and recommendations on governance and energy flows.

2. That the Outcome document adopts a structural perspective that embeds economic principles within ecological principles.

3. That the Outcome document enshrines the ethics of the Earth Charter principles in specific commitments, within clear timeframes, by States assuming responsibility for their actions.

4. That the Outcome document strengthen the ethical framework of the decisions made by specifying the sanctions that will apply if States do not meet their obligations within the agreed timeframe.

5. That the Outcome document adopts the term ?sustainability? as its overarching goal, and does not use ?sustainable development?.

6. That the Outcome document uses sustainability as the single pillar of national progress and human advancement.

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