Eight Principles for a Sustainability Rights Framework

You can find the eight proposed principles here.

Here is the background to the proposals:

By the Civil Society Reflection Group on Global Development:

“We are facing societal and ecological disaster. The State can respond quickly to this, if based on democratic legitimacy and accountability. In times of growing global interrelationship between societies, economies and people, universally agreed principles are the precondition for living together in justice, peace and in harmony with nature. Here we propose eight principles as the foundation for a new sustainability rights framework.

In late 2010, an alliance of civil society groups, networks and foundations, including the Third World Network, Social Watch, DAWN, the Friedrich-Ebert-Foundation, Global Policy Forum, terre des hommes, and the Dag Hammarskjöld Foundation, launched the so called “Civil Society Reflection Group on Global Development Perspectives”. The group consists of about 15 leading civil society activists, experts and academics from around the globe. The group assesses conventional and alternative models of development and well-being, reconsiders development goals and indicators, including the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), draws conclusions for future development strategies and provides specific policy recommendations for the UN Conference on Sustainable Development 2012. For that purpose, the group made a submission to the compilation document prepared by the conference bureau. The time around the Summits 2012 (Rio+20) and 2013 (the next conference evaluating progress towards the MDGs) provides a unique window of opportunity to reconsider the current development paradigm and to develop strategies towards a holistic, rights-based approach of global development and well-being. The Reflection Group wants to contribute to this process of rethinking.

Group Members : Barbara Adams (Global Policy Forum, US), Beryl d’Almeida (Abandoned Babies Committee, Zimbabwe), Alejandro Chanona Burguete (National Autonomous University of Mexico), Chee Yoke Ling (Third World Network, China), Ernst Ulrich von Weizsaecker (Germany), Filomeno Santa Ana III (Action for Economic Reforms, Philippines), George Chira (terre des hommes India), Gigi Francisco (Development Alternatives with Women for the New Era, Philippines), Henning Melber (Dag Hammarskjöld Foundation, Sweden), Jorge Ishizawa (Proyecto Andino de Tecnologias Campesinas, Peru), Karma Ura (Centre for Bhutan Studies, Bhutan), Roberto Bissio (Third World Institute/Social Watch, Uruguay) Victoria Tauli-Corpuz (Tebtebba Foundation, Philippines), Yao Graham (Third World Network-Africa, Ghana), Jens Martens (Global Policy Forum Europe, Germany), Hubert Schillinger (Friedrich-Ebert-Foundation, Germany), Danuta Sacher (terre des hommes Germany).”


“The world is in need of fundamental change. We live in a world in turmoil; too many people are tossed around in a global boom and bust, a global casino gambling with our livelihoods, our security, our futures and our planet.

We live in a world where the top 20 percent of the population enjoy more than 70 percent of total income and those in the bottom quintile get only two percent of global income. Gains from economic growth and globalization have been unevenly shared. In most countries, the rich have become richer at the expense of the middle class and low-income groups.

Unfettered economic growth has further increased social inequalities even though it has generated the resources to do the opposite and finance more equitable access to public and essential services. Persistent poverty, unemployment, social exclusion and higher levels of inequality are threatening care systems, social cohesion and political stability.

We live in a world where 50 percent of carbon emissions are generated by 13 percent of the population. Fast spreading unsustainable production and consumption patterns have been linked to the rapid depletion of natural resources, including clean water, as well as to unequal sharing of the promised “benefits” of economic growth and expanding trade. They have led to global warming that produces rising sea levels, higher frequency of extreme weather conditions, desertification and deforestation. For bio-diversity, the loss of environmental heritage is permanent. We have exceeded the ecological limits and ignore the planetary boundaries. With the climate change threat we are already living on borrowed time. However, we refuse to cut back on emissions and allocate the scarce resources to those who have not yet benefitted from their exploitation.

All too often national and international policies have not aimed to reduce inequalities. Their dedication to stimulating economic growth has provided the incentives to exploit nature, rely on the use of fossil fuels and deplete biodiversity, undermining the provision of essential services as countries compete in a race to the bottom offering lower taxes and cheaper labor as incentives.

Persistent discrimination locks women in precarious reproductive work and violence. Women, especially the poor, remain socially discriminated and in many places are deprived of their bodily, reproductive and sexual rights. This makes them more vulnerable to exploitation and violence inside and outside their homes. Care work which is often undertaken by women within households, is given no value or recognition. Women’s livelihoods and productive activities that include all forms of health care work are often left unprotected and unsupported. All these are made more distressed during times of economic crises and by policies that favor profit over social provisioning.

Biodiversity and the bounty of nature, while cherished, are not respected, protected or valued. Communities and populations that seek to live in harmony with nature find their rights ignored and their livelihoods and cultures jeopardized.

Why has this happened? Certainly it is not because of a lack of awareness or attention of policy makers at the highest levels. The climate change danger, cited in the mid-1980s at a conference of the WMO, was brought center stage in 1987 by the Brundtland Report, as was the urgency of biodiversity loss. The momentum carried to the Rio conference in 1992, which launched framework conventions on climate change and biodiversity as well as on desertification. It also adopted the Rio Declaration principles, the Forest Principles and a plan of action, Agenda 21. The global conferences of the 1990s focused on issues of human rights and social equity and adopted blueprints to tackle injustices from social exclusion and gender discrimination. In the Millennium Declaration of 2000, member states committed themselves “to uphold the principles of human dignity, equality and equity at the global level” as “a duty to all the world’s people, especially the most vulnerable and, in particular, the children of the world, to whom the future belongs”.

Over the last 20 years, however, the ideals and principles of Rio have been overshadowed, as implementation has mostly not occurred. Similarly, a host of international commitments to human rights and gender justice have not been fulfilled. World product per capita has more than doubled in the last two decades, yet with widening disparities. Globalization has yielded millions of poor quality jobs. Financial and commodity speculation has undercut food security and turned millions of hectares of land away from growing food and into unsustainable uses. Little has been done to change patterns of production and consumption that pollute, erode biodiversity and lead inexorably to climate change. 45 countries with a total population of 1.2 billion people have managed to achieve social indicators that are better than the world average with per capita emissions of CO2 from fossil fuels below the world average. And none of them are labeled as “high income”. Yet, similar to other middle-income countries and those considered as “least developed”, they often find their space for making domestic policy choices to achieve sustainable development squeezed by external demands, conditionalities and impositions that press them to take steps such as to slash tax rates and spending on social services.

Economic policies have on many occasions contradicted the commitments made to rights and sustainability as they and their related national and international institutions occupy the apex of governance domains. They have relied too much on markets to allocate societies’ resources and distribute their wealth, singling out GDP growth as the ultimate measure of well-being. The result has been increased concentration and bigger market share ratios of a few transnational corporations, including in the food and medicine sectors.

This deliberate policy choice of hands-off came to a head when, ignited in the USA, it exploded into the global financial crisis in 2008, intensifying inequalities further as the resulting job losses and income cuts hit low-income groups disproportionately. Yet, relentlessly, the policy responses squeezed societies and communities further, relying on the same market actors that had been wrong before, paying little or no heed to the already fragile human and ecological systems, and pushing societies and communities to the breaking point.

Despite evidence that counter-cyclical policies acted as effective shock absorbers and enhanced resilience, many governments have sacrificed social expenditures to neo-liberal orthodoxy and a stronger dependence on financial markets.
The costs of inaction and the mal-action of business as usual are amassing a mountain of social and ecological liabilities. High unemployment especially of young people, increasing food prices and widespread unfairness have created a climate of social and political tension and unrest in many countries. In countries around the globe, from Cairo to Manhattan to New Delhi, people take to the streets to express their anger with the status quo and their unwillingness to accept it any longer. Their motives and goals may differ according to the unique circumstances they live in – but their demands are all similar: greater justice and more freedom from the pressure of the “markets” and their faithful agents.

Why is governance failing us so badly? States have reneged on their democratic values and governments have become less accountable to the people. Universal norms and standards are being ignored or side-stepped by new rules that favor markets. Risks are being borne by those who had no role in taking them while a new classification of “too-big-to-fail” has re-ordered the distribution of public resources. We are confronted with a hierarchy of rights with those protecting human and eco systems relegated to the lowest rungs. This situation finds its parallels in governance at the national and international levels. Further, the fragmented global governance has led to missing the big picture and setting low demands that treat symptoms not causes.

Decades of wrong-headed policies and the impact of multiple policy failures have inevitably highlighted the role of the state and how important it is. Responses to the failure of the financial system show that the state can act and will act quickly in the face of perceived disaster with money and policies. But, the required stronger role of the state must be based on democratic legitimacy and accountability and be balanced by effective participation of civil society.

We are living in a period of turmoil, facing societal and ecological disaster. We demand of states that they act now promptly and effectively in the face of this disaster.”

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