Sisters of St. Joseph of Peace
2012 UN Conference on Sustainable Development: Rio+20 by Suzanne Golas, CSJP
systems that sustain life on Earth. The state of Earth today reminds us of the Dalai Lama’s une 2012 will mark the twentieth an- quote of twenty years ago. In June, government leaders, NGOs, UN niversary of the “Earth Summit” held in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Most of us may agencies and leaders from various branches of society will return to Rio de Janeiro for the have some memory of that event, which 2012 UN Conference on Sustainable Develenergized people worldwide. The UN sponsored conference was formally known opment referred to as Rio+20. In a recent meeting with NGOs, Secretary General Ban as the United Nations Conference on the Ki-moon identified sustainable development Environment and Development. As many as 178 countries were represented, most by and the upcoming Rio+20 as the number one priority on his agenda. What are the successes their heads of state. Thousands of NGOs and what are the failures attended along with that must be faced as we environmental adreview development of the vocates, educators, past twenty years? What religious leaders, enare the important decisions tertainers, artists and and commitments we must concerned citizens. make to preserve life on They wanted their the Earth? voices heard. Many Sustainable developremember when the ment is understood as Dalai Lama said, integrating three interde“Now the time has pendent and re-enforcing come to be aware of pillars – environmental the importance of protection, social developnature, the imporment and economic detance of our globe. velopment. However, in You see, one day, we the past twenty years, the might find all living things on this planet—including human be- economic factor has dominated environmental protection and social development. In popular ings—are doomed.” language, we have all heard the comment, “It’s all about money.” When world leaders WHAT IS RIO+20? and citizens meet in Rio de Janeiro in June 2012 they will be addressing this imbalance The conference produced an ambitious and lack of integration. plan of action, “Agenda 21.” The plan CSJPs will note that some specific key isincluded concrete strategies that would consues for Rio +20 are issues highlighted in our tribute to sustainable development, which recent Chapters - lack of clean water, increaswas most frequently defined as “developing global warming and the effect of these ment that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future problems especially on the poor. generations to meet their own needs.” THE DEEPER ROOTS Twenty years have passed since that enthusiastic commitment to a healthier planet. Preparations for Rio+20 coincide with a Some goals have been accomplished. However, unfortunately, many expectations growing awareness that the environmental have not been realized. Furthermore, some and poverty crises have deeper roots related to threats to the environment, especially global how we humans understand and define ourwarming are now directly attacking the very selves and the natural world in which we live.
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon at the meeting with NGOs
UN statements and discussions are increasingly speaking to these deeper roots. In a recent session, the UN General Assembly discussed a Report of the Secretary General entitled “Harmony With Nature,” in which Ban Ki-moon provided an “overview of how the lifestyle of the twenty-first century, through its consumption and production patterns, has severely affected Earth’s carrying capacity, and how human behavior has been the result of a fundamental failure to recognize that human beings are an inseparable part of nature, and that we cannot damage it without severely damaging ourselves….all things are interconnected and nothing…occurs in isolation.” A position paper submitted by NGOs, including the CSJPs, as input for the Rio+20 negotiation document states: “An unsustainable and unjust model of development prevails. It commodifies and exhausts Earth’s resources and relies heavily on unequal trade liberalization which favors developed countries and transnational corporations over people, healthy ecosystems, and the needs of present and future generations….Why this failure when the international community has the technological expertise, a clearer, scientifically-based understanding of Earth as a living system of interdependent, interrelated components of which humans are a part, and the financial resources to explore and implement more sustainable modes of development?” One of the two major “umbrella” topics for Rio+20 is the “Green Economy.” While there are different definitions of the “Green Economy,” there is a growing sense that an economic system, such as the present dominant model, that assumes infinite growth and infinite resources is not sustainable. It would require three planet Earths for the whole world to have the same standard of living as the United States and much of Europe. Such a system is in conflict with an understanding of Earth as a “system of interdependent, interrelated components of which humans are a part.”
THE CSJP CONNECTION For over twenty years, we CSJPs have been have been deepening our understanding of our interconnectedness with the entire community of life, while also addressing specific issues such as climate change, water and poverty. In our 1990 Chapter “Statement of Direction” we said, “Our charism of peace through justice calls us to respond more fully to the integrity of creation…. We believe that the growing understanding of our interrelatedness with all of creation calls us to a deeper commitment to our mission of peacemaking…Ours is a partnership rather than a domination over all of creation.” And at our 2002 Chapter, as we addressed the issue of water, we acknowledged that “As peacemakers, we value Earth as our teacher.” In our 2008 “Seeds of Peace: Care of Creation and Climate Change” commitment, we said, “We are committed to a spirituality of peacemaking which compels us to live in right relationship with the entire community of life. Recognizing the interdependence of all life, we count among those that are poor all Earth’s creatures whose lives are threatened or diminished.” Through prayer, contemplation, learning and action, we have been deepening a spirituality that recognizes our profound relationship with all life and the presence of the Spirit of God at the heart of these relationships. While not usually defined in terms of a spirituality, a similar understanding of Earth is gradually emerging at the UN. Rio+20 is an opportunity for CSJPs, along with others, to contribute to this new awareness and its implications for economic and social development and protection of the environment. As announced in the August Leadership Team Update, I am, during this year, devoting additional time and energy to our ministry at the United Nations and less to WATERSPIRIT. Developments at the UN in preparation for Rio+20 as presented above and their connection with CSJP concerns, priorities and focus areas have led to this shift. This decision was reached through serious discussion and reflection with the Leadership Team. Concerns about WATERSPIRIT and its continuing vitality and growth were addressed. As director, I will continue to generally oversee activities at WATERSPIRIT. For this year, Jean-Marie Donohue, who has served WATERSPIRIT’s mission part-time, will be added as a full time staff member to insure attention to details and further development of programs and activities. In the months to come, you will be receiving regular updates on the UN and Rio+20 and recommendations for ways in which you can be involved.