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Building with BRICS – Part 1

Building with BRICS – Part 1

With barely two months to the big event at Rio de Janeiro, the world is torn between hopeless resignation and curious expectation. Speculations are rife by people and media regarding the possible outcome of the summit. Contrasted against the week long meeting in 1992, this time it’s a 3 day affair – so the nagging suspicion that we are up for another face saving declaration can not be ruled out. The UN has come under criticism for moving sluggishly without much useful progress towards a new world capable of social equity. The UN must also be ready to take on the multidimensional challenges of Climate Change, Poverty, Sustainable Growth, World Resource management, Health and Gender Neutrality. This June, World Leaders will meet in Rio and deliberate on the exact same issues on which they agreed to work on 20 years ago. There is a feeling that the meeting will deal with agenda, which are basically new names given to old, unresolved and failed issues.

This will be interesting because talking about all good and wise actions like GE (Green Economy), SD (Sustainable Development) and PE (Poverty Eradication – in the popular acronym as GESDPE, the central focus of Rio+20) in very general terms on a global platform is one thing. But taking effective steps in national levels to fulfill those promises without sacrificing some local aspirations for growth is quite another. The leaders represent the people and the people want development. The leaders also represent varying national interests of stakeholders and developmental stages of labour and resource intensification. The ideas and paths towards sustainable development vary from one country to another. So it becomes an interesting question as to how countries can have such different motives for development yet truly support a new world order that the UN is dreaming of. The world seems to be split over ‘Green Economy’, the new catch phrase – both conceptually and ideally, the lack of clarity of the term in the context of sustainable development forcing the UN to consider its explanation in a more inclusive way. The criticisms go deeper than a prioritization issue – some see Green Economy as a new phase of Capitalist Expansion and Structural Adjustment.

“Twenty years later, in 2012, the plunder continues. The “Green Economy” agenda is an attempt to expand the reach of finance capital and integrate into the market all that remains of nature. It aims to do this by putting a monetary “value” or a “price” on biomass, biodiversity and the functions of the ecosystems – such as storing carbon, pollinating crops, or filtering water — in order to integrate these “services” as tradable units in the financial market,” writes Climate & Capitalism.

The Environmental Policy Research Centre of Frerie Universität Berlin in their report ‘Green Economy discourses in the run up to Rio+20’ gist the various debates into three main discourses.

1. Greening the Existing Economy

The  first  discourse is characterized by focusing mainly on the  Greening  of  the  Existing Economy. The discourse remains steadfast committed to growth as the prime goal of economic policy while it acknowledges that there are environmental constraints to economic growth  – especially by climate change and the need for low-carbon  development.  These are  typically  understood  as  barriers and risks to further economic growth as increasing scarcity  of  natural  resources  increases  their  price  and  diminished  ecosystem  carrying  capacity can induce costs for conservation and even higher ones for restoring these if tipping points are crossed and ​ecosystems eroded. While the concept acknowledges the ecological boundaries, there is often an under-complex treatment [meaning treatment of scientific truth of ecology without considering its complexity to appropriate depth - authors’ note] of ecological concepts such as diminishing transferability of natural and physical capital, or tipping points. While the concept attempts to limit the environmental pressures of economic growth, it fails to acknowledge  and  operationalise  planetary  boundaries  (Cp.  Rockström  et  al.,  2009).  The  GE  concept in this first discourse is focused on the economic and environmental pillar of the SD concept solely. The Green Jobs discussion associated is largely focused on the discussion of labour  standards  and  labour  as  an  input  factor  of  production  and  how  to  sustain  sufficient supply of skilled labour to sustain the growth in green economic sectors. The  policy  measures  discussed  for  the  GE  take  a  universal  approach,  meaning  while  they argue that policy has to be adapted to national circumstances, they do not distinguish between  industrialised,  emerging  and developing countries or recognise the common, but differentiated responsibilities of the latter. Further, there is little discussion to be found on the need for cultural changes and changes in consumption patterns. Rather, there is a belief that technological changes can green production and consumption and thus achieve sustainability. – Reproduced from the original discussion paper Green Economy discourses in the run up to Rio+20.

2. Green Development

The  second discourse that can be  termed  Green Development  can be read as an extension of the first discourse in that it calls for reconsidering the existing welfare concept and to  include  social  aspects.  It  implicitly  criticises  the  former  discourse  for  underestimating the scale of changes needed by essentially relying on technological solutions. The discourse is rooted in the belief that a green economy means adjusting existing economic structures and creating (at least in the long run) a new model of production and consumption based on  a  development  path  and  consumption  model  different  from  the  one  existing in the Western  world.  Thus,  it  argues  that  the  necessary  system  innovation  changes  not  only  in technologies, but existing institutions, culture and welfare concepts, too. Many emerging countries whose economic growth is substantial yet developmental goals not fully realized follow this discourse. – Reproduced from the original discussion paper Green Economy discourses in the run up to Rio+20.

3. Common but Differentiated Responsibilities, CBDR

The  third  discourse  to  be  identified  reflects  mainly  the  development  perspective  on  the Green Economy and its shortcomings. This discourse roots the GE firmly within the existing Sustainable Development framework and  emphasises the importance of the social development  dimension,  especially  regarding  international  equality  and  poverty  reduction. The discourse emphasises the principles of common, but differentiated responsibilities and the right to development. It can be found mainly in the criticism of Western GE concepts during  the  UNCSD  negotiations  and  in  the  expert  interviews  conducted.  The  concept acknowledges potential conflicts between development and the environment and emphasises that many developing countries are not yet in the stage of development to reduce its economy’s material and energy intensity. Cooperation shall be voluntary and the Green Economy must not  infringe on  the  right  to  development by erecting green tariffs and other barriers to trade or by adopting conditions for official development aid. – Reproduced from the original discussion paper Green Economy discourses in the run up to Rio+20.

BRICS Leaders in fourth summit in Delhi Photo: Want China Times

The BRICS group of countries stand, in this juncture, as a crucial axis in realizing a fairer, cleaner and safer world. It will be very interesting to identify the BRICS countries within the above discourses because we can then know and assess with some rationality how the Rio+20 is going to be concluded. We will attempt to review if there is a consensus among the BRICS; who is more willing to change and who is not. The problem with non-comparable targets is that each country is establishing its own targets to reduce GHG emissions, and are using their own measures making a global comparison almost impossible to compare. The popular and common question is : Wouldn’t it be ideal for BRICS countries to have a more common proposal? The​ popular perception is that If they work as a solid group, they would be much more efficient to bridge the gaps and give a definitive direction at the UN talks.In subsequent articles three countries, namely China, India and Brazil will be discussed with special focus to these questions and perceptions.

As a side note we should remember that BRICS are the major economies of the regions where they are situated. They are the first (China), second (India), fifth (Brazil), eighth (Russia) and twenty-fourth (South Africa) most populated countries. They all also have ever growing consumer markets which are rapid and more stable economies. Their economies are also growing more than the traditional richer nations. They have huge natural resources and potential for investment by multinational companies – due to cheaper labour. Together, the 5 countries represent more than 40% of the world’s population. China and Russia are permanent members of the UN Security Council, while Brazil and India are aspiring candidates. All of these countries are emerging powers in our world today. They are typically misnomers of development; because their economies grow fast but continue to struggle while they distill the benefits of this status and wealth to all their citizens. They are a microcosm of the world, in that sense.

Are the BRICS going to procrastinate, overly tied to individual national/political obligations while the world dangerously race towards a tipping point? Or will they be game changers? We will go to some BRICS countries to look for answers.

Part 1 End

Feature Image Courtesy: We Are Barnsley


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About The Author(s)

Anna Zhou

Anna Zhou


Still a highschool student but quite ambitious as well. Co-founder of "ndoto." a not for profit conference taking place in Hong Kong and India aimed at inspiring creativity, innovation and change within young people today for the future. She is also a pretty dedicated blogger on everything related to the environment and the human interactions that take place, positive or negative.

Diêgo Lôbo

Public Relations and Blogger

Diêgo works with communications and fundraising for CESE, a Brazilian NGO. He is Chief-in-Editor of "E esse tal Meio Ambiente?", a 3-year-blog addressing environmental issues formed by young professionals with different backgrounds and skills, from all over the country. As a result of this work, he has published a book, participated and covered several events and also received national and international recognition. He is interested in discussions regarding climate issues, communication, social movements, human rights and so on.

Pabitra Mukhopadhyay

Pabitra Mukhopadhyay

Civil Engineer

Pabitra is an amateur blogger and environment enthusiast. He has to his credit more than 100 international publications of online articles as independent reporting stories, analyses and in-depth reviews of contemporary issues. He is a contributor author in EJC and a winner of competitive blogging. Pabitra networks with writers and organizations working in the field of Environment and is adviser to Indian Knowledge Networking Platform Climate Himalaya. He writes about almost anything in his personal blog Pabitraspeaks too. Pabitra is an Honors graduate in Civil Engineering and a Fellow of the Institute of Engineers, India under Royal Charter. He works and lives in Kolkata, India with wife Sumana and son Diptarka.

Comments (1)

  • Kevin Rennie

    Although it’s a UN conference, you have to wonder what influence countries outside the G20 really have in the final decisions. Interesting perspective from Helen Clark, former New Zealand PM and head of the United Nations Development Programme:

    “So for my money where I think Rio ought to focus is on how we can support building the capacity of developing countries to sustain human progress in these challenging circumstances. A lot of countries don’t have the institutions, they don’t have the skilled personnel to really put the best strategies together.”
    Minor progress only in 20 years since Rio conference – Clark


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