By Suvendrini Kakuchi
TOKYO, Jun 10, 2012 (IPS) – Leading Japanese ecologists are pushing for the concept of environmental “ethics” to influence the upcoming Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro, an approach they contend will foster accountability towards sustainable development.
“(Environmental) ethics is based on the concept of making people accountable for the preservation of natural resources and biodiversity. By highlighting this aspect, we aim to combat the priority on economic growth that has hijacked previous Earth Summits,” said Ryoichi Yamamoto, development expert and professor emeritus at Tokyo University.
Celebrating the 20th anniversary of the first United Nations summit on sustainable development, this year’s conference, dubbed Rio+20, will negotiate on a transition to a green economy in an effort to preserve the planet’s air, land, water and biodiversity.
But activists worry this crucial debate on the planet’s future will once again – as has been the case since sustainable development was launched as a global issue in 1992 – focus too heavily on anti-pollution technologies and the exploitation of natural resources in service of economic growth.
Such an approach, green activists say, has not adequately provided for protection of the planet’s scarce natural resources and delicate ecosystems.
For example, over 100 countries agreed on an ambitious target to contain global warming to less than two degrees Celsius, setting an emissions limit of 100 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide until 2050.
But the target is becoming impossible to reach— numerous studies indicate the world has already emitted one-third of its allowed quota in the last nine years, especially since rising economies like India and China have become major polluters.
In addition, despite economic growth rates of more than eight percent in countries such as China and India, the poverty gap is also widening – the United Nations Human Development Index reports that life expectancy, illiteracy and child mortality are almost seven times greater in China’s smaller towns than in its big cities.
To combat this alarming trend, Yamamoto is leading a campaign to create an inter-governmental Ethics Panel for Ecological Civilisation (http://www.japanfs.org/en/mailmagazine/newsletter/pages/031788.html) as a special agency in the United Nations. The proposal aims to strengthen institutional frameworks for sustainable development through the collaboration of science, culture and religion.
He told IPS that excellent scientific research, evaluating ecosystems’ vulnerability to economic growth, has provided ample knowledge to influence policy decisions.
“But what is missing is sustainable development based on the perspective of an ecological civilisation, a civilisation that could exist in harmony with natural systems,” he said.
The call for an ethical approach to finding solutions in Rio has gained momentum in Japan after the massive natural disaster that hit the northeastern coasts of the country in March 2011.
Activists point out the earthquake and tsunami, which wiped out whole communities and caused a meltdown at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant that destroyed entire farming villages with toxic pollution, has led to deep soul searching in Japan.
“The disaster has caused a review of Japan’s economic success. Despite high postwar growth the disaster was a bitter lesson on the vulnerability of material riches and it convinced the public that protecting the environment cannot take second place,” Yamamoto said.
Indeed, public support for nuclear power has dipped drastically – almost 70 percent of the population does not support restarting the nuclear reactors, which, up until the 2011 disaster, had been viewed as the lynchpin of national development in resource-poor Japan.
Opinion polls indicate even the threat of power shortages in the summertime has done little to dent public aversion to nuclear power.
Five years ago, Teruyuki Matsushita started the Donguri (Acorn) Club, a small grassroots organisation that works to raise awareness about the role of forests in western Japan’s Mihama Prefecture, which is also home to three nuclear reactors.
“My anti-nuclear work had reached a major challenge – to gain public support I had to show (people) that our forests could also provide jobs that foster sustainable development. This is the reason why I started the Donguri Club – we educate people and also make a living from logging and selling forest products such as flowers,” Matsushita explained to IPS.
The Donguri Club operates with just five full time staff, with volunteers working closely to support the organisation. Matsushita says his work is pioneering new strategies for activists and ushering in support for sustainable development.
At a time when more than half the world’s population works in agriculture, Takumo Yamada, from Oxfam Tokyo, stressed that Rio+20 is a crucial platform to discuss alternatives to a system in which multinational corporations set agendas that affect millions of farmers in developing countries.
“The discourse in Rio must not (be dominated) by rich companies that will parade high technology products as the solution for governments that want to eradicate poverty and deal with energy issues,” he told IPS.
“There must a paradigm shift in thinking at Rio+20. We must work at a global level on achieving environmental justice, equality and sustainable goals,” he said.(END)