In order to offer a concrete experience of our 50+20 vision (see www.50plus20.org) our team has organized a series of collaboratory events during the RIO+20 conference. Imagine the collaboratory as a circular space where stakeholders meet on an equal basis to address burning issues that concern society either locally, globally or both. The discussion is facilitated with open space and consciousness-building technologies and offers a concrete new possibility for education and research.
As we prepare for these sessions, we are considering what big issues we should address to contribute to RIO+20. To me, the real challenge for the conference is a lot more profound than the emerging buzzwords like yesterday’s speech from Ban ki-Moon stating that “we need to combine growth with social inclusion” and of course pay attention to do so “within the limits of the planet”. Well, these are either empty words or may well be a contradiction in terms (an oxymoron). What we need is a world where 9 billion people live well and within the limits of the planet (WBCSD vision 2050).
Now, what I would like to know is how we are planning to achieve this. What does this mean for us in Europe, what does this mean for people in Brazil, China, Australia. Not in 2050 but for the coming decade. How do we have to change to make this seemingly impossible goal work if already today we as a global community use resources every year that are equivalent to what takes our planet Earth 1.35 years to regenerate. And we are just at 7 billion people today. With 2 billion people in emerging countries expecting to join the global middle class. Or, as our Brazilian friends have pointed out: “you are not going to tell the people here that they can’t get their refrigerator they’ve been waiting for so desperately.” Well, of course not as well as we cannot imagine prescribing our U.S. friends to at least return to a European level of Ecological Footprint (EFP), i.e. achieving a 50% reduction.
Indeed, the real challenge and the unspoken problem of RIO+20 — and our global community — is that nobody can actually envision discussing what needs to be addressed: what efforts are required by which regions to make it together? It would be pure and simple political suicide for every government to return with such a task and challenge. Yet, what happens if we don’t discuss it? I cannot even imagine what it takes to get there even if everybody would and could collaborate… If however we cannot even openly address the real issue at the one and only place we MUST discuss and resolve such issues, then I start to really wonder what kind of miracle we are counting on!
Let me try to understand the size of the challenge. I guess we will be 8 billion by around 2025 with most of the poorest 4 billion expecting to make significant shifts out of poverty and half of them joining the global middle class. We must integrate this additional billion within our global community while reducing non- or slow-renewable the resources by 35% as compared to our global footprint in 2011. Is this fear for not getting this growth that represents the biggest emotional stumbling block for nations in the so-called South in RIO+20 intergovernmental negotiations, prompting Ban ki-Moon’s above welcome speech. Yet, the challenge does not lie exclusively in the South. It is really the 2 billion on top of the pyramid, living in the “North-West” (i.e. in Western developed countries) that have created the problem of our planetary overshoot of 35% in the first place. So the half a billion North Americans, the half a billion European and the other billion of people living too well in various other developed countries, regions or cities around the world need to significantly reduce their footprint.
The 2000 Watt society is an old Swiss concept developed in the early nineties between the ETH Zurich and the economy. The idea was that we must create options for a life worth living that does not consume more than 2000 Watt of energy per person (Wapp). Currently, in Switzerland, we are at 4000 Wapp, yet we know how we could make it at 2000 and we are working on making it happen. Zero energy and positive energy housing is a big part of this. But cleaning up the mobility footprint is another big issue. I am sitting in a plane fro Sao Paulo to Rio and you know what I mean…. CO2 emissions! So, if we in Europe need to half our footprint, whether measured in Wapp, EFP or CO2 or Water footprint, North America is challenged to reduce its footprint by 75%. Wow, you may say. I want to know what I can do (other than jumping out of the airplane) and how I can get my life on track. I am willing and able and hopefully so are my other billion or two lucky wealthy fellow citizens. I am actually looking forward to envision measures that will slow down my crazy pace, that shift my focus from material to immaterial and inner wealth and that rebalance the lost equilibrium between time and money.
The challenge for emerging and developing countries is clearly a different one. They need to figure out how they can reach a comfortable life that satisfies human development in terms of learning, engagement and fulfillment while assuring basic needs such as food, shelter, safety, medical and social care. For this, they will generate what we have come to known as “growth”, i.e. activities that are measured through GDP and the likes. Yet, they cannot repeat the errors of the Northwest. Air-conditioning in the hotel in Sao Paulo forced me to walk around in all my sweaters I brought — totally crazy as we are in the cold and damp winter season here anyway. Yes, they do need their fridge but they need a fridge that uses as less energy as possible. And again, I wonder, what can a Brazilian expect as her development both in material and immaterial nature in the coming decades. Which dreams will she have to give up, which new ones may she learn to discover and embrace? And how can she and I, sisters in a small world, support another and respect the diversity and limits of the planet we inhabit? This is the answer I would like to have by the end of this conference.