A Look at Green Financing in Run-up to Rio + 10 Summit
By Andrés Cañizález*
Along with the transfer of resources and technology from the industrialized North to the developing South, the farm protectionism against imports – practiced by the European Union and the United States - must be lifted, says Brazil's Environment minister.
RIO DE JANEIRO - The question of how to finance economic development with a human face and in harmony with the environment is being asked by government officials, specialists and activists in Latin America and the Caribbean, particularly as it will be a focus of the World Summit on Sustainable Development next year.
Ministers, delegates from non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and experts from the region met in Rio de Janeiro Oct 21-24 for a series of discussions as part of the preparatory process for the summit to be held in Johannesburg, South Africa, in 2002, widely known as ''Rio + 10''.
Brazil's Environment minister, José Sarney Filho, told Tierramérica that his country is expecting ''compliance with the economic instruments agreed during the 1992 Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro.'' Progress on the commitments governments made at that meeting will be evaluated in South Africa next year.
Sarney stated that, along with the transference of resources and technology from the industrialized North to the developing South, which holds most of the world's environmental wealth, the lifting of the farm protectionist measures imposed by the European Union and United States against farm imports from poor countries must be considered as a means toward sustainable development.
The Brazilian stance, which pulls a great deal of weight in the Latin American strategy, was adopted for the final document of the 13th Forum of Environment Ministers of the region, a crucial conference within the preparatory process for the Rio + 10 Summit.
Also proposed at the forum was the need to ''review the current mechanisms for converting the foreign debt of developing countries into environmental projects.''
''The matter was discussed in general terms - reassessing the relationship between external debt and sustainable development - but the ministers did not establish detailed mechanisms for implementation,'' Ricardo Sánchez, director for Latin America and the Caribbean for the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP), told Tierramérica.
Exchanging debt for environmental protection efforts is just one of the potential answers to how to finance a model that harmoniously links economic growth with human development and the environment.
Latin American and Caribbean delegates at last week's meetings stressed the need for wealthier countries - which carry greatest responsibility for environmental problems, particularly global warming - should contribute by providing financing and technology, as was agreed at the 1992 Earth Summit in Rio.
Alicia Bárcena, of the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC), commented that ''sustainability has not captured the attention of the international economic agenda'' and that none of the commitments made on the matter have been met.
For example, the countries of the North agreed they would each designate 0.7 percent of their gross domestic product (GDP), within the framework of ''shared responsibility'', to benefit sustainable development, but the promise remained on paper. According to Bárcena, ''we need new and additional resources for sustainable development.''
An ECLAC study indicates that the implementation of ''Agenda 21'', approved in 1992, requires 625 billion dollars, of which a fifth is to come from international capital flows, and the rest from each of the national governments for their own sustainable development efforts.
Apart from Agenda 21, a global action plan aimed at integrating the environment and development into the world economy in the new century, the Earth Summit adopted three international instruments: the Convention on Biological Diversity, the Framework Convention on Climate Change and the Convention to Combat Desertification.
These treaties require the execution of concrete plans, which in turn requires financial resources.
René Castro, a former environment minister of Costa Rica, told Tierramérica that ''the two or three areas in which there is broad-based agreement'' could serve as the letter of presentation for Latin America and the Caribbean at the Johannesburg summit in 2002.
''One is the external debt and its rechanneling toward responsible investment from the social and environmental point of view,'' said Castro. A second area of consensus involves using modern financial approaches (guarantees, incentives, etc.) to direct investment toward environment-friendly sectors of the economy, such as renewable energy.
A third point of agreement is the need to consolidate the relationship between the environment and the economy, instead of always including it as a secondary concern of international agreements, said Castro, who currently serves as an official of the United Nations Development Program (UNDP).
Sara Larraín, of the NGO 'Chile Sustentable' (Sustainable Chile), commented that financing sustainable development requires reorienting the policies of multilateral banks, like the World Bank and Inter-American Development Bank, ''towards the objectives of eradicating poverty and protecting the environment.''
The NGOs gathered in Rio de Janeiro last week suggested imposing a tax on speculative financial transactions, controlling the flow of international capital, and renegotiating the external debt of poor countries.
ECLAC officials agreed that it is essential to confront the debt problem, given its burden on the region's finances.
The foreign debt of Latin America and the Caribbean grew in the 1990s from 500 billion to 800 billion dollars, while development aid to the region dropped from 138 billion dollars in 1991 to 100 billion in 1998.
* Andrés Cañizález is an IPS correspondent.