By Bob Massie, Publisher, The Murninghan Post
The TakeAway: A Brazilian Initiative – The Global Sustainability Forum – Signals New Leadership from an Emerging Power
Last week in Rio de Janeiro, one of the leaders of international civil society, Oded Grajew, convened a new and exciting initiative for sustainability. Grajew is a former business executive known for his unique vision, passion for social change, and skillful institution-building. He created the powerful Instituto Ethos in Brazil; founded the World Social Forum; and serves on many key boards and advisory groups, including that of the Global Compact.
Recognizing that in less than 20 months, heads of state will gather in Brazil for “Rio + 20” to renew and expand their commitment to the goals of the original 1992 “Earth Summit,” Grajew and his many Brazilian allies are assembling a new structure to influence the deliberations before, during, and after meeting. Known provisionally as the “Global Sustainability Forum” (GSF), the new entity gathers human rights and environmental activists, consumer groups, labor unions, national and international corporations, and think tanks to pool ideas and actions.
The preliminary planning meeting, supported actively by the mayor of Rio de Janeiro (who personally came twice), met for two days in a luxurious palace that had once been the home of the British Embassy. The 120 participants wrestled with key questions of design and strategy, such as:
- Is the GSF to be a truly international organization in its governance, or a Brazilian initiative to offer leadership for the global convergence of ideas and action?
- Should the GSF focus primarily on preparing for the 2012 global meeting, or on a longer-term strategy that complements national and inter-governmental efforts?
The discussion took place against a backdrop of important developments in Brazil and around the world. Brazil, a member of the “BRIC” (Brazil, Russia, India, China) foursome of emerging powers, has entered a period of extraordinary dynamism with global implications. It is now in the middle of presidential elections to determine whether the country will continue the progressive policies of President Luiz Lula de Silva. Brazil draws 85 percent of its domestically produced energy from renewable sources, including ethanol from sugar cane, and seeks to expand its wind and solar power as well as controversial hydroelectric power.
On the social justice side, the Lula government tackled hunger and income disparities with a focus on domestic production and with direct cash payments to the most poor. As a result, tens of millions have risen out of destitution and are now becoming a new entrepreneurial and consumer force. The national emphasis on sustainability, in combination with sound fiscal management, is creating a 21st century development model that is drawing the attention – and investment dollars – of other countries.
At the meeting, there was also deep unease about the current state of the world and of global governance. Environmental destruction, threatening basic human health and national security, has continued everywhere from the Amazon to the Antarctic. Repeated attempts by governments – such the original Earth Summit and the recent Copenhagen meeting on climate change – have failed to meet targets.
Like all new creations, the Global Sustainability Forum must clarify its purpose and prioritize its action. At the same time, it must manage itself in a way that gives rise to a new moral force on the global scene that transcends the parochial interests of single sectors and nations. Yet whatever difficulties they may encounter, the Brazilians at the Rio meeting spoke with passion about the world they dreamed could arise through new ideas and new forms of cooperation across political and geographic boundaries.
The United States is currently losing its global standing as the leading force for justice and innovation. Lacking national direction or purpose, our politics havesunk into the netherworld of obstructionism and amorphous right-wing fury. Americans should be delighted that Brazilian leaders like Oded Grajew and his colleagues, carrying substantial wisdom, passion, and experience, are now stepping on