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Staffan Nilsson at a press conference at the European Parliament on the citizen's agora eventEESC President about the cooperation with the European Parliament at the "Citizen's Agora" event

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Staffan Nilsson's Comment (former EESC President 2010-2013)

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How effective can the EU be at Rio+20?

5 Jun 2012 By: Staffan Nilsson 0 Posts

With a major share of the world’s population living in poverty, increasing environmental degradation and over-consumption of natural resources, we are a long way from a sustainable world.

Today the EESC marked World Environment Day with an initiative on transformative partnerships to address poverty and the green economy ahead of the Rio+20 conference. We have hosted a structured dialogue between Europe's leaders, champions in the green economy, agents of change and eco-innovators.

We asked how we can make the Rio+20 summit on 20-22 June as effective as possible. For us, transformative partnerships are clear and present examples of civil society, or multi-stakeholder, participation in the EU: an environmental association can ally with a development NGO and agree on and convey a common message for negotiators.

Some may wonder what civil society can realistically do about major issues at major summits where governments, the EU and the UN negotiate and sign agreements. But as we have seen before, governments don’t make big commitments on sustainable development policies that shape our future unless civil society pushes for them. Moreover, civil society is there to support politicians when they have made these commitments. Furthermore, it is civil society players who implement the changes on the ground on a day-to-day basis. And last but not least, for EU leaders and negotiators, civil society's participation is entrenched in the policy and decision-making process of international negotiations. It is part of the EU democratic governance that we hold dear.

I normally believe we always have more choices in life. However, I strongly feel that engaging people for the sustainable development of our future is the only choice we have. Hence the EESC’s commitment to preparations for the UN Rio+20 conference on global sustainable development. In our view, Rio+20 has to result in viable political commitments that place sustainable development at the heart of global policy making. This paradigm shift needs to take place now. And civil society actors are aware of the cost of failing to act.

As members of the EESC, we are your employer, your trade union, the farmer producing your milk and the food on your plate, the association protecting your rights as a consumer, and the foundation providing the social services you need.

Amid global crisis requiring urgent action, the EESC gives voice to a broad spectrum of social and economic actors in EU and global debates and policy-making.  EU leaders and negotiators have involved us in preparing for Rio and for a global agreement on “The Future We Want”. Our contribution is meant to make European civil society's voice heard and to move negotiations beyond mere intentions.

Our messages for Rio+20, which were commonly agreed with civil society stakeholders in Europe and discussed with BRICS countries, call on governments to commit to a concrete action plan for sustainable development and eradicating poverty in a way that respects the planet's natural limits.

Whatever the measures our leaders agree on, they must prioritise the social dimensions of sustainable development: tackling poverty and hunger, securing decent working conditions and promoting the interests of women, migrants and disadvantaged people. When we as members of the EESC ask for all this, we know what we are talking about and we know that our requests are equally endorsed by businesses, workers and other various interest groups. So we trust our advice will lead to effective action. If we all act together, I’m certain that we can make our planet viable for future generations.

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