HII Meets with European Leaders on Preparing for Rio+20: DPI/NGO Conference Day 2, Afternoon Session

In early September, 2011, Human Impacts Institute’s European Representative, Mariana Orozco, will be reporting from her work meeting with global leaders in environmental policy and sustainable development in preparation for the 2012 Rio+20 Earth Summit.

Join the Community Conversation! Who is driving change in our world? And Who is the change for?

On the afternoon of September 4th, 2011, Roundtable III of the 64th Annual UN DPI/NGO Conference covered the “Role of Civil Society in a Fast-Changing World”. Moderator Lolanath de Silva, from the World Resources Institute, posed the idea that we have to focus on: Who is driving this change? And, for who is this change?

Rose de Lima, from the International Association of Charities, spoke about her 25 years of Volunteer Work in Madagascar. She described how in a very poor country, 200,000 women and volunteers working in their own communities were able to make big changes with simple actions, from registering citizens to alphabetization and training. In an inspiring story, she spoke of the importance of education on environmental protection to eradicate poverty, and ended with the remark that Africa’s wealth is its’ youth.

Kees Biekart, from the International Institute of Social Studies, Erasmus University, criticized the two-dimensional view of civil society, claiming it is too simple and outdated. He posited that we must rethink civil society in four ways:

  1. Each civil society is unique, we must understand this;

  2. Civil society is not always a good thing;

  3. Civil society is not singular – it has multiple faces and multiple actors, with disagreement and conflict; and

  4. Collective action is changing very rapidly, virtually.

Beikart went on to explain his findings in which he looked at the overlap between different sectors of society–between civil society and government, citizens and industry–in what he called “hybrid areas”, and claimed that this is where the change happens. It is this space that is driving the civic energy that promotes change.

Anna Golubskova, from the assoiciation MAMA 86, spoke of her experience about the movement that began over the concern about children’s health after Chernobyl. She gave two examples of civic engagement in which local citizen’s raised awareness of the environment in the Ukraine and established new policies.

Concluding the session, Jeremy Wates from the European Environment Bureau (EEB), agreed that we tend to treat civil society as a homogeneous entity, which it is not. Some of our voices are not always in favor of the environment, but, he argued, the majority of public opinion supports the environment. Speaking about the role of supportive legal and institutional frameworks, he underlined that the most tangible process in issues, such asPrinciple 10 of the Rio Declaration, has been done in the European Union. He reiterated that legal documents are more effective than non-bindings ones. Wates concluded that theRio+20 conference cannot decide for individual countries, but it can offer support.

By Mariana Orozco, 2011 Human Impacts Institute Environmental Leadership Intern and European Representative

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