Cit­i­zens for a clean econ­omy

Financial Mirror (Cyprus) - - FRONT PAGE -

Over the past 20 years, en­vi­ron­men­tal, en­ergy, and cli­mate poli­cies have been de­cided be­hind closed doors – with lit­tle in­put from the peo­ple who will be most af­fected by the out­come of the ne­go­ti­a­tions. Pol­icy de­sign has been driven by tech­no­cratic considerations that ig­nored or was sim­ply un­in­ter­ested in or­di­nary peo­ple’s pri­or­i­ties. As a re­sult, clean air, re­new­able en­ergy, and green spa­ces have all too of­ten been sac­ri­ficed to the no­tion that en­vi­ron­men­tally friendly leg­is­la­tion in­creases costs and red tape for busi­nesses and ul­ti­mately hurts the econ­omy.

The good news is that a new pat­tern of cit­i­zen par­tic­i­pa­tion is emerg­ing, es­pe­cially in de­vel­op­ing coun­tries, with new voices and fresh ideas en­ter­ing the de­bate. Around the world, cit­i­zens are de­mand­ing that their gov­ern­ments lis­ten to them about en­vi­ron­men­tal is­sues and put their needs and pri­or­i­ties first.

For years, the de­bate around en­vi­ron­men­tal ac­tion in the United States and Europe was characterised by a fo­cus on ab­stract prin­ci­ples and by po­lit­i­cal in­fight­ing. To some ex­tent, this was un­der­stand­able. Op­po­si­tion to en­vi­ron­men­tal ac­tion – from the fos­sil-fuel in­dus­try, po­lit­i­cal par­ties, and por­tions of the me­dia – has been for­mi­da­ble.

But the re­sult was a dis­cus­sion that was far re­moved from the is­sues that are most im­por­tant to or­di­nary peo­ple. In­stead of dis­cussing how in­ef­fec­tive public trans­port and pol­luted air was mak­ing life worse for bil­lions of peo­ple, the talk cen­tered on car­bon trad­ing, emis­sions tra­jec­to­ries, and the in­dus­tri­al­i­sa­tion of China.

For­tu­nately, the dis­cus­sion is now be­ing brought back down to earth. In less than 35 years, some 66% of the global pop­u­la­tion will live in cities. Much of this ur­ban growth will oc­cur in de­vel­op­ing coun­tries, es­pe­cially in Africa. In Latin Amer­ica, nearly 80% of peo­ple al­ready live in ur­ban cen­tres.

When na­tional and mu­nic­i­pal gov­ern­ments ask peo­ple about their pri­or­i­ties and needs, the an­swer is clear. Chile’s gov­ern­ment set a prece­dent in the re­gion by metic­u­lously map­ping cit­i­zens’ pri­or­i­ties on the en­vi­ron­ment and cli­mate. Ac­cord­ing to the gov­ern­ment’s poll, air pol­lu­tion is Chileans’ top en­vi­ron­men­tal pri­or­ity (33%), fol­lowed by waste (21%) and noise (11%).

Costa Ri­cans also see air pol­lu­tion as an en­vi­ron­men­tal pri­or­ity (22%), fol­lowed by waste (20%) and wa­ter (17%), ac­cord­ing to a poll con­ducted by the United Na­tions Devel­op­ment Pro­gramme. In China, en­vi­ron­men­tal pro­tec­tion is in­creas­ingly be­com­ing a top public con­cern, as ev­i­denced by a jour­nal­ist’s re­cent self­fi­nanced film about air pol­lu­tion, which at­tracted 200 mln view­ers in a sin­gle week. In to­day’s world, peo­ple ex­pect more from their coun­tries and cities than growth and shop­ping cen­ters.

An IDB poll of 5,000 cit­i­zens in Bo­gotá, Buenos Aires, Lima, Mex­ico City, and São Paulo re­vealed that they want more trans­parency in city gov­ern­ment, more par­tic­i­pa­tion in de­ci­sion-mak­ing, and a bet­ter qual­ity of life. This poll, along with those from Chile and Costa Rica, shows that cit­i­zens un­der­stand that cli­mate change will af­fect them. They want gov­ern­ments to do more, not less, to pro­tect the en­vi­ron­ment.

As we de­velop a bet­ter un­der­stand­ing of or­di­nary peo­ple’s needs and pri­or­i­ties, those ne­go­ti­at­ing a global agree­ment at the United Na­tions Cli­mate Change Con­fer­ence in Paris later this year would be wise to take note. Opaque de­ci­sions and un­ex­plained pri­or­i­ties are un­likely to re­ceive public sup­port. For that rea­son alone, it is cru­cial that gov­ern­ments make their cit­i­zens’ con­cerns the top pri­or­ity.

Chile has set a pos­i­tive prece­dent in the de­vel­op­ing world by car­ry­ing out ex­ten­sive con­sul­ta­tions on its na­tional cli­mate com­mit­ment for Paris. Mex­ico and Brazil have launched for­mal con­sul­ta­tion pro­cesses, too. Other coun­tries in the re­gion might fol­low suit.

Na­tional and lo­cal politi­cians are be­ing held to in­creas­ingly higher stan­dards of en­vi­ron­men­tal pro­tec­tion. A new era of cit­i­zen in­volve­ment and public scru­tiny has be­gun, cre­at­ing op­por­tu­ni­ties for truly in­clu­sive en­vi­ron­men­tal ac­tion that prom­ise to achieve more than elites ne­go­ti­at­ing be­hind closed doors ever could.

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