By Ramesh Jaura
In run-up to the Rio+20 conference, an eminent Buddhist leader and philosopher – who has been persistently campaigning for abolition of all nukes and other weapons of mass annihilation for the last five decades – is urging the international community to halt the plunder of planet earth’s vital resources and agree on a paradigm shift from the pursuit of material wealth to sustainability.
So that Rio+20 does not end up in hollow declarations, Daisaku Ikeda – who presides over the lay Buddhist organization Soka Gakkai International (SGI), based in Tokyo – has tabled a set of proposals, one of which envisages the creation of a “global organization for sustainable development”.
In his ‘Environment Proposal 2012’, Ikeda says: “Every year, 53,000 square kilometres of forest are lost. In many countries, water tables continue to drop, provoking chronic water shortages, and almost 25 percent of the planet’s land area is being affected by the processes of desertification.”
While these are among the pressing issues Rio+20 must grapple with, says Ikeda, the conference title “future we want” also represents “an effort to develop a clear vision of a more ideal relationship between humankind and Earth.”
Ikeda pleads for a new set of sustainable development goals as a successor to the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), which should be “a catalyst promoting positive change among people toward the construction of a global society.”
The eight MDGs were agreed at the turn of the millennium (in 2000), when 189 nations pledged to liberate people from extreme poverty and multiple deprivations by 2015.
The Buddhist leader further exhorts world leaders attending the Rio+20 conference from June 20 to June 22, 2012 to recommend to the UN General Assembly the creation of “an educational framework promoting sustainability” and raising awareness among individuals and enabling people to “move from empowerment to leadership within their respective communities”.
Rio+20 – officially known as the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development (UNCSD) – is being held two decades after the Earth Summit, the UN Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED) in the Brazilian city in June 1992.
A major achievement of UNCED was Agenda 21, a thorough and broad-ranging programme of actions demanding “new ways of investing in our future to reach global sustainable development in the 21st century.” Its recommendations ranged from new ways to educate, to new ways to care for natural resources, and new ways to participate in designing a sustainable economy.
Stressing the educational component, Ikeda proposes an educational programme for “a sustainable global society” to start in 2015 as a follow-up on the work of the United Nations Decade of Education for Sustainable Development (2005–14). “The successor framework to the Decade should be focused on fostering the capacities of large numbers of people who can be genuine change agents, spreading waves of transformation within our communities and societies,” he adds.
The SGI president’s Environment Proposal 2012 is a follow-up on his 23-page ‘peace proposal,’ titled ‘Human Security and Sustainability: Sharing Reverence for the Dignity of Life,’ published beginning of the year. It was the thirtieth since1983 on January 26, the day SGI was founded eight years earlier.
That proposal called for a nuclear-free world in which genuine human security, sustainable development and unwavering respect for the dignity of life do not only comprise an ideal but constitute an entrenched reality. [Read: ‘Respect Dignity of Life, Convoke Nuke Abolition Summit’]
New Global Organization
Ikeda argues that a global organization for sustainable development would be the outcome of a bold, qualitative transformation of the current system that would involve “the consolidation of relevant sections and agencies, including UNDP (UN Development Programme) and UNEP (UN Environment Programme)”.
The participation of all interested governments in the new organization’s deliberations would be indispensable. “At present both UNDP and UNEP are structured so that only those states that are members of the respective governing councils can have a final say in decisions. In light of the importance of sustainable development and the wide range of issues and sectors involved, we must ensure that all states that wish to may participate in full,” writes Ikeda.
The SGI president envisages “a fully collaborative relationship with civil society”, arguing that the Rio+20 conference should be taken as an opportunity to place collaboration between the UN and the full spectrum of civil society actors including NGOs, businesses and academic and research institutions at the heart of any institutional restructuring.
Ikeda also stresses the need for the active participation and involvement of youth. He pleads for setting up a “committee of the future generations” as a forum in which representatives of the youth of the world can consider paths to a sustainable future and advise the new sustainability organization on its annual plans and policies.
The Buddhist leader and philosopher regards “a new set of sustainable development goals” – as successor to the MDGs – a catalyst promoting positive change among people toward the construction of a global society. In his view, a visionary commitment to the welfare of all of humankind and the global community of life should be at the heart of such objectives.
Core concepts could include human security, soft power and the green economy. The new goals should focus on the community as the key site for action, and they should include targets related to cities, linked with a system enhancing cities’ ability to share with one another technical knowledge and best practices, says Ikeda in the set of proposals.
Examples of the proactive engagement of local communities would constitute: afforestation projects to protect the local ecology; citizen-centred efforts to create more disaster-resilient communities; linking up with other communities to increase the degree of local production and consumption; making waste reduction and recycling an intrinsic part of people’s lives, and encouraging the introduction of renewable energy.
Ikeda pleads for focussing an educational programme for a sustainable global society starting in 2015 to follow up on the UN Decade of Education for Sustainable Development on fostering the capacities of large numbers of people who can be genuine change agents, spreading waves of transformation within our communities and societies.
According to the proposal, community-based education for a successor framework should not stop at simply providing knowledge of the natural environment, customs and history of the local community, but should encourage the determination to treasure it.
It should inspire deep appreciation for the ways in which the surrounding environment, including the productive and economic activities of others living in the community, enhances our lives: it should encourage action based on that appreciation.
And, it should support people to consider the issues of the local community in terms of what we must protect for the sake of future generations and the kind of society we wish to construct.
“The overall aim is to enable people to move from empowerment to leadership within their respective communities, and to encourage individuals to act as protagonists and treasure the inalienable dignity of all people and the irreplaceable value of all that surrounds us,” argues the proposal.
Together with Earth Charter International, SGI is also organising at Rio+20 an exhibition titled “Seeds of Change: Visions of Sustainability, Steps Towards Change”. This exhibition was first launched at the Johannesburg Summit in 2002 and has since been shown in 27 countries and territories around the world.
The Buddhist leader, who is also a poet and an avid amateur photographer, recalls his encounter with Amadeu Thiago de Mello, one of Brazil’s foremost poets who has worked for years to protect the Amazonian rainforest, “the lungs of the world.” He quotes “as a coda” to his Environment Proposal 2012 an impromptu verse that the Brazilian poet shared with him when they met in Tokyo in April 1997:
“[. . .] With the pain of the dispossessed, the dark dreams
of the child who sleeps with hunger – I have learned:
this Earth does not belong to me alone. And I have learned, in truth,
that the most important thing
is to work, while we still have life, to change what needs changing,
each in our way, each where we are.”