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2015 Is a Signal Year for Sustainability


As we celebrate our personal experiences of the natural world this spring, and lament the declining state of the global environment, we should also pay attention to the really significant events that will take place this year relating to sustainability. It could well be that we look back on this year as a turning point.

Here are coming events in 2015 to which we should pay attention:

June 4-7, 2015 – Conference on “Seizing an Alternative: Toward an Ecological Civilization,” Pomona College, Claremont, California.

Thomas Berry was clear about the importance of ecology as the basis of civilization in the Ecozoic era. Here are two quotes from The Great Work:

If the central pathology that has led to the termination of the Cenozoic is the radical discontinuity established between the human and the nonhuman, then renewal of life on the planet must be based on the continuity between the human and the other than human as a single sacred community (p. 80).

Ecology is not a course or a program. Rather it is the foundation of all courses, all programs and all professions because ecology is a functional cosmology. Ecology is not a part of medicine; medicine is an extension of ecology. Ecology is not a part of law; law is an extension of ecology. So too in their own way the same can be said of economics and even the humanities (p. 84).

Never has such a large body of scholars gathered as will gather in Claremont, California, this June to consider the foundations of a civilization based on ecology. Over one thousand scholars will gather in 83 tracks to begin an ongoing effort of developing these foundations. Just as Locke, Hume, Rousseau, Bacon, Newton, Kant, Smith, and many others set forth the philosophical basis for the modernity, this work for the ecozoic age is in full progress. The conference at Claremont is only one aspect of this effort which is taking place around the world.

June or July – Papal Encyclical on Environment

Pope Francis adopted his papal name in part to emphasize care for Earth. He is taking more leadership on climate change and environmental issues than any prior Pope. As described in the Chronicle in this Musings, on April 28, 2014, the Vatican Academy of Sciences held a summit on climate change and other environmental issues, in part to build support for the encyclical on the environment he is expected to issue in June or July. The encyclical has been written and is now being translated into various languages and arrangements are being made for its release. On September 24, the Pope will address a joint session of the US Congress. This will be the first ever such address by a Pope. On September 25, Pope Francis will address the UN General Assembly. This will occur as part of the meetings at which the General Assembly will adopt the new Sustainable Development Goals.

 July 13-16 – Third International Conference on Financing for Development, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.

Following the adoption of the Millennium Development Goals, the First International Conference on Financing for Development was held in Monterrey, Mexico in March 2002 to consider how to finance more equitable development with the goals of eradicating extreme poverty, achieving sustained economic growth and promoting sustainable development. The result was the Monterrey Consensus in which wealthy nations were to commit 0.7% of GDP for international aid to achieve this. These are known as “Official Development Assistance (ODA) targets.”

In November 2008 the Second International Conference on Financing for Development was held in Dohar, Qatar. This conference was held at the time of the 2008 international financial crisis. The ODA targets were reaffirmed notwithstanding this crisis. The financial crisis necessarily shaped the concerns of this conference.

Now in anticipation of the adoption of the new Sustainable Development Goals by the UN General Assembly in September 2015 (see below), the Third International Conference on Financing for Development will be held in Addis Abba, Ethiopia, on July 13-16, 2015. Adapting international aid to the new Sustainable Development Goals is what makes this conference different. The goals cannot be achieved by poor countries without funding. Here’s an article that discusses some of the issues for this conference from the perspective of the global South.

September 25-27 – United Nations Summit to Adopt the Post-2015 Development Agenda.

The Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), consisting of, were adopted following the Millennium Summit of the United Nations in 2000. The MDGS established eight goals for international development with measurable outcomes to be accomplished by 2015. At the Third Earth Summit held in Rio de Janeiro in 2012 (Rio+20), a process began to establish successor goals for the 15-year period of 2016-2030. The new goals are called the Sustainable Development Goals. They are more ambitious than the MDGs with 17 proposed goals and 169 proposed targets. The MDGs focused on the needs of poor countries, the SDGs address issues relevant to changes needed in wealthy countries including four goals on the environment:

  1. Ensure sustainable consumption and production patterns
  2.  Take urgent action to combat climate change and its impacts
  3.  Conserve and sustainably use the oceans, seas and marine resources for sustainable development
  4.  Protect, restore and promote sustainable use of terrestrial ecosystems, sustainably manage forests, combat desertification, and halt and reverse land degradation and halt biodiversity loss

The United Nations has established six themes for interactive dialogue at the Summit.

  • Ending poverty and hunger, and addressing humanitarian emergencies
  • Tackling inequalities and leaving no one behind
  • Fostering economic transformation and sustainable consumption and production
  • Protecting our planet and tackling climate change
  • Strengthening governance for sustainable development
  • Delivering on a revitalized Global Partnership

October 15-19, Parliament of the World’s Religions, Salt Lake City, Utah.

As many as 10,000 religious leaders from around the world and of many faiths will gather in Salt Lake City Utah in October. There are three major themes for this important conference:

  • Climate Change & Care for Creation,
  • Income Inequity & Wasteful Consumption, and
  • War, Violence & Hate Speech.

November 30 to December 11 – United Nations Climate Change Conference, Paris, France

The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) came into being in connection with the First Earth Summit held in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, in June 1992. It entered into force in 1994 and currently has 196 signatories. The objective of the treaty is to “stabilize greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere at a level that would prevent dangerous anthropogenic interference with the climate system.” The treaty itself set no limits on greenhouse gases and is non-binding, but it has provided the framework for international negotiations to establish treaties or protocols establishing such limits and other measures for combating climate change.

The parties to the convention have met annually since 1995 in Conferences of the Parties (COP) to address issues related to the convention. The meeting in Paris will be the 21st meeting and hence it is technically called COP-21.

The only internationally agreed treaty limiting emissions coming out of the convention was the 1997 Kyoto Protocol. It established legally binding obligations for developed countries (Annex I countries), but not for developing countries. The first commitment period ended in 2012. A COP was held in Copenhagen in 2012 to negotiate a successor to the Kyoto Protocol, but without success. In a 2012 meeting of the COP in 2010, 76 countries agreed to voluntary targets. At the Doha meeting of 2012 some countries agreed to a second commitment period, but others declined until targets would be applicable to major developing countries such as China and India. Those making commitments at Doha accounted for only about 15% of global emissions. At Doha there was a commitment to extend the Kyoto Protocol to 2020 and to set a date of 2015 for a successor document to be implemented beginning in 2020.

There is a calendar for nations to confirm voluntary commitments to emissions reductions prior to COP-21 in Paris. These are called Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs).

The host country, France, lists these goals for the conference:

  • Firstly, an ambitious, binding agreement on climate change that applies to all countries.
  • Secondly, intended national determined contributions representing the investment that each country feels able to make.
  • Climate finance will also be a crucial component; in this regard, a milestone has been reached with the initial capitalization of the Green Climate Fund, amounting to $9.3 billion, including nearly $1 billion from France.
  • Lastly, local and regional initiatives developed by local governments, civil society organizations and businesses will boost mobilization and supplement the contributions made by states.