From Rio+20 to the New Development Agenda: An Interview with Felix Dodds

Maria Bolevich, global education magazineAbout Maria Bolevich

Maria Bolevich is a specialist of environmental protection and a journalist. She likes books, languages, journalism, green lifestyle. She lives in Croatia. Her favorite quote is ” Nothing great was ever achieved without enthusiasm”

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Maria Bolevich: I have the honor to present you our interview with Felix Dodds, a fellow at the Global Research Institute at University of North Carolina and an Associate fellow at the Tellus Institute. He was until recently the Executive Director of Stakeholder Forum for a Sustainable Future (1992-2012). He played a significant role in the Rio+20 Conference and has been active at the UN since 1990 attending  key meetings on sustainable development.

Since 1985 to 1987, you were the chair of the UK LIBERAL YOUTH WING PARTIES. How much political experience has helped you and are today politicians sufficiently interested for the environmental protection?

Felix Dodds, Rio+20, sustainable development, global education magazineFelix Dodds: What being active in a political party did was help me understand the way politicians act and the way policy is developed and the role the civil servants have in it. Most NGOs do not and that puts them at a huge disadvantage when dealing with the political process. As far as politicians interest in the environment is concerned it depends some come to the issue through an understanding of the impacts policies are having on their community, their country the world others come from a religious values perspective that we are custodians of the planet for God and then others through an interest in the issues themselves. Mrs. Thatcher is a classic example of that she was a scientist and so when Joe Farmer of the British Antarctic Survey found the hole in the ozone layer in 1982 she understood enough of the science to realize that urgent action was needed and pushed other government leaders to ratify the Montreal protocol and to set an early date for the banning of ozone depleting chemicals completely. I myself got involved in environmental issues because I lost a vote so we have our own strange paths.

MB: You have been active in the UN since 1990; you attended the World Summit of Rio Earth Summit, Habitat II, Rio+5, Beijing+5, Copenhagen +5, World Summit of Sustainable Development, and Rio+ 20. What can we learn from the differences between countries and their representatives on the summits and their relation to sustainable development? Which the conference was the biggest challenge for you and why?

FD: Really two of them WSSD was a huge challenge because after enormous preparations the impact of 9/11 was huge on reducing what the summit could achieve and working in that environment was very tough. The other was Rio+20 because as far as globally environment and sustainable development was dead by 2006 when the SA president Mbeki called it out and said the Johannesburg Plan of Implementation was dead and it was president Lula of Brazil who called for a new summit in 2012. I and Stakeholder Forum worked tirelessly to persuade the Europeans and US to support a new Summit and that included going round capitals meeting civil servants, Ministers and stakeholders to get them online.

MB: Since 1972 till now what was the best thing we done for our planet Earth? What if the World Conference has never held, whether the environment would have been now in the worse condition and why despite all the laws, goals, projects the future does not look so great with all these predictions?

FD: Without the setting up of UNEP by the Stockholm Conference much of the international law on environment probably wouldn’t exist. One of the byproducts of Stockholm was the monitories on whaling which would not have happened without Stockholm and the leadership of Maurice Strong. Without Rio 1992 we wouldn’t have had the setting up of ICLEI or WBCSD which have played a critical role in advocating and producing toolkits for local government and industry. Without the Millennium Summit we wouldn’t have had the MDGs and a doubling of aid to help deliver them, Without Johannesburg Kyoto probably would not have come into effect it focus the media on persuading the remaining countries to ratify. Without RiO+20 we wouldn’t have had the SDGs. Colombia and Guatemala put them on the table in 2011 and the development ministries and many of the big development NGOs fought against them as they just wanted a new version of the MDGs not these ‘sustainable development goals’ which would apply to ALL countries.

felix dodds, sustainable development, global education magazineMB: What do you think about New World Order?

FD: If you mean the idea that there are people conspiring to get their way of course that’s true. I myself work with friends to get what I think would be good policies to make the planet sustainable. The changes we would like to see will have an impact on the profits of certain companies some of which over time will have to adapt or go under. That causes them to work against the changes that I would want. I’m putting this in the context of me but its true for any one working for change or to stop change you are always looking for allies to support your causes. Of course the powers that we are up against are financially strong and that makes it more difficult. We have on our side science and in the end the combination of good science and good people will I believe win the day.

MB: Is it the CDM (Clean Development Mechanism) effective?

FD: It clearly has had its problems but this has been because of the low price of carbon and the failure of governments to guarantee its existence into the future. Until that is resolved I don’t believe it will deliver what it should do.

MB: Are the anticipatory measures prevailed over the preventive and precautionary?

FD: We seem to have difficulty in building effective precautionary systems and so until a system shows itself in need of reform we tend to leave it alone. This can have huge impacts for the future. I think the work of Johan Rockstrom   and the other 70 scientists in defining nine planetary boundaries will and should help ensure we can be more preventive and precautionary. Its clear much more is being said and done to build resilience in coastal communities to sea level rise as example. The science again will play a significant role in enabling politicians to take more difficult decisions.

MB: Is it sustainable development possible with, for instance with genetically modified food and why the people must sign the petitions for food labeling, is it human right to know what they are eating?

FD: I am a huge supporter of food labeling – I do think it’s our right to know what we are eating. I have also been a supporter of a monitorium on GMOs .What is needed in my view is an Intergovernmental panel on GMOs and the equivalent. Perhaps under the leadership of the UN Secretary Generals chief Scientist. It should work on the basis of the precautionary principle that it is up to the companies to show it does not do damage. We should not be their guinea pigs.

MB: “States shall therefore respect international law providing protection for the environment in times of armed conflict and cooperate in its further development, as necessary” is this possible in reality? How people in times of armed conflict can think about the environment?

FD: I think it’s very very difficult if not impossible but if countries do intently do something that has environmental harm they should be held accountable if it causes death then the International Criminal Court should be used.

MB: Are women sufficiently represented in science?

FD: As a former science and mathematics teacher I would say not there needs to be much more done in the schools to engage women in science. I know I tried very hard to do that when I taught.

MB: How much money is spent annually on the realization activities from Agenda 21?

FD: There is no record. In Rio Maurice Strong estimated that there would need to be $625 billion spent and of that $125 billion would be from developed to developing countries. In 1992 that was only $60 billion to developing countries. The UN Commission on Sustainable Development monitored this in its first ten years. It was expected that the peace dividend from the break up of the former Soviet block would enable this to happen but two things stopped it. The first was a recession caused by the 1st Iraqi war and the second was much of the money went to stabilize many of the new democracies of the eastern block. This saw funding for development aid drop to $56 billion by 1997 and then only come back to $60 billion by 2002. In the last ten years aid has doubled but it has focused on the MDGs and on the aftermath of war as a result of 9/11

MB: Will the MDGs be achieved by the certain deadline and how much it is difficult in this socio-economic situation to reach the goals?

FD: The UN has a report out which indicates many will be realized but some ill not – one that will not will be the one on sanitation which was added by WSSD. These will then be part of the new targets agreed next year.

MB: Acidification, overfishing, waste, endangered species …why the oceans are not sufficiently protected, and sometimes there is an impression that we deal it more with things which strikes us on the surface than for instance coral reefs?

FD: Oceans are not protected enough because they are not under can mechanism that enables them to be protected. Beyond national jurisdictions is one of the major issues for the next ten years. As far as mining is concerned its like a wild west out there and so governments are under pressure by their companies not to set up a system to limit this. One of the positive aspects of drones and satellites is that we will be able very shortly to have a much clearer idea who is doing what. We need more marine parks agreed where fishing is illegal and we need proper action against fleets that take no notice. On acidification it’s an issue for the climate negotiations if we move away from fossil fuels that will have a huge impact in enabling the oceans to recover

MB: You follow film festivals, what do you think about the movies relating to climate change, the end of the world…?

FD: I think that documentaries on environmental issues are mostly a waste of time the same people watch them. What we need are movie blockbusters, TV shows that take environmental themes and weave them into the narrative. It’s difficult the challenge is to indicate the problem and be positive about the way out of it. In documentaries I never watch depressing end of the world ones. It’s counterproductive to inspiring change.

MB: Is Miguel Arias Cañete as the new energy and climate commissioner the right choice?

FD: Well he is from Andalusia as someone who used to live in San Sebastian (Donestia) in The Basque Country we would always worry about those from Andalusia. But seriously some of the best environmental ministers have come from the right not the left. I am sure he will do his best to be successful in the brief which if you read the letter inviting him to be the Commissioner is very clear what is expected of him.

MB: Year 2020, how do you see our world and how much your role will be helpful?

FD: By 2020 we should be five years on to delivering the SDGs I would like to see annual debates in parliaments holding the executives accountable to what they agreed in 2015. I would hope by 2020 we have a climate agreement it’s clear that will not happen in Paris in 2015 and so we will have to wait for the 2016 elections in the US to hopefully return a US president and 60 members of the Senate who are prepared to ratify an agreement. The last environmental treaty the US ratified was the UNFCCC in 1993.

I am not sure what my role will be possibly that directing the Nexus conferences – Water-Food-Energy- Climate I will have helped ensure a more integrated approach to these issues which are so interlinked.

MB: Thank you very much for sharing your thoughts with us!

Source: http://greenearthcitizen.org/felix-dodds-for-green-earth-citizen/

This article was published on 22nd March 2015, for the World Water Day, in Global Education Magazine.

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