Maria Espinosa and Izabella Teixeira: We Need a New Relationship Between Humankind and Nature

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Common Home Conversations – Pathway to 2022

June 30, 2021

Interview Transcript
Transcribed by Otter AI

Kimberly White
Hello and welcome to Common Home Conversations. Today we’re joined by María Espinosa, President of the 73rd Session of the United Nations General Assembly and former Ecuadorian Minister of Foreign Affairs, and Izabella Teixeira, Co-Chair of the United Nations Environment Programme’s International Resource Panel and former Minister for the Environment of Brazil. Thank you both so much for joining us today!

Izabella Teixeira
Thank you for inviting us.

María Espinosa
Thank you, Kimberly. We’re delighted to be with you once again, and it’s a privilege to be here in this conversation with Izabella Teixeira.

Kimberly White
Leading up to Stockholm+50, civil society is organizing Stockholm+49, a global event focusing on building common ground and creating a common short declaration to spark a much-needed paradigm shift. In your opinion, what issues should be at the center of a meaningful declaration? Maria, let’s start with you.

María Espinosa
Well, I think that it is extremely timely to come up with a renewed commitment to having a planet that sustains life and human societies after the landmark declaration at the Stockholm Conference 49 years ago. I think it is time for a recommitment, not only from governments but from society as a whole, to make sure that we respect nature, its life cycles, its very existence. On the other hand, I think that we need to think in the 21st century what it means 50 years ago, practically. The right to a healthy environment and to live in a healthy environment. The idea of the earth system being a common heritage and a global public good or a common good. And to also see what is the relationship between politics, nature, and the economy. I think that there is a need for a new commitment and a new pact between society and nature. So I think that this declaration cannot be more timely.

Kimberly White
Absolutely. Thank you, Maria. Now, Izabella, I’d like to pose the same question to you: What issues should be at the center of this meaningful declaration?

Izabella Teixeira
Oh, thank you very much, Kimberly. I think that Maria brings some critical issues, but I would like to add two or three things. We need to understand the right and the moral obligation to a healthy environment and what it means. Because we are coming into these new challenges, but unfortunately, not with the same conditions of development around the world. You have inequalities, not only the social ones- you also have environmental inequalities. We are looking forward to addressing the future with new footprints, but more than this. We’re looking forward to understanding better how we go into the future to tell new stories based on the future, not based on the past. My feeling is that we need to understand what a healthy environment means for us, for humankind, considering the next years and what the challenges are that we need to tackle better.

We need a new expression of humanism around the world and what shared responsibility means, not only rights but also obligations. That’s why I think when Maria mentioned that not only the government should lead the commitment- they need the commitment, a new behavior, a new understanding, considering from the societies. When you discuss societies, not only the global society- we need to understand local needs. We need to better understand how you can manage local needs with global carbon, how you can address local needs to achieve global carbon benefits. We need to understand that the global impacts should not be seen as transboundary impacts. It is something really important. It’s science. It’s a good player to come together with us because transboundary impacts it’s an understanding that you had in the last century, and it is very important to be addressed, but global impacts move beyond transboundary impacts. This means that we as a global society, with societies interconnected at the global level, we have a new responsibility, we need to understand what it means, we need to understand how our gaps of development should be solved, considering the future that we were looking for, to design or redesign, but we need to understand the right to choose. This is something very important because we need a choice. This is the power that individually and collectively, as a society, to have.

We need to look for new alternatives for economic growth, not necessarily without limits. This is something very important to observe. You need to decouple the environmental impacts from economic growth. It’s important. We need to better manage natural resources, and it’s absolutely important. But we need to understand the limits of growth and economic growth and consider the challenge that the planet has opened today- like a Pandora box- say “Look, I cannot manage ten billion people on the planet without managing new conditions, a new way to approach economic growth and social development.” So inequality is a critical issue.

In my perspective, I think that the declaration- not only the declaration but the process, the movement that global society is doing now- we need to look for a new enlightenment, we need to make sure that we can have a democracy and have a new relationship between humankind and nature. We need to move forward to understand that this is a big challenge for humankind, but also, if you want to change, we have the power to change, we as individuals and as a society. We need to put pressure not only on the states, but we need to put pressure on ourselves because we need to understand how we need to demand change. This is my perspective, considering the new declaration and the process that you put into practice now.

Kimberly White
This leads to my next question. International environmental law seems unable to bring about social-ecological change at the level and speed necessary to address the converging crises that we face. It has remained state-centered, beholding only to the state for the central source of its legitimacy and authority. Non-state stakeholders, NGOs, and civil society movements do not play any meaningful role in the negotiation, enforcement, or revision of multilateral environmental agreements, which still seem to be the mainstay of international environmental law. Maria, what should be the role of civil society in the design of this declaration?

María Espinosa
Well, I think that we hear time and again that we need a rejuvenated multilateral system, that we need a new architecture in global governance in what we created 76 years ago when the UN was established. The social fabric, the geopolitics have changed so much. The voice of civil society is very important, not only because they should have a say in global affairs but also because we are experiencing a crisis of trust and legitimacy in institutions. And in my opinion, the only way to counter this deficit trust is to make sure that all the voices are heard and that we really advocate for what the UN Secretary-General has stated so many times, an inclusive and networked multilateralism. What that means is that when you are to take a decision about the future of humanity because a declaration, a renewed declaration after 50 years of Stockholm, really needs the voice of academia, of younger generations, youth leaders and changemakers, women, Indigenous peoples, persons with disabilities, the private sector, the philanthropic sector, to take part not only in the discussion but on the decision making. Because, basically, what we are trying to do, and Izabella was so clear about it, is to shape a new pact between society, the economy, politics, and the environment. We really need to make peace with nature. And what we have done in the past 50 years after Stockholm is absolutely incomprehensible. If you see that one million animal and plant species are threatened with extinction, and extinction is forever, it’s forever, and that is a report from 2019. When you see that we have adopted the 17 Sustainable Development Goals, and most of them depend on healthy ecosystems, we see that we are not going to achieve the zero hunger target for 2030, the health for all and universal health coverage by 2030, the sustainable cities target, etc. And not to mention the Paris Agreement on climate. The only way to do it is a changing mindset, it’s a whole of society’s responsibility and approach, and of course, here, the accountability from the government is central. And when I say that, Kimberly and Izabella, I really say we really need for Stockholm+50, a political declaration to recommit to the main principles, but at the same time, to really work on a paradigm shift.

We cannot continue to do business as usual and expect different results. We are altering and affecting our biodiversity. Our climate change targets are completely out of reach if we continue on the same path. We are seeing plastic pollution, the acidification of our oceans, depletion of life underwater, etc. So all the indicators are not right. This means that we cannot continue to do the same things. We need, basically, a fundamental shift in our production and consumption patterns. We need a renewed political commitment. We need what Izabella mentioned so eloquently, we need leadership. And believe me, Kimberly, I’m not a supporter of these messianic leaders that come and change the world. When I say leadership, it’s shared leadership between all of us. It’s societal leadership. It’s a mindset in society regarding the need to reconcile with nature. And you mentioned the insufficiency, the lack of outcomes, and tangible results of our international environmental law architecture, and it is true. We have conventions, protocols for everything. Some say that we have more than 1000 international environmental agreements, but we are looking at nature and the earth system in silos. So we have the conventions on chemicals, the convention on biodiversity, the convention on climate, the convention- well, not a convention yet- but the forest principles, and well, you name it, wetlands CITES for wildlife trade, etc. We have a series of pieces, but we do not have an umbrella, something that would embrace and reflect how we need to address our earth system, our commons, our common heritage. I think this is the main transformation since Stockholm almost 50 years ago. We have to remember the 26 principles of the Stockholm declaration, especially principle 21, speaking about the sovereignty of states to decide over their natural resources. And I fully support and agree with that. But we need to reinterpret sovereignty in the context of our common heritage and common good. As Izabella very well mentioned, what are the alternatives and the solutions to fight poverty and inequality at the same time as we preserve our earth system? They are not at odds at all, on the contrary, they’re mutually reinforcing. And, as Izabella said so clearly, we need to decouple development and the fight against poverty to nature and ecosystem depletion. They don’t need to go together, absolutely not. When you look at the pattern of CO2 gas emissions, you see where are the biggest emissions and who are the burden bearers, which is mainly the Global South and Small Island Developing States, for example. So there is a lot to do. The voice of civil society is extremely important. And we are all in this together as we say, but of course, governments are accountable and are responsible because we have elected them to represent our common interests. And back to you, Kimberly.

Kimberly White
No, absolutely, I completely agree, Maria. If we are to survive, it is imperative that we shift away from business as usual because what we’re doing is not sustainable. Now, Izabella, can civil society be the vital component needed in initiating and driving the structural changes that we need?

Izabella Teixeira
Yes, and I think that society must do this. In my perspective, I fully agree with Maria when we were discussing the role of the Declaration and also this new momentum after 50 years. We cannot forget that 50 years ago when you have this conference, you have decisions from developing economies that oriented that the debate about environmental concerns should come together with development concerns. It’s very important to go back at the history that you brought into the standard diplomatic movements 50 years ago and how developing countries talked about the challenge in 1972. Since then, we have been working hard considering this multilateral agenda. Environmental concerns move beyond concerns, there is a structural issue today, there is a geopolitical issue today. This means that the nations, the states, and societies- everyone- should understand their roles and make clear that the declaration is a new way to put our voices in these new requirements that we need in this century if you want to address concrete solutions for the problems that Maria highlights very well. But also more than this, as the Secretary-General mentioned, and as Maria highlighted here, there is a class of networked multilateralism that we need- transparency, access, and solutions.

My feeling is that it’s absolutely important when you discuss the role of society and the science of the declaration is what is the design of the declarations, the process of engagement of societies, and how can we think together about our challenges? When you’re going to address the declaration, to understand the different thoughts about our commitment, our different perspectives, how we see the problems, how you would like to address solutions, and how you would like to strengthen the multilateral system, it’s very important that you can understand that, behind the scenes, you have nature, but you have human development as the core of our challenges. We need to discuss human development. We need to face the challenges. We need to understand how international cooperation, the multilateral system- or inclusive multilateralism- will bring human development in a new respect, considering the challenges around the world. We need to understand the impacts, for example, of the scarcity of natural resources and also the environmental conditions that put pressure on migrations or environmental displacement. What has happened around the world? What are the roots of the problem? This means that societies around the world need to understand the dynamics of the transitions. If you want to try this strategic perspective, you need to understand the short-term perspective, the impact of the short-term perspective, how we like to solve the short-term problems, how we like to create some transition conditions to facilitate to bring people together, so we know who you are. We know what are the societies around the world, we know how Indigenous peoples are looking forward to address their fight against the problems, you know, the private sector, what is in demand, but what’s not clear is how to act together considering the transformative challenges that we’re faced with today. Not only considering the COVID crisis but post-COVID crisis. COVID brings the future to the present. This is something very important to be seen. We need to understand how to act with purpose and also with responsibility.

I fully agree that civil society can be the vital component needed to initiate and drive the structural change that we need- that is right. But it’s not only to start to be co-responsible to address, to act, to understand the trade-offs, to make it clear the difficult, to make clear the gaps, to make clear the transition message, make clear for people to bring hope in such a way that people can address not only dreams but concrete actions that will address local needs in the short perspective.

My feeling is that the international system must improve its performance. We are learning this with the COVID crisis, but the world is changing. As the world is changing, we need to strengthen the international system, but we need to bring society into the room. We need to understand what society means. If you need change, we need to dialogue with who wants this. We need to understand why they want this. If not, it is impossible to make the adjustments we need to ensure a new relationship between humankind and nature.

I do believe that civil society has more than the role, has the responsibility to design the declaration, but we need to understand what the demands are, how we can bring different societies together, and what are the common roots that will define or reframe the platform that humankind needs to face nature’s challenges. More than this, to dialogue, as Maria made clear, that we need this inclusive networked multilateralism. We need to understand how the international community is closer to their national and supranational players. If not, you have a different understanding of the problems. You can have the common roots of the problem, but you have a different understanding of how to approach the problems, how to address solutions. It’s unbelievable if you go into, for example, let’s rename the developed countries and developing countries based on nature footprints, let’s see what’s happened. Let’s try to make clear our responsibility. If you want to change, we need to understand our responsibility over the years and we need to make clear how we will be open to manage, to be free, to understand that you need the new equation to bring nature and humankind together. For this, we need to bring the young people into the room and make it clear that to address the future, we need to address the present. So my feeling it is very important to understand this year and the next years, how we will have this new declaration, and how we can mobilize people beyond the Stockholm+50 Conference.

Kimberly White
Excellent points, Izabella, and just to add on the COVID crisis. You know, recent research has shown that more than 70 percent of the emerging infectious diseases that we are seeing are zoonotic in origin. So it just goes to show how interconnected we are to our environment. Because you know that it all traces back to environmental degradation, the human encroachment into these spaces is essentially promoting and giving a chance for these zoonotic diseases such as COVID to enter our society.

Izabella Teixeira
Yes, I fully agree. We need to understand today, in the 21st century, what’s the meaning of being interconnected? You have two new ages that are coming, the climate age and the digital age. What will be the citizenship that will emerge from this? How will we express our wills and our responsibility? How will you share our vision? So my feeling, as you mentioned, considering the COVID crisis and pandemic, that we are facing some situations that, in my perspective, should not exist. For example, vaccine inequalities. And how the countries closed their frontiers last year and how we are so worried or frightened considering the threats that we are exposed to together around the world. It’s something very important to be observed, Kimberly-I don’t know, probably Maria agrees with me- but it was the first time, my generation, that we face together, different people around the world, different societies around the world, at the same time, the risks to face death without alternatives. This is something very important to think about.

My feeling is that we need to better understand what humankind will demand from nature. Also, for societies around the world, if you want to have a better life, if you want to feel safe, my feeling is that this new future that is coming will give us some additional tasks to approach in different ways than we used to approach in the last years. I’ll give an example. If we go into the new green economies, like bioeconomies, and we are discussing this today in my country and the Amazon regions about bioeconomy and stand up forests. What would be the role of the products from the forest to tackle hunger, not only in Brazil but around the world? This is very important. Also, how can we better manage poverty eradication with this stand up forest economy that is coming? The new business model, the new trade requirements to manage this, the new demands of consumers around the world. This is very important if you want to change and, in my opinion, not want to change, we need to change.

Kimberly White
Absolutely. Thank you, Izabella. So, we’ve seen a myriad of international initiatives and commitments from governments since 1972. Despite developments in environmental law and governance and enhanced knowledge of the issues at hand, we are yet where we need to be. Globally, we have failed to meet the Aichi biodiversity targets set in 2010 and, while progress has been made, and Maria touched on this a few minutes ago, we are on track to miss the Sustainable Development Goals. The 1972 Stockholm Declaration states that the protection and improvement of the environment is the duty of all governments. Maria, can we achieve the ambitious and urgent action needed through the initiatives of States alone?

María Espinosa
Well, I think that it’s a whole of society effort and it requires co-responsibility and leadership. But here we are dealing with something that even sometimes I would say goes beyond the Sustainable Development Goals, which is the very survival of humanity. Human security is at stake. Kimberly, you mentioned the issue of zoonotic diseases meaning, health responses to an abuse of nature. I say, and this is sad to say, but it’s real. Zoonotic diseases are a symptom. It’s nature talking to us saying, “You have gone too far. You have breached the planetary boundaries. You, humans, have done that.” The way of nature to speak back to us is basically when we have to face pandemics of the dimensions and the multiple impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic. So I see this, the COVID-19 pandemic, as a symptom of a dysfunctional system that really ignores the planetary boundaries, and I think this is what needs to be healed through a new social contract.

And when you speak about a declaration, the Stockholm+50 declaration or a previous declaration coming from civil society, putting forward the principles of the earth system as being a common heritage or the right to a healthy environment, etc., I think more than the declaration itself, because it can become one more of these international instruments that have an implementation deficit. It is very important to look at the process, to look at the awakening of a global society. Use the energy of young people, of Friday’s for Future, of academics and scientists, and the private sector that is also, most of it at least, committed to what I would say is an imperative ecological transition. We don’t have an option. And you mentioned the Sustainable Development Goals, Kimberly, but, you know, let’s go one by one. Can we achieve the fighting poverty goal if we destroy nature, which is the very foundation of our survival? The short response is no. Can you reach the zero hunger sustainable development goal if we continue to destroy our soils and lands and increase deforested and degraded lands? The quick response is no, we cannot. We don’t take the Paris Agreement seriously in our commitments on mitigation but also on adaptation and resilience building. And the response is obviously no, we are not going to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals. So here, if we don’t have a choice, our survival as a species is under threat, and we have a huge responsibility. Even when we make the decisions as citizens, when we make decisions on our consumption choices, when we make decisions when we elect a president. Sometimes we elect presidents without looking at the ecological transition plans for x or y candidates because things are really not going well. If you look at the climate indicators, they’re really frightening. You know, the last five years have been the hottest in recent history, which means that we are so far behind not only of the Sustainable Development Goals but also regarding the Paris Agreement and our Nationally Determined Contribution, which is the national commitments on reducing CO2 emissions and climate-related emissions. So I think, to make the story short, when we say it is enough to get the commitment and to have the government sign a particular declaration, even if the declaration is perfect, it’s wonderful, it’s all encompassing, it’s exactly what we wanted. If there is no societal ownership and co-responsibility, it’s going to be extremely, extremely difficult.

Kimberly White
I agree with you, Maria, the health of our people, of our nations, depends on the health of our environment. So it’s really important that we prioritize that moving forward. And you mentioned our consumption patterns. One thing I’d like to add is that it’s been estimated that upwards of one million species are on the brink of extinction right now- which you mentioned earlier. Research from the World Wildlife Fund found that the leading drivers of the species loss we are witnessing are the overexploitation of species, agriculture, and land conversion that is linked to our consumption. And a lot of that can be linked to consumption, specifically in wealthier nations such as the United States.

María Espinosa
Absolutely, absolutely. So, there is a lot of homework ahead of us. And as I say, not only to contribute to draft the declaration, but to contribute to change mindsets, to change our choices, how we consume, how we coexist with others, how we relate and commit to be active citizens that are co-responsible to the future of our countries, but also to the future of humanity. And I think that we have learned incredible lessons from young leaders worldwide as well.

Kimberly White
Absolutely. Now, Izabella, given your expertise, what would you say are the main challenges of getting states to commit to taking urgent immediate action on environmental issues such as climate change?

Izabella Teixeira
Oh, this is an excellent question. But my feeling is that it’s a simple answer. National societies are key players to make the states change. You need to discuss it with our national societies, the strategic perspectives that you have, as societies, as countries, considering the global challenges that we need to tackle like climate change. It’s not only climate change; you have three global environmental crises, as you know, you have climate change, you have biodiversity loss, and also pollution. And if you want to change, if you want the government to change, if you want the government to take legitimate actions on environmental issues, we need to pressure, we need to change. If society is not able to change, the states will probably postpone everything as they used to do in the last few years. We took more than 20 years to achieve a climate agreement where everyone, every country, would be on board. You have the first understanding about shared responsibilities considering developed economies. And almost 20 years after the Kyoto Protocol, we are not able to address the solutions that the climate panel recommended should be addressed. And finally, we have a new century. And you had the understanding that developing economies or emerging economies should join the developed economies to address concrete solutions. As Maria mentions, if you go with the global emitters, carbon emitters, countries, and societies, we can see that to have not only developed but developing economies today. What it means is that we need to understand that we do have the responsibility, but of course, we need to find a new way to share our strategic perspectives, considering the global threats, but also our local needs and an innovative way to promote sustainable development. As mentioned before, you have Sustainable Development Goals, I was part of the team that proposed this to the Secretary-General, and you also have the Agenda 2030. But indeed, you have now a new time frame, considering the decade of transition and you have climate change, considering the Paris Agreement limitation that probably you have this new proposed framework on biodiversity after COP15 that we need to bring things together with the rationality, a political rationality, that’s not necessarily as clear for other societies around the world. So we need to go beyond the silos, the political, economic silos that we have today in the international community, and we need to bring things together. That’s why I mentioned before, the declaration of the common good or planetary boundaries, a new understanding of the civil society around the world should be so provocative, to make sure how we are interconnected not only because of our promise, but because of the solution that we need, and also how we need to share a new understanding about timing.

If you want to address the main challenge and get the states committed, we need to get societies committed. This means that national demands, and also international interests, like international trade, should play and must play an innovative role, not only to put pressure on but also to rebuild. This interest would make sure how we can move faster to draft solutions, concrete solutions because, in my opinion, timing is also different today. As you mentioned before, and also Maria made it clear when we discussed zoonotic disease, in my opinion, it’s a symptom, I fully agree. But what are the roots of this? And you go with deforestation. Deforestation has put pressure on the world for the last 30 years. For example, Amazon deforestation. And that society like Brazil, we learned how to tackle this, but unfortunately, we have political leaders that put us back to backsliding. But, indeed, what I was saying, zoonoses what that means is to have different species that come together and have a disruptive ecological process that probably will expose humankind to new diseases. And this means that you need to better understand the cause and effect relationship. You need to make clear this not only threatens, but this means that we need to prevent, we need to avoid these situations and to find a new way to promote human development and to better understand how we can have a new relationship between nature and humankind. So nature-based solutions, as you’re sharing today, with different perspectives around the world, this is very important to have an inclusive political approach. People need to feel part of the new solution arrangements with responsibilities and a step-by-step process. Building confidence is not an easy task, and everyone’s noticed. But if you’re not able to build confidence based on the realities and not on perspectives, you will probably fail again. Okay, we need to go into the realities, we need to understand how local needs make Mary, John, Harry part of the solutions and make clear that we have to face step-by-step to understand how we can manage the trade-offs and how we have a common understanding about how to be fair- and this is not easy.

In my opinion, we need to make clear the shared responsibility with the States and political leaders, and for this only society can go there, make clear, try to understand what are the trade-offs. Try to make sure what the priorities are, try to make sure how much time you take to address some concrete solutions, and convince people that this is a new way not only to face a global challenge but to improve your quality of life. If people will understand when we discuss at the local levels that I want to address solutions to improve your quality of life and that you are responsible to maintain this new environment that is coming. So if we’re able to go into that, not only to dialogue at the international level, not only to go into new to go to New York or France or even Beijing, but to go into the cities and you go to this small city and discuss with people that we are looking for, together, to address global solutions based on and considering local needs, be sure that you have additional pressure on governments. And it makes sense, for the politics, that we need to change today, not necessarily the next ten years. The changes that need to be done need to begin now. And for this, we need to have a clear understanding of the problems, yes, but you have this. We need to better understand how the solution will come together considering the diversity of societies around the world, considering the diversity of alternatives and solutions that we have around the world, and how this diversity fits better for our local needs in a local reality. This makes sense. This is the common language that you need. We need to bring people together-the common understanding, the common language that we are acting together. Consider our specificities, our diversity, but we are humankind. You cannot forget it and do your part of nature. So this is a big challenge for me. To make it clear, that nature is something touchable. You can see, you can see nature, you can see the landscapes, you can see our rivers, etc. So people must act looking for a better life, and they can never forget about the limits that you have today, the political limits and limits. We need to face this, and also we cannot forget about local needs. As soon as they go to address local needs in short-term perspectives, be sure that you have a huge engagement of civil society around the world, and you’ll be able to change the States. Thanks, you back to Kimberly.

Kimberly White
Thank you, Izabella. Now, in recent years, we’ve witnessed a shift in the conversation surrounding climate change, with an increased focus on human rights and climate justice. In April, the German Federal Court of Justice ruled that the nation’s current climate legislation limits the rights of its youth, violating the country’s constitution. The German court’s decision is largely considered to be a win for future generations while providing a major boost for future climate litigation around the globe. Izabella, as the world develops solutions and strategies to tackle the climate emergency, do you believe we have an obligation to work toward intergenerational equity in order to safeguard future generations?

Izabella Teixeira
Yes, of course. Here in Brazil, you have a recent political movement, very interesting, that I support as a former Minister, of a group of young people that took the decision to sue the government, the Brazilian government, because of the update of the Brazilian decision. It’s fascinating, because it’s exactly this, as I mentioned before, we need to understand the local needs and the future is today. You need to mobilize young people, new generations, everyone to come and to better understand what, as you mentioned, was intergenerational legacy means. To discuss the future, we need to discuss the present. It’s something absolutely concrete for politics. We need this, you cannot forget this. So when you go, and to take a decision today on climate or nature’s price, for example, we are bringing the future to the present. This is the urgence of the present, Kimberly. Make good things happen today. It’s absolutely important. You cannot tell the stories based on the future, to say that you have only to 2050. No, we need to make clear how it will be better in 2050, but we need to make clear how it will be better in 2025 and 2026. And that we are part of this process that you can change your reality, not only somebody that you don’t know who it is. So my feeling is that it’s a transformative process. And to be transformed, to have this transformative process, we need to have actions today in the present. If not, we cannot understand what the future means. And the legacy, it’s part of our history today, or the new stories that you want to tell about the future. We need to understand that we have a legacy. You have an asset if you go step by step. It’s not something untouchable, something that you cannot see. You cannot postpone anything that means solutions for humankind and for nature today.

Kimberly White
Absolutely. We don’t have time to wait. We need to take ambitious action right now. Now, Maria, how could the foreseen declaration make a difference on this critical topic?

María Espinosa
Well, I cannot agree more with Izabella that the issue of dealing with the future starts today. And the future starts today, as we speak. The issue of intergenerational climate justice, for example, but I would say intergenerational justice, in general, is at the center, not only regarding our future plans but regarding the policy choices and decisions that we take today. I’ve been a great supporter and an advocate of young people being active participants in decision-making tables. And I’m not only saying this, when I was President of the UN General Assembly, there was no high-level meeting, no global conversation without having young changemakers at the table. And not only as tokens, and not only to co-op their energy, but on the contrary, you know, being active participants, where you need to take very seriously their worldviews, their commitments, their positions, their agendas, and I think it is the only way to build a better present and a better future for all. You know, we are so used to repeating the phrases, ‘…young people are the future,’ No, they are the present. They are active, they are engaged, they are well informed, well networked, active participants in social media. And they have to be part of this collective effort of this shared leadership and concerted action in favor of maintaining and sustaining our earth system. And, of course, this has to be translated into the declaration, the Stockholm+50 declaration.

There are so many things that continue to be relevant when you look at the 1972 declaration. But there are so many other issues that have changed dramatically. Fifty years ago, we weren’t even thinking about the depth and the scope of the climate crisis and the urgent need not only to change our consumption patterns but also to invest in mitigation and adaptation, especially in the developing world, and technology transfer etc. In ’72, we were not even thinking about a staggering extinction crisis. We were not even thinking about the technological revolution and how to use technologies, and the new technology is not to destroy but to protect our ecosystems and the earth system. We weren’t even thinking about the deepening of inequalities and this symptom of a dysfunction of society such as the COVID-19 pandemic. And let’s be clear, it’s not about only understanding the origin of zoonotic diseases, such as COVID or SARS or influenza for that matter, not only to understand that but to also look at what has happened, because let’s only look at the trillions of dollars of recovery packages that are being poured into the economy, especially of the countries of the North. Where is the money going? Where are the trillions going? There are so many assessments and studies that are so worrying, saying, for example, that less than 2 percent is being invested in sustainable growth or in the green economy, or in a regenerative economy. How much has been used with an ecological green mindset? It’s very little. The same when you look, for example, at investment in women, in rural women, in women’s rights, in gender equality, and, unfortunately, we are seeing the same old, normal. And the old normal has brought us to the situation we are in now.

If you look at how the world is behaving on the access and distribution of COVID-19 vaccines, it shows clearly that we are in a crisis of solidarity, in a crisis of cooperation, that our multilateral system needs to be fit for purpose. I think that all these critical issues should be put into the dialogue table when we are drafting this Stockholm+50 declaration. It is not only about the environment, and let’s be clear, it is not only about the environment. It is about our development models, about our value systems. It is about the way we think about the future. It is about our collective security and our human security. It is about living in harmony, in a way. These are already made phrases, but they make sense: how to reconcile with nature. We have a long-lasting debt with nature’s integrity. And I think that this declaration sometimes is a pretext or a raison d’être for a new global pact between nature, the economy, and society, as we mentioned. And we know that the Global Pact for the Environment is a work in progress, and with great challenges ahead, but beyond the declaration, I think that the Global Pact for the Environment is going to be also this platform for encounters for concerted action, for a renewed commitment to the basic values of solidarity, coexistence, and not only the rights of humans to live in a healthy environment, but also the rights of the existence of nature, its life cycles, the integrity of its ecosystems. I am a great defender of that because I work directly with the drafting of the Ecuadorian constitutions that, as you know, recognizes rights to nature. And this, of course, is a paradigm shift because, usually, nature is seen as an object and not as a subject of rights. But this is part of the mindset that needs to change with loud voices from society, from young leaders, from women, from Indigenous peoples, as mentioned before.

Kimberly White
All right, and there you have it. We cannot continue to do business as usual and expect different results. The old normal has brought us to the situation we are in now, with climate change, plastic pollution, the acidification of our oceans, air pollution, overexploitation of resources, biodiversity loss, and the list goes on. Human security is at stake, and our survival as a species is under threat. It is time for a renewed commitment to the basic values of solidarity and coexistence. The right of humans to live in a healthy environment. The rights of the existence of nature, its life cycles, and the integrity of its ecosystems. A new pact between society, the economy, politics, and the environment. The 2022 Civil Society Declaration can bring a paradigm shift that recognizes the common ground to build a safe and sustainable future for human civilization, a common good that belongs to all generations. That is all for today, and thank you for joining us for this episode of Common Home Conversations. Please subscribe, share, and be sure to tune in on July 14th for part II of this episode with Maria Espinosa and Izabella Teixeira. And visit us at www.ThePlanetaryPress.com for more episodes and the latest news in sustainability, climate change, and the environment.

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