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WECF co-signed: Letter regarding todays' ENVI debate on Rio+2

Civil Society Organizations offer comments and supports for the draft resolution for the ENVI committee in the European Parliament in the preparation for next years RIO+ summit

12.07.2011 |Sascha Gabizon

Dear Jo Leinen, MEP.

We are writing as civil society organizations involved with preparations for next years Rio+20 summit to offer comments and support for the draft resolution  on this matter prepared for the ENVI committee– resolution B7-0000/2011 (European Parliament resolution in view of developing a common EU position ahead of the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development (Rio+20) – in particular the section (para 47-50) concerning technology.

We commend the ENVI committee in taking this initiative to develop a common European position towards the Rio+20 conference. It is particularly appropriate that the resolution addresses the issue of assessmnet and transfer of new and emerging technologies which will have significant role to play in the creation of green economies. As technologies become ever more powerful, complex and pervasive it is becoming urgent to develop appropriate precautionary, robust and adaptive governance structures at national and international levels. 

Experience has shown that while innovation is an important tool in policymaking, some technologies will create new problems as they attempt to solve old ones. History is replete with examples of hastily introduced technologies gone wrong: lead added to gasoline, ozone-destroying chlorofluorocarbons, corn ethanol as a fossil fuel replacement, or thalidomide to alleviate morning sickness associated with pregnancy. The strict application of the precautionary principle (taking action to avoid likely harm) as championed at the last Rio Summit in 1992, could have prevented these catastrophic failures and the European Union has understood that particularly well with its own incorporation of the precautionary principle into community law.. In some cases, technological solutions are being proposed for problems that are not technical in nature, but are fundamentally grounded in social and political injustice.

Regarding Technology in Draft Resolution B7-0000/2011:

We welcome the current text of the resolution before the ENVI committee which in our view calls for proper and precautionary assessment and transfer of technologies relevant to sustainable development and poverty eradication. This language is consistent with the spirit and aspirations of the Rio Earth Summit in 1992. In Chapter 34 of Agenda 21 it was agreed that   “The international community... should build up technology assessment capacity for the management of environmentally sound technology, including environmental impact and risk assessment, with due regard to appropriate safeguards on the transfer of technologies subject to prohibition on environmental or health grounds...”  (Agenda 21 chapter 34. Article 26A). Unfortunately this has not been achieved in the intervening 20 years and the introduction of successive waves of emerging innovations relevant to the Green Economy from genetically modified crops and new biofuels to nanotechnologies and synthetic biology have triggered fierce societal debates without proper mechanisms for oversight and assessment.

In order to address the current governance vacuum for new and emerging technologies a re-invigorated form of precautionary technology evaluation is  now garnering international support and was called for in, for example, the report of the 2008 International Assessment of Agricultural Science and Technology for Development:

“Emerging technologies, including nanoscale technologies, require scientific, socioeconomic and societal evaluation in order for governments to make informed  decisions about their risks and benefits.   Rather than approaching technology assessment in a piecemeal, technology-by-technology fashion, governments and the international community could consider longer term strategies to address technology introduction on an ongoing basis. One option for the international community is to consider an independent body that is dedicated to assessing major new technologies and providing an early warning and early listening system. Another policy option could be the establishment of a legally-binding multilateral agreement on comparative technology assessment, potentially negotiated through a specialized agency such as UNCTAD, the ILO or ECOSOC’s Commission on Sustainable Development….”

We strongly believe that Rio+20 is the correct forum to launch negotiations towards a new International Convention for Evaluation of new Technologies (ICENT) or similar mechanism within the UN system that could assure the capacity for assessment of emerging technologies such as biotechnologies, nanotechnologies, climate and energy technology and geoengineering. Such a mechanism would facilitate cultural, social, economic, health and environmental assessment of emerging technologies prior to their transfer, release and diffusion. The European Union would have much to contribute in terms of expertise, experience  and existing models towards creating such a mechanism.

For more background on the proposal for an international  technology assessment mechanism in the context of Rio+20 we have included a short briefing on the topic prepared by the ETC Group.  We do hope you are able to lend your full support to the existing language on Technology agreed in paragraphs 47-50 of the draft resolution and stand ready to help and assist in any way that we can.

Yours Sincerely,

Sascha Gabizon, Executive Director , Women In Europe For a Common Future.

Francesca De Gasparis,  Executive Director, Green Belt Movement Europe.

Patrick Mulvany, Senior Policy Advisor Practical Action UK.

Jim Thomas, Research Program Manager, ETC Group.

Tom Wakeford, Executive Director, Society for Policy, Engagement and Knowldege Sharing (SPEAKS), UK.

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