Report on UN NGO Conference on Sustainable Societies

Peace is a Prerequisite for a Sustainable Future

VFP Report from United Nations NGO Conference

by Helen Jaccard

Bonn, Germany was the host city for the United Nations NGO Conference on Sustainable Societies, Responsive Citizens, and Veterans For Peace was in the house.  Gerry Condon and Helen Jaccard from Seattle volunteered to represent VFP at the September 3-5 conference, with over 1400 delegates from around the world in attendance

“Sustainable Societies” refers to sustainable governance, development and living in all aspects, including production and consumption, especially agriculture, water and energy.  “Responsive Citizens” refers to volunteering, holding governments accountable for their policies and commitments, telling government what we need, transforming our culture from consumerism to having active civil communities, and empowering women and youth.

Vandana Shiva, renowned Indian physicist and global justice activist, inspired the international gathering with her strong keynote speech.

“In order to have freedom we now need to recognize where we are losing our freedoms.  We have government by the corporations, of the corporations, and for the corporations. We must choose between a world where everything is a commodity for sale, or we must say, ‘Our World is Not for Sale,’ like we did at the WTO protests in Seattle in 1999.”

“Enough is enough,” added Thierno Kane from Senegal, representing the Open Society Initiative for West Africa.  “When are we allowed to participate and when is it time to take action?  You can have representatives, but if they are absconding, we need to take the power back.

“Sustainable societies equal societies of solidarity,” said Thierno Kane.  He then shared a Senegalese saying, “You sharpen your knife. You sleep with it.  You wait for the dawn.”  Mr. Kane added that this did not imply violence, but was instead a call to nonviolent action.

Vandana Shiva and Thierno Kane were among only a few speakers who directly named the corporate-dominated power structure that is responsible for so many of the unsustainable practices that are bringing our planet to the edge of irreversible destruction.  Many other panels and workshops focused on the practical aspects of sustainable agriculture and healthy environmental stewardship.

Climate change – make radical changes to energy production and consumption.

Poverty; Income / Asset Inequality; Food, water, energy insecurity – tax financial transactions, stop stealing cropland for biofuel production, provide food locally first rather than for export.  Stop privatization of water.  Decentralize energy production.

Loss of Biodiversity – change the way we grow food – stop using genetically modified crops that depend on fertilizers and weed killers; change from huge monoculture plantations to multiple crops with crop rotation; farm organically.

Production and Consumption patterns – including drilling and mining.  In the developed countries - consume less and different items; in the developing countries development should not make the same mistakes as Western societies; nor should the desire to be mass consumers be passed on.

Values can provide motivation – Family and community; clean air, water and soil, community self-sufficiency in energy, water, and food.

Youth needs to be involved – The past few generations have given us the greed-driven problems and we need youth with new ideas to move us forward.

Volunteers are key – Volunteerism on a large scale is key to expanding the good work of Non-Governmental Organizations and holding governments accountable.

Measure growth differently than GDP – combine with sustainable development goals and social development – measuring only the production gives a distorted picture and doesn’t take into account the depletion and pollution of resources – we make and spend money but we also spend resources to do so.

RIO+20:  The United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development will take place in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil on June 4-6, 2012.  Commonly referred to as “Rio+20,” it takes place twenty years after a similar conference, also held in Rio, that called for drastic action to save the planet. It will also mark the 10th anniversary of the 2002 World Summit on Sustainable Development in Johannesburg.  Rio+20 is seen by many as perhaps the last chance for the planet, or at least for the survival of our species along with a lot of other species.  The UN conference will take place alongside the World Social Forum in nearby Porto Alegre, Brazil, the site of the first World Social Forum in 2001.

The Bonn NGO conference passed a 16-page declaration of goals to take to Rio as our input to their declaration.  Due to the participation of several peace activists at the conference, the wording for peace was made stronger and moved toward the beginning of the declaration to RIO+20. 

VFP member Helen Jaccard spoke to the entire assembly to make the point that efforts to build a sustainable future must include stopping war, since control of scarce resources is a major cause of war, and war is a major destroyer of the environment as well as entire societies of people.  Several other delegates made similar remarks, including Alfred Marder, a VFP member from New Haven, Connecticut who is president of the International Association of Peace Messenger Cities.

As a direct result of these interventions, Line 68-70 (of a 595-line document) read as follows:

Recognizing that peace is a precondition for sustainable development and that high expenditures are being allocated in warfare, and that military activities, in particular the use of nuclear weapons, represent a serious threat to the planet

You can download the declaration here:

Many delegates at the conference were receptive to an antiwar perspective, but that was not on the agenda of the NGO’s they represented, so they could not promote it themselves.  Groups like Veterans For Peace can help assure that concerns about war and peace are included in all appropriate venues.  Peace needs champions, in the environmental community, as everywhere.

Vandana Shiva challenged corporate control.

Helen Jaccard and Gerry Condon with Tierno Kane of Senegal