September 29, 2009
The dangerous course of the G20
Leida Rijnhout, Belgium

This weekend the world leaders presented their final declaration of the G20 summit in Pittsburgh, where they met to discuss the solutions and strategies to confront the economic crisis. After first reading you may say that there are some positive notes, e.g. the reform of the IMF and the World Bank, measures as often proposed and demanded by NGOs and progressive economists. But still. Notwithstanding this modest optimism, the whole declaration is based on the Business-as-usual scenario, exactly the same economic thinking which has led us into multiple crises. This does not only refer to the economic crisis, but also to the environmental ones and the social injustice caused, as the most vulnerable groups, especially in the developing countries, and future generations are suffering most.

The core message of the declaration is to increase the economic growth. If the economy grows, jobs will follow, and everything will be fine again. Not totally ignoring the environmental challenges, the world leaders do stress a Strong, Sustainable and Balanced growth. But alas, not a word is spent on ecology nor on the natural resources, which are needed for this economic growth. They were busy of course, so they might be forgiven. However last Friday we “celebrated” the World Overshoot Day. They unfortunately did not seem to be aware of it. It means that as of the 25th of September we used up all the natural resources our planet has available for us per year. From that day on we start to eat into our ecological capital. And, as everybody knows, once you start to eat into your capital, bankruptcy will be near. The same goes for planet earth. Even if one did agree upon nice development goals, or installed a good management structure, these feats will unfortunately not help avoid bankruptcy.

There are some references in the text on renewable energy, but nothing is said on the ongoing loss of biodiversity, nor on the increasing scarcity of other natural resources which are the ‘fuel’ for the economic growth engine. Limits to growth, like there are limits to our natural resources, is an issue which was already raised by the Club of Rome in the seventies. Why this collective denial of this hard, and indeed not nice, reality?

Instead of putting faith into the dream of unlimited growth, we should focus more on fundamental economic transition and even de-growth of the economies in industrialised countries. We should have more attention for well-being instead of stimulating more consumption and more attention for redistribution of financial and natural capital between North and South. If we do not tackle these issues we will, at some future time, have to deal with an even bigger crisis that will lead to total chaos.

Let the course of Pittsburgh not be a course like the Titanic, the ‘unsinkable’ ship that went down nevertheless. The compass of the world leaders must not and cannot only show economic parameters. Economic activities have to be within the carrying capacity of our ecological and social limitations, as well as be in favour of well-being world wide. Only then we can speak in terms of Sustainable Development and responsible political leadership.

Leida Rijnhout (Acting Secretary General ANPED – Northern Alliance for Sustainablity, and CFC member of ALOE), Raoul Weiler (chair Club van Rome- Chapter Brussels), Ward Bosmans (chair Terra Reversa – Flemish Think Tank on Ecological Economics)