14 June 2012, article by Felix Gnehm, WWF:
I set off on the journey to Rio with mixed feelings. On the one hand, I felt sceptical: the preliminary negotiations were tough. Progress was blocked at every turn by conflicts between the industrialised and developing countries. On the other hand, I couldn’t help feeling optimistic and excitement: Rio will bring progress because a huge number of creative, solution-oriented and future-oriented doers and thinkers are gathering here in Brazil!
So where do the gaps between the negotiating delegations lie? I would like to focus on just one example, the enormous development gap between the very poor and very rich nations. This fact can be demonstrated very simply by comparing Switzerland with Ethiopia, a country I know particularly well from my early work with HEKS (aid organisation of the Protestant churches of Switzerland).
The annual per capita income of an Ethiopian is just about USD 345 while the income of the average Swiss person is 188 times greater than this, i.e. USD 65,000. An Ethiopian generates 0.1 tonnes of CO2 emissions per year and a Swiss person 50 times more, i.e. five tonnes. My Ethiopian friends ask two things of me as a Swiss person: first, that I allow them to develop just as we have developed in Switzerland so that Ethiopia does not stand still as the poorhouse of East Africa simply because we should all use fewer resources now. Second, they ask that we support Ethiopia in embarking on a development path that will enable it to leave poverty behind in a way that does not involve any cost for the environment. It is easy for us to speak of environmentally friendly development. When industrialisation transformed Switzerland from a European poorhouse to one of the richest countries in the world, ecology was not yet an issue.
Against the background of these completely different interests between rich and poor countries, the negotiations are anything but a walk in the park. But the real opponents are not the Ethiopians. Instead, there are the forces that do not wish to change today’s economic model at any price. If these fossil raw-material junkies from industrialised and newly industrialised countries retain the upper hand, very little of tangible value will be agreed on in Rio. And this will be to all our detriment – whether we’re Swiss or Ethiopian. The critical limits of our planet do not care a jot about the competition between nations.
I am delighted to take part in the global conference on sustainability as part of the Swiss delegation, and to play my part for our planet and our future. I have brought the concrete demands of the WWF with me in my suitcase. A strong, tangible commitment to two central aims: sufficient food, energy and drinking water for all and a green economy that reduces environmental pollution and poverty.