While there are lots of side events going on in Rio Centro and the Athletes Park across the street, there have also been numerous events spread across the city. The International Institute for Environment and Development (iied) organized a conference called Fair Ideas: sharing solutions for a sustainable planet which brought together scholars, practitioners and business leaders around the whole range of sustainable development issues being discussed at the conference.
The opening plenary included the heads and representatives from UNEP, IUCN, iied, the Stockholm Resilience Centre and Oxfam which provided a window into the current vision of major development organizations. It also demonstrated the dominance of economics within the conversations in Rio. The head of IIED, Camilla Toulmin called for a new evaluation method other than GDP, one that includes other social and development indicators. Achim Steiner, the head of UNEP, said the current global environmental picture “needs to shake us at our roots.” But he also added that the environmental community is scared of economics and we need to understand that markets can be governed. Julia Marton-LeFèvre, Director General of IUCN, also addressed the need to value ecosystem services to speak to economists, whether or not we agree with the principal of valuing nature.
The most provocative speaker was Kate Raworth from Oxfam Great Britain who called for everyone to go into libraries and bookstores and rip out the circular flow of goods and services between firms and households diagram in economic textbooks. She demonstrated the fallacy within the traditional economic model that sees the environment, unpaid care economy and social inequality as exogenous variables and the need to change this central economic paradigm. Johan Rockstrom shared with the audience that his empirical evidence that we have reached ecological limits, was being attacked by economists at the conference and reinforced the call to develop a new economy that reconnects society with earth systems. Is this green economy of the future and how will it be operationalized within current institutions? The answers are still unclear.
More information on the conference including a report of key recommendations can be found here.