Notes towards people-powered, sustainable consumption and production

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On January 23, 2019, at the Third Forum of Ministers and Environment Authorities of Asia-Pacific, held in Singapore, Lei Covero of IBON International gave a presentation towards an initial framework for people-powered sustainable consumption and production. The following article is derived from the mainpoints of her presentation.

For decades, “sustainable consumption and production” (SCP) has been part of the international discourse on sustainable development. Patterns of consumption-production are vital factors in the achievement, or failure, of the sustainable development agenda. The inclusion of SDG 12, of “ensuring sustainable consumption and production patterns,” illustrates the universal recognition of its crucial role in making global sustainability possible in the environment, economics, and social dimensions.

As defined by the UN Environment Program, drawing from the 1994 Oslo Symposium on Sustainable Consumption, SCP refers to “the use of services and related products, which respond to basic needs and bring a better quality of life while minimizing the use of natural resources and toxic materials as well as the emissions of waste and pollutants over the life cycle of the service or product so as not to jeopardize the needs of further generations.”

SCP must be seen in light of systemic issues: related to systems of production and consumption of goods and services, and the resource-use and wastage involved. SCP should take into consideration the economic chain of production-distribution/exchange-consumption. It must be viewed in the context of social organization of the whole chain, and the particular systems usually captured by transnational corporations and elites.

Approaching the matter of SCP as one chain or system addresses the question of sustainability while offering a more holistic view of all aspects of SCP in real economies. SCP is a systemic issue that must look at overall volumes of consumption, distributional issues such as those linked to trade and exchange, and related social and institutional changes. Aside from environmental problems, it is also critical to address socio-economic issues, such as the inequitable distribution of wealth and resources,and inequitable trading policies.

SCP requires sustained people’s action. Not only in developing alternative models, but more importantly in challenging current paradigms and policies that impact sustainability and dictate how the world produces, distributes and consumes. Today’s dominant paradigm is a wasteful economic system headed by monopolistic corporations and a financial oligarchy; this same system is widening gaps in the realisation of people’s economic rights, from farmers’ right to land, indigenous peoples’ right to self-determination, workers’ and women’s rights.

People’s actions mean assertions of people’s rights – this is the key link to achieving SCP. People’s rights refer to a synthesis of individual & collective rights, covering their substantive, comprehensive scope in the civil, political, economic, social, cultural dimensions. Beyond states’ responsibility to promote and uphold rights, there is the power of the people to assert these. There is the capacity of the people to exercise collective will and sovereignty to decide and determine how commodities and services are produced, distributed, exchanged and consumed.

Through assertion of people’s rights, people are empowered to determine systemic changes in consumption, production and broader economic and development processes that reflect the aspirations of the majority.

Achieving a people-powered SCP would require that people’s rights are advanced in the whole chain of production, distribution/exchange, and consumption. As the framework of people-powered SCP responds to the current corporation-driven economic paradigm, it promotes self-sufficiency from the local to the national level through the people’s exercise of sovereignty.

On the one hand, social innovations and community actions toward SCP are encouraged and supported. On the other, this means encouraging peoples and their organisations to compel governments towards holding corporations accountable. Communities and people’s organisations have the biggest incentive as they have the biggest stake: the realization of their right to development, their collective rights and aspirations. ###