Vatican Warns Against 'Green Protectionism'

As the international community looks for ways to protect the environment while promoting development, it must keep the good of human beings and the protection of human dignity as its central goals, argues the Vatican in a position paper prepared for the Rio+20 U.N. Conference on Sustainable Development, scheduled for June 20-22 in Rio de Janeiro. The gathering will mark the 20th anniversary of the landmark U.N. Conference on Environment and Development in 1992, also in Rio de Janeiro.

In a position paper published on June 14 by L’Osservatore Romano, the Vatican applauds the “unanimous consensus” that has emerged around the notion that “protecting the environment means improving peoples’ lives.” But it worries that too often the international community focuses almost exclusively on technological solutions to environmental degradation and treats the problems human beings face as simply another set of technological challenges. In promoting an economy that minimizes environmental damage and promotes conservation and preservation, the Vatican warns, care must be taken to avoid “conditioning commerce and international aid” in a way that would become “a latent form of ‘green protectionism’ that would penalize countries [that] do not have access to advanced technologies and have economies heavily reliant on traditional uses of the environment, such as farming, fishing and forestry.”

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Another study from Catholic sources urges world leaders to act on hunger as they prepared to meet at the Group of 20 summit in Los Cabos, Mexico, on June 18 and 19. “Food Security and the G20,” published by Caritas Internationalis and Coopération Internationale pour le Développement et la Solidarité (C.I.D.S.E.), a European consortium of Catholic development agencies, argues that access to food is about more than mere nutrition and is linked to wider issues that must be addressed by the G20. The G20 is an annual forum for international cooperation that brings together the world’s major advanced and emerging economies. Many worry that this year the continuing calamity within the Eurozone will steal much of the participants’ attention, even as the global economic crisis wreaks further havoc in the developing world.

According to the “Food Security” report: “It is the right of all human beings to live in dignity, free from hunger, food insecurity and malnutrition. There are nearly a billion people suffering from hunger in the world today. In every society food does not consist solely of material ‘nutritional’ elements, but also social, economic, political, cultural elements connected to food use, production and trade.”

According to the report, food security is the consequence of precise choices taken by many of those who hold power—for example, unfair resource access, unfair market conditions, unheard voices, unresponsive institutional environments, a lack of technical solutions that use local knowledge and failure to acknowledge the complexities of local conditions in global policy decisions. Dominic Foster, author of the report and the G20 network coordinator for the United Kingdom’s Catholic Agency for Overseas Development, said the Catholic agencies were “calling for urgent and tangible action from the G20 to address the root causes of food insecurity.” He said, “Poor and vulnerable farmers need to be given fair and meaningful access to markets, and the G20 is central to addressing economic structures that prevent this from happening.”

The C.I.D.S.E. secretary general, Bernd Nilles, said the G20 has a particular responsibility to lead the fight against global poverty “since more than half of the world’s poorest people live in G20 countries.”

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