BY Paul Opanga It is few months before heads of state gather again in Brazil in June 2012 to resolve to work together for a prosperous, secure and sustainable future for the people and the planet. The Rio +20 Meeting under theme “the future we want” ha …


BY Paul Opanga

It is few months before heads of state gather again in Brazil in June 2012 to resolve to work together for a prosperous, secure and sustainable future for the people and the planet. The Rio +20 Meeting under theme “the future we want” has recognised critical issues that include jobs, energy, cities, food, water, oceans and disasters.

As we applaud the issue of jobs is in the agenda, we don’t just want “jobs”. Precarious work is today the daily reality for a majority of people around the world; inequalities have grown to the point that people often do not acknowledge they are part of the same community. We have noted that new jobs created as a result of green investment are not necessarily green jobs.

Demand for decent and sustainable jobs that respect fundamental human rights, improve on social security, ensure health working conditions and guarantees quality in terms of living wage is imperative against background of food, financial and fuel crisis. The  envision  decent jobs  are pillared on; creation of more and better jobs, extension of social protection, respect for fundamental principles and rights at work, and the promotion of social dialogue.

At the heart of the demand is the need for investment in social protection systems. Recognition of the role social protection systems play in reducing people’s vulnerability in a sustainable way is a PLUS. Our deepening problem is the social vulnerability. The time has come to decide on long term solutions to people vulnerability. Income security, health security, child benefits, maternity protection, unemployment benefits, quality essential public services, adequate nutrition, housing and education are ingredients which need to be improved.

As we note, the importance of renewed commitment to renewable energy, we fear energy that contributes to the loss of natural forests, that further aggravate social impacts for customary land users such as loss of land and labour rights, threat to food security, high carbon emissions from land use change.

We stand with innovations that transfer affordable technology and capacity building  to developing countries especially on solar and wind and further support energy that light the hearts of every homestead, without digging deeper in the few disposable cents that  are still unspent on very expensive basic goods and services.

Of the 9 billion people predicted to live on Earth in 2050, 70% are expected to live in urban areas. Urbanization and economic growth in emerging economies also point to the rapid growth of new building stock and employment opportunities. As we recognize that majority of the world population will be living in urban areas in the next decade, as we envision sustainable cities, we don’t want to see overexploitation  and unsustainable use of natural resources, indecent settlements manifested, in poor sanitation and informal housing.

We will be waiting with protests, strikes, marches of all kind to ensure that the rights of the poor, indigenous, customary, women, children, refugees, migrant  and low paid workers are protected, while recognizing that cities will be “engine” of development, no doubt about it, but we don’t want development destroying  nature ,but complementing nature. There will be  need to have quality of life improved by provision of access to green buildings with urban rooftop gardens, clean water, effective waste management systems and sustainable and affordable transport.

As we touch on customary land users, in the expansion of cities infrastructure, we want to see the free, prior and informed consent of indigenous People and local communities for any activities affecting their rights to lands, territories and resources. We want to uphold the same principle in disseminating information to local communities.

City and Municipal lords are increasingly recognising that managing energy, water, and waste not only helps attract residents and business growth but also enhances quality of life in a variety of ways.

Water remains as an important ingredient of life and part of Mother Nature. With the human population growth, the increasing per capita demands for water together mean that provision of adequate, safe supplies is now a major source of concern, expense and international tension. By 2025, 1.8 billion people will be living in regions with absolute water scarcity and two thirds of the World’s population may experience water stress conditions.

We must continue to see the role of forests in strengthening Water, Energy and Food Security Nexus. Forests play a critical role in ensuring a sustainable water supply. Moreover, forests and trees contribute to the reduction of water related risks such as landslides, local floods and droughts and help prevent desertification and salinization.

Destruction of forest catchments or the “lungs of the Mother Nature” is equivalent with effects of lung cancer on our human lives, and we cannot watch this destruction unabated. While several States are still slow to recognise the right to safe and clean drinking water and sanitation as a human right and the responsibility of all states to respect such right, Our challenge and real threat in how large transnational corporations in the energy, pharmaceutical, food and chemical industries are already forming alliances to exploit extractive resources and grab control of natural resources on  land including forests  and water.

As we  have noted, agricultural commodities prices already are at all time high and set that way for another decade,  we don’t want a future where the balanced diet is foregone and  food  becomes only a preserve for those who can afford the commodity hike. We demand food security and technology transfer in agricultural production to all deserving nations.

We are already seeing the impact of climate change in developing countries, manifested in crop failures and livestock deaths with huge economic losses, contributing to higher food prices and undermining food security with ever greater frequency, especially in the horn of Africa. Drought situation in Horn of Africa has resulted to massive starvation as well as migration within Kenya, Ethiopia, Somalia and Djibouti. Let the pictures of drought in horn of Africa in 2011, be reminder of the future we don’t want.

Financial markets and lack of regulation have broken the relationship between companies and their responsibilities vis-a–vis workers, their families and the communities in which they operate; environmental challenges have become daunting, to the point that the very survival of communities is at risk. Time is ripe to reassess the role of redistributive and environmentally friendly taxes in context of the green economy.

Companies should be encouraged to disclose voluntary information on social and environmental aspects including water and waste management, carbon emissions and other climate change policies. Tools such as forest certification offer room for stakeholders to engage on social and environmental standards.

The true value of “sweat” of workers must be enshrined in the economic and financial costing of extractives supply chains; otherwise the huge profits and dividends made at the end of the year by companies especially multinationals are not reflective of the situation that involves millions of workers who toil to make life sustainable.  Trade Unions have always stood up to show dissatisfaction with 3 (D) image on Dirty, Dangerous and Degrading jobs.  Also referred to as brown jobs. The future we want and envisioned can only be better and promising with decent and green jobs.

Effective  green economy policies and programmes from national governments will only be successful if designed and implemented with the active participation of those whose lives they affect; employers, workers , communities and consumers. Social dialogue between trade unions, employers’ organisations in the industry and governments is an essential instrument, and an indispensable tool in informing The Future We Want.

Time is ripe for social actors including trade unions to built bridges with environmental policies, bringing new ideas to the table, such as the Just transition framework, and engaging on environmental actions through workplace, sectoral and national initiatives.

In accordance with the principle of common but differentiated responsibilities, there is a call on nations and populations engaged in wasteful overconsumption to reduce their impacts and help increase the consumption of vital goods and services for impoverished nations and peoples, so they also enjoy reasonably high standards of living with equitable access to social amenities that include health care, decent jobs  and education.

We must “ Watch keenly and remain vigilant” on the inequality among nations and actors, the might of multinationals companies, the inadequacy in institutional structures and  poor enforcement of governing instruments if social and environmental issues are to effectively flip over safely to The Future We Want.

Paul Opanga is writing in a personal capacity. He works for the Building and Wood Workers’ International as the Africa and Middle East Regional Officer based in regional office in Johannesburg South Africa. 

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