Tuesday, February 7, 2012

From Davos to Delhi...

    How far along have we come in our efforts to integrate environmental protection action with economic decision-making? It depends on one’s perspective. Anyhow, environment, energy, and food security were an important part of the program at the World Economic Forum’s (WEF) annual meeting held in Davos between January 25 and 29, 2012. This high profile event brings together world leaders representing government, corporations, and civil society to discuss pressing issues facing the world. WEF provides an exclusive forum for world leaders to discuss pressing global issues that intersect economic concerns. This year was no different. While the global economy was on top of the agenda, sustainability remained an important theme.

    Among several events and issues discussed, one report, More with Less: Scaling Resource Efficiency and Sustainable Consumption, provides an overview of key sustainability challenges and opportunities that were unveiled as part of the meeting. Particularly interesting is Figure 2.1. of this report. It highlights how resource constraints have pushed efficiency measures that can benefit both business and the environment. The Report also highlights other well-known environmental challenges such as high subsidies for fossil fuels, population growth, particularly the expansion of the middle class, and degradation of agriculture and forestry.

     Interestingly, among the challenges identified by WEF is the low rate of patent application for environmental innovation—2.7%. This low figure is perhaps an indication of some policy gap that appears not to foster innovation where it is most needed. It is largely accepted that technological innovation is key to solve several of the world’s environmental problems. It would be interesting hear thoughts about how law and policy can promote more innovation in addressing myriad problems.

     WEF in itself is not a problem-solving organization. However, it plays an important consensus-building role in identifying and reaffirming key environmental challenges. The engagement of important actors may provide insights into common grounds towards framing appropriate law and policy to address problems. Of course, some may consider WEF yet another exclusive networking event. Yet, the fact organizers of WEF documented the carbon footprint of the meeting and provided options for offsetting carbon emissions of attendees’ as part of the Greener Davos Initiative signals atleast some level of commitment to addressing the problem.  

    In the heels of the meeting in Davos, the Tata Energy and Research Institute (TERI) organized the annual Delhi Sustainable Development Summit (DSDS) between February 2 and 4 in New Delhi. This year’s meeting focused on the state of sustainable development 20 years after the Rio.  Although more modest in scale, the meeting brought together notable world leaders, including the former Governor of California, Arnold Schwarzenegger. Showing muscle for environmental protection, the former Governor urged developing countries such as India to learn from the mistakes of developed countries. The Prime Minister of India, Manmohan Singh, who inaugurated the program, echoed his commitment for environmental protection. On the issue of climate change, he noted, “I can assure you that India will play a constructive role in the ongoing negotiations and we will certainly live up to whatever obligations fall upon us as part of a fair and equitable agreement.” Whether such an agreement can be reached of course remains the biggest legal challenge of our times.

    If one were pessimistic, these events would be examples of the small space for legal intervention and a large space for spinning rhetoric. If one were an optimist, perhaps, discussions in these events can serve as laboratories for legal innovation by finding common grounds to integrate economic and environmental interests.

 --Deepa

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