Vatican position for Rio+20 conference: Beware of ‘green protectionism’

By Cindy Wooden
June 14, 2012
Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- 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, according to the Vatican.

Among the points it makes in a position paper for the upcoming U.N. Rio+20 Conference on Sustainable Development, the Vatican warns that efforts to promote a "green economy" of environmentally friendly goods and services could lead to "green protectionism," rewarding technologically advanced countries and hurting the poor.

The Vatican's position paper was published June 14 by L'Osservatore Romano, the Vatican newspaper.

The Rio+20's high-level discussions are scheduled for June 20-22 in Rio de Janeiro. A People's Summit of representatives of nongovernmental agencies and groups was scheduled to begin June 15.

The Vatican position paper applauds the "unanimous consensus" that has emerged around the notion that "protecting the environment means improving peoples' lives."

But, the Vatican says 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.

"The process of development cannot be left to purely technical solutions, for in this way it would lack ethical direction," the position paper says. And it is unethical to act as if human beings are simply obstacles to sustainable development.

The key to simultaneously protecting the environment, cleaning up pollution and triggering economic growth, the Vatican says, is "adopting and promoting in every situation a way of life which respects the dignity of each human being," and promoting research and technology that safeguards creation without endangering human beings.

To be successful and truly benefit humanity, the discussions at Rio+20 "must not be muddied by blind partisan political, economic or ideological interests which shortsightedly put particular interests above solidarity," the Vatican says.

The paper calls for a serious reflection on the purpose of the economy and how it has been allowed to function. Such a reflection "is demanded by the earth's state of ecological health, and above all by the cultural and moral crisis of humanity, the symptoms of which have been evident for some time throughout the world."

Every economic and technological decision has a moral consequence, the paper says. Pope Benedict has said the ethical dimension of economic activity has largely been ignored, which is the root of the global financial crisis.

The Vatican is also concerned that the concept of the "green economy," which has not been defined clearly, be addressed in a way that promotes peace and international solidarity.

In promoting an economy that minimizes environmental damage and promotes conservation and preservation, the paper says, 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 who do not have access to advanced technologies and have economies heavily reliant on traditional uses of the environment such as farming, fishing and forestry.