The International Society for Ecological Economics organised the ISEE 2012 Conference on “Ecological Economics and Rio+20: Challenges and Contributions for a Green Economy” in Rio de Janeiro on 16–19 June 2012. The conference preceded the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development, Rio+20. In both events, the focus was on how to green the global economy and protect biodiversity.
On a Brundtlandian pathway, the UNCSD felt it had succeeded “with the full participation of civil society, renew our commitment to sustainable development and to ensuring the promotion of an economically, socially and environmentally sustainable future for our planet and for present and future generations.” Not everyone shares this optimism. These massive conferences hardly touched on the most important issues: In what ways do the concept and policy purpose of green economy help achieve sustainable futures, what are the more detailed institutional and social steps towards the greening of the economy. Joan Martinez-Alier, one of the former presidents of ISEE, expressed his deep concern over the greening of the logic of economic and financial systems: the real real-life economics is again a few steps further away.
Interestingly, in one of the ISEE panels (which all were surprisingly good), two activists and environmentalists, Sunita Narain and Nnimmo Bassey, offered important thoughts about how to make the greening of economy on-going. The first of the three prerequisites they identified is resistance. Civic society must be courageous enough to actively resist policies and economic agendas that will produce adverse impacts on fairness and sustainability of development. The second prerequisite is adaptation. Civic society must actively start exploring ways to overcome the conditions and vicious consequences of bad governance. Both Narain and Bassey expressed moderate optimism that the globalisation of civic society can allow the new rights to emerge and exert effective pressure on how and for what purposes (rights) national and transnational institutions are designed. The third prerequisite is democracy. As Narain repeatedly emphasised, democracy has primacy. Without democracy, no transitions to sustainability and green economy will ever take place.
These lessons also apply in Finland. The same general advice for greening the economy, protecting biodiversity and sustaining livelihoods applies: more resistance, more adaptations, and more democracy. Civic society in Finland is not known for its habit of resisting governmental and administrative intentions. When it comes to biodiversity protection, however, the situation is different. For instance, the planning and implementation of the Natura 2000 reserve network some 15 years ago and, more recently, the strict protection of the grey wolf, have sparked considerable resistance. The culture of environmental resistance is still rather weak and young in Finland and its purpose has in many cases been against biodiversity rather than for it. Perhaps for this reason, the civic society adaptations and innovations for biodiversity and the green economy have been rather rare. As Bassey reminded us, it takes resistance to become creative. The UNCSD process claimed that it is fuelled by “the full participation of civic society”. Let us hope that this is a promise. The task is to make our thoughts and practices clear concerning how to convert this democratic promise into the substance of green economy, biodiversity protection and sustainable livelihoods. It takes resistance and adaptive creativity to call democracy to the fore.