GENEVA — Governments must craft a global pact that promotes a carbon tax and prices goods based on ecological costs, politicians and U.N. panelists urged Monday.
Former Swiss President Micheline Calmy-Rey said the planet is living beyond its means and needs a "sustainable" economy that better manages natural resources for its 7 billion inhabitants, while promoting human rights, equality and an end to poverty.
A U.N. panel is calling "for a redesign of the global economy for a healthy environment and for social well-being," she told several hundred diplomats at the U.N.'s European headquarters. "It makes the alarming point that we have already exceeded Earth's capacity to support ourselves, and offers a vision for meeting these challenges."
She said a sustainable economy should include incentives that "would include in particular a carbon tax, reforms to national fiscal systems that favor sound ecology, payments for services rendered by ecosystems and the application of criteria on sustainability in the awarding of public contracts."
A report from the panel lays out a framework for revamping the global economy and is aimed at influencing June's U.N. Conference on Sustainable Development in Rio de Janeiro.
Kassym-Jomart Tokayev, a former Kazakhstan prime minister who heads the U.N. in Geneva, urged world leaders to be "pragmatic" by launching a green energy revolution at the conference —a follow-up 20 years after the pivotal 1992 Earth Summit at Rio.
In Rio, the world first agreed that voluntary controls on heat-trapping industrial gases were needed to keep the globe from overheating. Out of that voluntary accord came the binding 1997 Kyoto Protocol that ordered 37 industrialized nations to cut their emissions of greenhouse gases.
But as diplomacy on that front has stalled, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has shifted his focus to a broader set of ecological and social challenges that underpin the climate debate.
He created the 22-member high-level panel in August 2010 and appointed Finnish President Tarja Halonen and South African President Jacob Zuma to lead it.
"A world where more than 74 million youth are unemployed, and where more than 450 million workers live on less than $1.25 a day, as they did last year, is not sustainable," Tokayev said. "In 2010, military spending exceeded $1.6 trillion. This is a choice. But in a world where approximately 1.5 billion people have no access to energy, and one billion people have no access to clean water, it is not a sustainable choice."
Swiss adventurer Bertrand Piccard, president of the Solar Impulse Project, said tomorrow's pioneers will be those that can "conquer new states of mind, new behavior" and inspire others to do the same.
The record-breaking balloonist compared the path toward sustainability to the lesson he learned on one flight, when his support team told him he could either "go very fast in the wrong direction, or very slowly in the right direction."
"After that, I understood that direction is more important than speed," he said.