As I write this column early Wednesday morning, the final text for negotiations in the UN Conference on Sustainable Development (Rio+20) came out and was promptly emailed to me by friends and colleagues attending the events in Brazil. I was midway in relating how uncertain it was to have a negotiating text in time for the opening of the meeting as disagreements over the draft continued on even until yesterday. With only days before the opening of the Rio+20 convention, many parts of the text were strongly contested by country delegates.
Only around a third of the paragraphs to appear in the final text were approved when the discussions were reopened a few days ago.
More than 20,000 civil society delegates and several more thousands official participants would have arrived at Rio de Janeiro as the conference opens today to map out the planet’s very trajectory of development. The agreement is to be a renewed commitment to act urgently on the environmental crisis as well as the economic and social crisis that the world is facing right now.
From June 20 until the 22, around a hundred heads of state will be attending the conference which also serves to commemorate the 20th anniversary of the Rio Earth Summit in 1992. The host country, Brazil, took over in coming up with a new text for deliberations as the heads of state arrive in Rio. A quick analysis of the word frequency in the outcome document entitled “The Future We Want” is enlightening as it gives us an overall glimpse of the thrust of the topics inside the text.
There are 283 paragraphs in the document with just a hundred shy of 24,000 words. The most popular words are “sustainable” and “development” followed by “countries,” “developing,” “support” and “implementation.” A cursory glance at the latest text reveals that many of these paragraphs are reiteration of past UN agreements and the original Rio principles. It remains to be seen if industrialized countries would commit to the final text as it is or lobby hard to dilute the final text.
The reaffirmation of common but differentiated responsibilities (CBDR) that were part of the original Rio principles is good for developing countries but on the other hand there were still no clear paths to securing funding for development and pursuing the objectives of Rio+20.
We just hope that the outcome document of the Rio+20 does not end up with just. It should have clear targets for development and the reduction of destruction and plunder of our environment. It should rein in the continuing problem of overproduction in the world economy today.
This is not easy as we see in events of the past few days, the summit is not the real place where meaningful reforms are obtained as states are wrangling over single words and side issues. Systemic change of the world’s economic direction is far from the minds of the negotiators in Rio+20.
Twenty years after the first Rio Summit, development is still far from being sustainable. Now, at the second, the Rio+20 Summit, governments of the world’s largest economies and lobbyists representing transnational interests are pushing for the operationalization of the “Green Economy” as the new development paradigm.
This Green Economy aims for “improved human-well being, social equity while reducing environmental risks and scarcities” and proposes market reforms across 11 broad economic sectors: agriculture, fisheries, water, forests, energy, manufacturing, waste, infrastructures, transportation, tourism and cities. The transition to a Green Economy requires massive amounts of capital, estimated to reach around two (2) percent of the world’s Gross Domestic Product.
Most of this will come from funds to be managed by the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund.
In this time of grave economic and ecological crisis, this “Green Economy” is being used as a ruse to expand markets and profiteering by large corporate interests. In the guise of using natural capital as a driver for growth, it will put a price on ecological services, resources and knowledge—paving the road for the financialization of nature. In the guise of promoting sustainable development, it will further perpetuate the plunder of the world’s remaining natural wealth and the privatization of critical services, technologies and products through Public-Private Partnerships and similar market-driven mechanisms.
The “Green Economy” in Rio+20 is green-washing on a global scale. It is not the solution to any of the interconnected problems that the world faces: the crisis of overproduction, the massive emission of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, and the unprecedented destruction of our planet. Instead, it proposes to keep these old unsustainable systems, structures and patterns in place.
What can we do? At the national level, we urge all concerned citizens, advocates and communities to unite behind the call of genuine development for the people. This is development which protects the country’s rich natural resources for the welfare of the people, which develops the domestic economy to be self-sufficient, and which upholds social, economic and environmental justice. This is development which puts no price on the environment and people’s lives.