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Q&A: “Governments Must Listen to the People, Not the Polluters”

José Domingo Guariglia interviews DANIEL MITTLER, Political Director of Greenpeace International

UNITED NATIONS, Aug 8 2011 (IPS) - The historic 1992 Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro marked one of the world’s seminal international conferences on the environment, creating or reinforcing a slew of U.N. treaties and protocols on climate change, biodiversity, desertification and forests.

Daniel Mittler Credit: Martin Horak

Daniel Mittler Credit: Martin Horak

Still, nearly 20 years later, as the United Nations prepares for a follow-up Rio Plus 20 conference in Brazil next June, the Earth Summit’s successes and failures are coming under increased scrutiny.

In an interview with IPS, the political director of Greenpeace International, Daniel Mittler, said that since the Rio summit, governments have clearly failed to make any advances on sustainable development governance.

“They have created powerful new laws to protect the interests of business, such as the World Trade Organisation (WTO), but they have failed to provide the poor and the environment with the kind of institutional support they need,” he said.

“The green economy is starting to happen. However, we know that the transition is not fast enough,” Mittler added.

The upcoming Rio Plus 20 conference in Brazil is expected to promote actions to guarantee that economic activities will not further harm the environment and a new institutional framework that will allow sustainability in a long term.

In the run-up to the conference, representatives of civil society will meet in Bonn Sep. 3-5 at a U.N. Conference for Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs), that will discuss the topic “Sustainable Societies; Responsive Citizens”.

“NGOs need to hold governments and business to account, and they need to provide ideas for solutions, and also organise public support for delivering concrete steps forward for people and the environment,” Mittler said.

Greenpeace will participate in this NGO conference to make sure that “governments and businesses are ready to respond to the needs of the poor and the planet rather than dirty industries and their lobbyists,” Mittler said.

Excerpts from the interview follow.

Q: The Rio Conference was held in 1992. Ten years later there was another conference in Johannesburg. Why is it important to have a new conference on sustainable development? A: Conferences themselves are never important. Results are. Big conferences have often failed in recent years. Rio Plus 10 (Johannesburg), for example, adopted what we termed a “Plan of Inaction”. That said, global conferences are key hooks for global debates and opportunities to highlight current failures and current and future opportunities. Development since Rio has been everything but sustainable.

If returning to Rio is to make any sense, governments will have to get serious about implementing the many promises of Rio they have broken, business will have to seize the opportunity fair and clean development provides, and dirty lobbyists will have to be exposed for holding us back.

For Greenpeace, Rio Plus 20 will only be important if it delivers real advances for people and the planet.

Q: You have worked with Greenpeace International and Friends of the Earth. What has been the contribution of the NGOs to environmental meetings? A: NGOs need to hold governments and business to account, need to provide ideas for solutions, and need to organise public support for delivering concrete steps forward for people and the environment.

The discussions about Rio Plus 20 are in many ways only just the beginning. NGOs must engage with them with honesty and stand up against those trying to “greenwash” business as usual and call it “green economy”.

NGOs must also resist just doing the kind of campaigns they did 10 and 20 years ago, simply because we have done it before. We must analyse the current situation and choose targeted inputs in those areas that are most likely to see real change.

Q: What are Greenpeace International’s suggestions for the Rio Plus 20? A: We have many. Rio Plus 20 must support an energy revolution based on renewable energy and energy efficiency and providing access to energy for all.

Governments and businesses must commit to zero deforestation by 2020. Developed countries and corporations must end policies and funding that drive deforestation.

Rio Plus 20 must make the transition to a green economy fair and equitable and commit to a decent jobs agenda. It must strengthen the governance system that delivers an “environment for development” by upgrading the U.N. Environment Programme to specialised agency status.

Greenpeace calls for a new implementing agreement under the U.N. Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) for the conservation of marine biodiversity and sustainable management of human activities in areas beyond national jurisdiction.

Q: Will Greenpeace be at the conference “Sustainable Societies – Responsive Citizens” that will take place in Bonn? A: We will be participating and I am looking forward to speaking on one of the panels. Our action plan is what I have just outlined. These action points are the key test cases, whether Rio Plus 20 will move us towards sustainable societies – and whether governments and businesses are ready to respond to the needs of the poor and the planet rather than dirty industries and their lobbyists.

Q. What comes after the Rio Plus 20 Conference?

A: The next big test for the global community will be 2015, when governments will likely have missed many of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) in many countries.

A global commitment to an economy based on renewables and efficiency, to zero deforestation and the adoption of a legal instrument to protect the high seas – all that could be next, if governments listen to the people rather than polluting corporations.

Clean industries must help us ensure governments stop standing in their way and get serious about the transition to a fair and clean global economy. What’s next also depends on all of us. I invite all to go to to join us to hold governments and businesses to account – and to deliver real solutions with all who are willing to do so.

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