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The Goals of Rio+20

PARIS, Jun 6 2012 (IPS) - The United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development will be held in Rio de Janiero, Brazil, from Jun. 20- 22, twenty years after the first great Earth Summit in 1992. Dubbed Rio+20, the conference will draw more than 80 heads of state. Discussion will focus on two main themes: the “green economy” in the context of sustainable development and poverty eradication, and the institutional context of sustainable development. The People’s Summit will be held parallel to the conference, bringing together social and ecological movements from around the world.

Environmental issues and the challenges of climate change remain the most urgent part of the international agenda[i], though in Europe they are being overshadowed by the gravity of the economic and financial crisis.

The eurozone is experiencing one of the most trying periods in its history as a result of the obvious failure of the “extreme austerity” policy. The recession has struck numerous economies, creating high unemployment and sharp financial tensions. Spain in particular is in its worst condition since 2008 – worse even than when Lehman Brothers collapsed.

Given these major concerns, European citizens are following the European electoral agenda with rapt attention: legislative elections in France on Jun. 10-17 and fresh Greek elections on Jun. 17. The Brussels summit on Jun. 28-29 will finally determine whether the EU will follow the German path of austerity to the bitter end, or whether it will adopt the French path of growth and recovery. It is a fundamental dilemma.

However, this situation must not make us forget that on a planetary scale there are other equally urgent issues. The most important of these is the climate crisis, which will be a central theme in Rio de Janeiro. We must remember that in 2010 climate change was the cause of 90 percent of a series of natural disasters that took the lives of some 300,000 people and caused economic damage estimated at more than 100 billion euros.

There is another contradiction: in Europe, citizens are demanding, and with reason, more growth to lift them out of the crisis. However, in Rio, ecologists warn that growth, if it is not sustainable, will increase environmental devastation and the danger that the planet’s limited resources will be exhausted.

World leaders, together with thousands of representatives of governments, private enterprise, non-governmental organisations, social movements, and other civil society groups, are coming together in Rio to work out a precise global agenda to guarantee environmental sustainability, reduce poverty, and promote social equality. The central debate will be between the concept of a “green economy” pushed by the champions of neoliberalism, and a “solidarity economy” advanced by movements that believe that unless we overcome the current model of “predatory development”, based on the accumulation of private wealth, there can be no environmental preservation.

The “green economy” is the central proposal of the rich countries coming to Rio. This should be recognised as a trap, an attempt to “greenwash” what in the majority of cases is simply business as usual. The rich countries want the United Nations to grant them a mandate at Rio+20 to define for the entire world the standards and yardsticks for determining the economical value of the various functions of nature and on this basis create a world market for environmental services.

This “green economy” would result in the commodification not only of the material components of nature but even natural processes and functions. The central objective of this “green economy” is to create for private investment a market for water, for the environment, the oceans, biodiversity, and other elements of nature. In assigning a price to each element of the environment, their goal is to guarantee profits for private investors. In this way the “green economy”, rather than create real products, will organise a new virtual market for bonds and financial instruments to be bought through banks. The same financial system that is responsible for the 2008 financial crisis and received billions of euros from governments, would thus be granted the use of nature at its whim to continue speculating and raking in massive profits.

In opposition to this effort, and parallel to the conference, is the Peoples’ Summit organised by civil society to generate alternatives in defense of the “common goods of humanity”. Produced by nature or human groups at the local, national, or global level, these goods must be owned collectively by humanity as a whole. Among these are air and the atmosphere, water, aquifers –rivers, oceans, lakes– communal and ancestral lands, language, countryside, memory, knowledge, the Internet, open source products, genetic information, etc. Fresh water is now being recognised as a common good par excellence, and fights against privatisation in a number of countries have been successful.

Another idea supported by the People’s Summit is a gradual transition from an anthropocentric civilisation to one that is biocentric and places life at its centre, which implies recognition of the rights of nature and a redefinition of living well and prosperity that does not depend on infinite economic growth. Food sovereignty would be another element of this form of civilisation. Every community must be able to control the foods it produces and consumes, bringing producers and consumers closer together, defending peasant agriculture and prohibiting financial speculation on food.

Finally the People’s Conference calls for a vast programme of “responsible consumption” which includes a new ethic of caring and sharing; a critique of the system of planned obsolescence of products; a preference for goods produced by a social and solidary economy based on work and not on capital; and a rejection of the consumption of products of slave labour[ii].

Rio+20 thus offers a chance for social movements on an international scale to reaffirm their struggle for environmental justice as opposed to the speculative model of development. It rejects the effort to “greenify” capitalism. The groups present at the conference reject the idea that the “green economy” constitutes a solution to the environmental and food crisis. To the contrary, it is a false solution that aggravates the problem of the commodification of life. In short, it is nothing but window dressing, which –along with the current system– the people are growing increasingly fed up with. (END/COPYRIGHT IPS)

* Ignacio Ramonet is editor of Le Monde diplomatique en espanol.

[i] See Ignacio Ramonet, “Urgencias climaticas”, Le Monde diplomatique en espanol, January 2012.

[ii] http://rio20.net/en-camino-a-rio

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