Rio+20: The earth summit heads for 'epic failure'

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“Abandon hope all ye who enter here” should have been written over the entrance to the Rio+20 summit.

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by Penny Cole
A World to Win, June 21, 2012

“Abandon hope all ye who enter here” should have been written over the entrance to the Rio+20 summit. For the draft text reneges on or waters down every principle of the original agreement and adds in a range of market initiatives that will weaken ecosystems and block sustainable development.

A casual and shocking abandonment of the goals set out two decades ago has made the summit worthless. There will no new money to support poorer countries to advance in a sustainable way. The principle of Common But Differentiated Responsibilities (CBDR) – whereby better off countries have to make a greater reduction in their impact on the planet – is being sidelined and if the US has its way will disappear altogether.

Technology transfer, another key principle 20 years ago, is under attack. The US, EU, Canada and Australia want the whole phrase eliminated from the draft in favour of a focus on the kinds of research and innovation that might be saleable. But, according to the same unholy alliance, research into “planetary boundaries” should definitely not be on the agenda. A coalition of the Holy See and the US wants to delete a sentence giving women a right to reproductive health services i.e. contraception.

The new treaty’s true focus is the weasel concept of “Green Economy” – market initiatives that may or may not make any actual contribution to sustainable development, but will be profitable.

The phrase “ecosystem services” has been introduced, reinforcing the idea that nature is nothing more than a source of raw materials for exploitation – but in a kind of green way, you understand. Putting monetary value on forests or clean water systems simply continues the failed idea that established the market in carbon credits.

The section on the health of the oceans has been undermined by the US and Venezuela, because of their involvement in offshore oil. Two actual commitments on deforestation have been deleted, replaced with empty platitudes.

“Rio+20 has turned into an epic failure,” says Greenpeace head Kami Naidoo. “We were promised the ‘future we want’ but are now being presented with a ‘common vision’ of a polluter’s charter that will cook the planet, empty the oceans and wreck the rain forests.”

Jim Leape, head of World Wildlife Fund added: “If they embrace this document, then this will have been a waste of time.”

Well, of course Rio+20 is a waste of time – who actually thought it would be anything else? Not WWF and Greenpeace, who know full well that these summits deliver nothing, but continue to tie those who want action into hoping that this time, finally, they will deliver. That is because they do not see any actual alternative.

But that does not mean that there are no positive documents on the table that could be discuss and adopted in a world where truly democratic decisions were made in the interests of humanity.

The alternative treaty drafted by the plurinational state of Bolivia states that

the capitalist system is the principal cause of the imbalance because it puts the rules of the market and the accumulation of profit above the laws of nature. Nature is not simply a sum of elements, it’s not a source of resources that can be exploited, modified, altered, privatised, commercialised and transformed without any consequences.

And it adds:

The postulates promoted under the Green Economy are wrong. The current environmental and climate crisis is not a simple market failure. The solution is not to put a price on nature. Nature is not a form of capital. It is wrong to say that we only value that which has a price, an owner, and brings profits. The market mechanisms that permit exchange among human beings and nations have proven incapable of contributing to an equitable distribution of wealth.

The challenge, therefore, is how to set about replacing these profit-creating mechanisms with shared progress towards the eradication of poverty, creating rights for human beings and for nature as a whole to halt climate change and restore the planet’s ecology to a degree of health.