clearskies, bluewater

Insights, reflections and creative imaginings for our awakening world

The Rio +20 Earth Summit


Last week, nearly 50,000 people gathered from all over the world in Rio de Janeiro, to discuss the future of their countries and of the collective world. According to news sources The Guardian in England and The New York Times in the United States, some believe the outcome of the summit was “a failure of epic proportions.” Greenpeace International Executive Director Kumi Naidoo said, “We didn’t get the Future We Want in Rio, because we do not have the leaders we need. The leaders of the most powerful countries supported business as usual, shamefully putting private profit before people and the planet.”

On the Rio +20 website, is a document which addresses the idea of The Future We Want. It includes the following excerpt:

 Rio+20 will be a strong political moment and a unique opportunity to “reinvent the world” by pointing to alternatives to the dangerous path in which we are currently ensnared. Nevertheless, judging from the actions of the hegemonic actors of the international system and from the mediocrity of international agreements negotiated in previous years, their false solutions, and the non-application of the principle already agreed upon at Rio 92, we understand that although we should not give up on our attempt to weigh upon their actions, neither should we feed illusions about our influence being strong enough to launch a virtuous circle of negotiations and meaningful compromises intended to deal with the serious problems that are threatening humankind and life on the planet.

We believe that the necessary agenda for global democratic governance presupposes the end of the current situation, in which the multilateral arenas have been taken over by corporative interests. Change will inexorably require action by the greatest possible representation of social actors: a broad variety of networks, non-governmental organizations, and different kinds of social movements, including environmentalists, farmers and urban workers, women, youth networks, popular movements, indigenous peoples, ethnic minorities facing discrimination, solidarity economy networks, etc. We must build a new paradigm of social, economic, and political organizations, whose actions will be enhanced by learning from the experiences of the ongoing struggles in these sectors and from knowing that we already have the material and technological conditions to establish the new forms of production, consumption, and political organization that we need.

Failing a different civilization paradigm to challenge it, the capitalist machine is continuing to move, as it always has, toward its usual goals with its usual approach: more growth, expansion of exports and imports, production and consumption of more industrial goods, and conception and use of ever more, increasingly sophisticated services targeted to higher and higher numbers of people. As hundreds of millions of people enter society of mass consumption and pursue the lifestyle exported by American capitalism as an ideal of happiness, they are demanding increasing amounts of flashy goods, manufactured according to the logic of planned obsolescence, private use, waste, and disposability. And they are consuming more and more resources: energy, raw materials, food, and environmental services. This kind of growth is feeding new and future crises—fuel, raw materials, and food crises—and accelerating greenhouse-gas emissions and global warming. The only thing the world of capital can come up with is delusional promises that technological innovations will solve the problems. And to make sure that nothing keeps the system from prospering, democracy is being corrupted by the power of money or, whenever necessary, simply suppressed.

Indignant citizens are rebelling in many parts of the world, but the dynamics of the anti-system forces are still very fragmented, heterogeneous, unequal, and disarticulated, between continents and countries of the same region. There has yet to be an alliance among them, an articulation joining the diversity into a great irreversible movement.

Despite the demoralizing negotiations expected at Rio+20 within the framework of the UN, the Conference offers a real and symbolic opportunity for civil society to meet, present their proposals, and organize their struggles. Moreover, they can present a new paradigm of the economy, society, and politics that can face and eventually defeat the serious problems accumulated during this crisis of civilization, a paradigm that can strengthen the movements opposed to the system and be reinforced and developed by them.

From this we can see that the organizers of the Rio Summit prepared for it with their eyes wide open, without illusions that all of their efforts and the coming together of a large group of representatives from across the globe would end with real, meaningful change in the direction of the future we want, at least in the policies of the world’s major political players. (Read: Big Oil.)  “It would be a mistake to call Rio a failure,” said a spokesperson from the Pew Charitable Trust, “but for a once-in-a-decade meeting with so much at stake, it was a far cry from a success.”

But while the summit meeting’s 283-paragraph agreement, called “The Future We Want,” lacks enforceable commitments on climate change and other global challenges, the outcome reflects big power shifts around the world. These include a new assertiveness by developing nations in international forums and the growing capacity of grass-roots organizations and corporations to mold effective environmental action without the blessing of governments.

“Probably those who are most frustrated, and who say they are frustrated, are the Europeans,” André Corrêa do Lago, Brazil’s chief negotiator at Rio+20, said in an interview. “They think they can still indicate paths which others should follow.” The activity outside the main negotiating sessions here produced hundreds of side agreements that do not require ratification or direct financing by governments and that offer the promise of incremental but real progress.

“Even a complicated, diverse world can address problems not through treaties, but by identifying the goals that then inspire decentralized actions,” said Jeffrey D. Sachs, director of the Earth Institute at Columbia University. For instance, Microsoft said it would roll out an internal carbon fee on its operations in more than 100 countries, part of a plan to go carbon-neutral by 2030. The Italian oil giant Eni said it would reduce its flaring of natural gas. Femsa, a Latin American soft-drink bottler, said it would obtain 85 percent of its energy needs in Mexico from renewable sources.

The Indian Ocean island nation of the Maldives, already experiencing dangerous sea-level rise, announced what it said would become the world’s largest marine reserve, encompassing all 1,192 of its islands by 2017. A group of development banks announced a $175 billion initiative to promote public transportation and bicycle lanes over road and highway construction in the world’s largest cities. But the ubiquity of corporate and financial sponsorship made some uneasy.

“If George Orwell were alive today, he would be irritated, and then shocked, by the cynical way in which every lobby with an ax to grind and money to burn has hitched its wagon to the alluring phrase ‘sustainable development,’” said Jagdish N. Bhagwati, a professor of economics at Columbia, in an essay called “Rio’s Unsustainable Nonsense.”

Brazil, with command over its vast forests as well as an estimated 12 percent of the world’s fresh water, remains crucial to any international preservation efforts. The rate of deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon recently fell to its lowest level since record-keeping began in 1988. Still, others who came here for the conference, like the indigenous leader Raoni Metuktire, 82, a chief of Brazil’s Kayapó tribe, said such advances meant little. He said he found himself emphasizing the same things he spoke about at the original Earth Summit in 1992. “Deforestation continues,” said Mr. Metuktire, who is normally referred to as Raoni, through an interpreter. “The river is having dams built into it; the people don’t listen,” he said. “They don’t respect me.”

Hopes that Rio would commit the world to move towards a green economy were diluted by suspicions among some developing nations that this was another way for wealthy nations to impose a “one-model-fits-all” approach. Instead, the green economy was merely named as an “important tool” that countries could use if they wished. Nations agreed to think about ways to place a higher value on nature, including alternatives to GDP as a measure of wealth that account more for environmental and social factors, and efforts to assess and pay for “environmental services” provided by nature, such as carbon sequestration and habitat protection.

Among the many vague, but potentially promising developments, was a recognition by all 192 governments that “fundamental changes in the way societies consume and produce are indispensable for achieving global sustainable development”. This appeared to mean different things to different people. EU officials suggests it could lead to a shift of taxes so workers pay less and polluters and landfill operators pay more. Hillary Clinton said it should be reflected in the way products are advertised and packaged. All nations “reaffirmed” commitments to phase out harmful fossil fuel subsidies.

The strongest initiatives were made outside the negotiating halls, where significant agreements have been struck on investing in public transport, commitments made to green accounting by corporations and strategies agreed by cities and judicial bodies on reducing environmental impacts. The dynamism has been found in a 10-day “People’s Summit” and campaigns to reduce plastics in the ocean and create a new sanctuary in the Arctic.

“There are real solutions to the problems governments have been unable to solve and those solutions have been on display all week in Rio, just not at the conference centre,” said Lidy Nacpil, director of Jubilee South – Asia Pacific Movement on Debt and Development.

The weak leadership shown in the conference halls has prompted many in civil society to rethink their strategies. Sharan Burrow, general secretary of the International Trade Union Confederation, said, “There will be more wars around water and energy, so we need labour and environment walking hand in hand.”

One of the most interesting proposals I found on the Rio +20 website was written by a group called Blue Planet Project from the Council of Canadians. Their idea was to include language which recognizes the earth itself as ‘Mother Earth.’ Here is their proposal:

This is a message that must be heard by all G77 Member States, and by all UN Member States, before the Harmony with Nature section is again negotiated in a few days. I am asking you to sign the following statement to support putting forward concepts and frameworks that put human-centered activities in the larger context of Mother Earth and the environmental systems we must protect. This is probably the most important step we can take to counter the narrow and dangerous focus of the false Green Economy that is based on markets, pricing, commodification and financialisation of nature; completely without respect or regard for Mother Earth! Going beyond a focus solely on people and narrow economic interest is critical. If no voice speaks for nature in these negotiations, then we are leaving future generations and Mother Earth completely vulnerable.

Dear Ambassador,
We, the undersigned representatives of civil society organizations and social movements,
Encouraged by the vision of the G77 to include the concept of Mother Earth in the Rio+20 negotiations,
Commend this step as a sign of commitment to a just and sustainable future for people, all species and for our Mother Earth,
Request that all UN Member States work vigorously to retain and expand the sections on the Rights of Mother Earth and Harmony with Nature,
Ambassador, Rio+20 is the moment to define ‘The Future We Want’
and that future must include the Rights of Mother Earth as well as safeguards for people and nature, especially in the context of an ill-defined Green Economy.
We therefore call upon you to continue to respect your obligations to Human Rights, the Rio Principles, Equity and to support further efforts to defend Mother Earth!
Signed, In solidarity,
Anil Naidoo, Blue Planet Project,
Council of Canadians

My own opinion is that this last sentence in Naidoo’s appeal is the really critical one. Of all that was discussed, argued and thought about in Rio last week, nothing seems more important to our collective future than the call to support all efforts to defend Mother Earth. There is a stark difference between the following scenarios: The first, earth as a cold lump of clay upon which we can basically do whatever the hell we like, such as to strip it of all its resources, destroy its vegetation, change its climate, pollute its oceans and skies, and the list continues. In the second, the earth as a being which gives nourishment, life, energy, protection, and every wonderful thing imaginable to all of its inhabitants, human and otherwise. The language we use to describe Earth matters. By including the word ‘mother’ in any discourse about her, and so our, future, changes the essence of how we think and feel about the planet we all call home, and therefore has tremendous significance.

The outcome of the Rio +20 summit last week might have been disappointing in light of the largest and most powerful players lack of commitment once again to the ideals of many who were present, but one has to think that when so many truly dedicated human beings come together in such a focused way to work on solutions to the world’s challenges across a wide spectrum of interests, something good and real will come out of it for the future we want. As the organizers said, once again,

Despite the demoralizing negotiations expected at Rio+20 within the framework of the UN, the Conference offers a real and symbolic opportunity for civil society to meet, present their proposals, and organize their struggles. Moreover, they can present a new paradigm of the economy, society, and politics that can face and eventually defeat the serious problems accumulated during this crisis of civilization, a paradigm that can strengthen the movements opposed to the system and be reinforced and developed by them.

I believe that the fly on the wall would have to agree that this opportunity did in fact occur, and that new paradigms for our collective future are being set in place. Never forget that a small group of dedicated people can literally change the world. I would like to thank all of those who worked hard and long for this latest Earth Summit, and say that your efforts are not in vain. The future is being created by all of you and all of us, right now.



Author: SingingBones

When we sing over the bones, we are calling the wild nature, the instinctive soul back, singing it alive again. To live with our wildness intact, is the greatest gift a woman can give herself. "It is the holy poetry and singing we are after." C.P. Estes

5 thoughts on “The Rio +20 Earth Summit

  1. Reblogged this on foundinfrance and commented:
    “I know of no safe depository of the ultimate powers of the society but the people themselves; and if we think them not enlightened enough to exercise their control with a wholesome discretion, the remedy is not to take it from them but to inform their discretion.”
    – Thomas Jefferson


    • Thanks for the reblog, Lea. ‘To inform their discretion….” indeed. Thanks for the Jefferson quote, the man who also believed that countries ought to have a revolution about every 200 years or so…. guess that would be now! SB


  2. We need many ears that can truly hear, thanks for this post!


  3. This is a full-fledged article you’ve written! Very informative.


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