On Friday, I posed questions that I hoped to find answers to through discussions related to the thematic social forum here in Porto Alegre. I wouldn't presume that the answers I've come up with are definitive, and truthfully I just have more questions now, but I wanted to offer these "observations from Brazil" in the hope that it helps us navigate Rio+20:
1. What could be the implications of Rio+20 on our campaigns related to the commons, the human right to water and sanitation, the rights of nature and climate justice approaches to the climate crisis?
Massive. Although the "green economy" is understood much differently at home than how it is seen internationally, the agenda for it that is being advanced through the United Nations represents "an enclosure of the commons," a threat to the implementation of the hard-won recognition of the right to water and sanitation (given it promotes big dams, public-private partnerships, etc.), an undermining of the rights of nature, and a further extension of the "false solutions" (market-based approaches) that we have seen take precedence at recent UN climate change talks in Copenhagen, Cancun and Durban. I've tried to articulate that more in this blog.
2. How will the talks relate to the ongoing push for privatization of the public good, global austerity measures and agendas of trade liberalization?
The "green economy" agenda is entirely about the privatization of the public good, also presented as the financialization/commodification/mercantilization of nature. Olivier Hoedeman of Corporate Europe Observatory writes, "The market-based approach promoted by (a UN Environment Program chief spokesperson Pavan) Sukdhev assumes that nature should be precisely measured and valued, according to the 'services' it provides (cleaning water, capturing carbon and so on). This way nature's services can be costed, offset and traded on markets, via credits, similar to carbon trading. Giving nature a monetary value or putting a price tag on it, is the best way to protect it, UNEP argues."
In terms of the second part of my question, the "green economy" is directly related to austerity measures. First, there is the analysis that the "green economy" offers a capitalist system in crisis vast new forms of markets to exploit. The UN says the "green economy" could "grow the global economy at around the same rate if not higher than those forecast under current economic models." And secondly, in Canada we have already seen Harper's cuts to Environment Canada with more to come. This is a clearly a gutting of governmental responsibilities and an abandonment of the public good, with the Conservatives arguing that the market is the best mediator of environmental limits.
And in terms of trade liberalization, what struck me in the "zero draft" -- the negotiating text for Rio+20 -- is the statement, "international efforts to help countries build a green economy in the context of sustainable development and poverty eradication must not create new trade barriers…" The "zero draft" also explicitly recognizes the role of "the World Trade Organization in regulating global trade."
3. Do we maintain a hope for a positive outcome as we did at the Copenhagen climate summit, or do we approach it with an experience-based disappointment and critique as we did with the Durban climate talks?
I think that while we must always "live in hope" and, given that these summits do occur, demand social/environmental/economic justice-based action from the world leaders attending them. I might suggest at this point though that a positive outcome for us will be stopping a "green economy" platform from being established within the United Nations, rather than "turning the ship" in a progressive direction. Like anything I'm writing here, that is very much open to debate and discussion.
That said, I am drawn to Hoedeman's comment that, "Big business has made major inroads into the UN system. There is an increasing emphasis on markets and business as a solution to environmental problems. On this basis it is perhaps not surprising that business lobbies are now demanding a much stronger, deeper and more formal roles in UN environmental decision-making. These demands have been voiced most clearly in the context of the UN climate talks and some of this was already implemented in the run-up to the Cancun climate summit. Challenging the corporate co-option of the UN should be a major priority in the run-up to Rio+20."
4. Do we demand that leaders go to Rio+20 and take responsibility for the actions needed to address the environmental crisis? Or given the shameful role played by the Harper government at recent climate talks, do we think it would be better for Canada not to be there to derail what progress might be possible? Does Harper or his ministers even plan to go, given that his ideological ally British Prime Minister David Cameron has said he will not attend?
The picture seems to be emerging that many world leaders -- notably Cameron from the U.K., likely U.S. president Barack Obama who would be just four months away from defeat/ re-election to a second term, and presumably Stephen Harper (who would likely send environment minister Peter Kent) -- will not be present at Rio+20. That could all change, but it is what media reports and pundits are suggesting now. Should we press our leaders to attend? Here I would argue it would be counter-productive to urge Harper to go. Instead, I think, it will be more important to mobilize leaders who are opposed to the corporate "green economy" model and ensure that they have the predominant voice within the Earth Summit.
5. How will the global social justice movement come together to credibly and effectively press for progressive action? Are there useful inside strategies to pursue? Should we only be on the streets protesting? Should we do both?
It does appear that many within the global social justice movement are coalescing around Rio+20, but at this point it might be an exaggeration to say that large segments of the movement worldwide are doing so. There were certainly many Brazilian and Latin American activists, as well as internationals here in Porto Alegre, but the task is huge. The civil society "show" -- largely facilitated/funded by the Brazilian government, state-owned companies, foundations, and other large players -- will be dazzling in June I'm sure. Newspaper reports say there is doubt though that a million people will be mobilized on the street as happened at the first Earth Summit in 1992. There is additional doubt that Brazil's facilitation of a civil society space will be instrumental to changing the outcome of the summit.
As for strategies, there appears to be consensus on the need for both an inside strategies (as for us, direct lobbying, not "deep inside" lobbying), as well as many street protests -- global days of action on June 5-10, marches in Rio on June 15-16-17, and for the launching of a permanent people's assembly on June 18. Thoughtful and strategic inside lobbying of a sufficient number of countries well before Rio+20 as well as at the Earth Summit itself could be very effective as a defensive strategy.
As noted above, these are simply observations that are open to scrutiny and debate.
For ongoing updates and analysis, please see our Rio+20 web page: http://canadians.org/rio20.
Adeus Brasil. Vê-lo em junho.
Brent Patterson, Political Director, The Council of Canadians
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