Farida Akhter

Rio+ 20: How ‘green’ is Green Economy?

February 14, 2012

rio finalThis June in Rio de Janeiro, the world leaders are going to meet in a summit called Rio+ 20 to mark two important events of the last two decades; the 20th anniversary of the 1992 United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED), held in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil and the 10th anniversary of the 2002 World Summit on Sustainable Development (WSSD) held in Johannesburg, South Africa. Short named as Rio+ 20, this is a United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development (UNCSD).

The Conference will focus on two themes: (a) a green economy in the context of sustainable development and poverty eradication; and (b) the institutional framework for sustainable development. But questions have already been raised around the concept of Green Economy which is a deceptive way of continuing the same old system of exploitation by the developed countries and of the rich in north and south.

The objective of the Conference, as expressed by the organizers is to secure renewed political commitment for sustainable development, assess the progress to date and identify the remaining gaps in the implementation of the outcomes of the major summits on sustainable development to address new and emerging challenges.

The first draft that has come out called the Zero Draft with the Title “The Future We Want” has already disgraced the environmental and social organizations around the globe. It is not going to be safer, greener, prosperous future for all the people of the world. The world is not going to be fooled by such hypocritical promises anymore. Twenty years have been enough learning for the people.

The Peoples Summit that is going to be organized in parallel to the Rio+ 20 will expose the real colour behind the Green. The draft (modified recently) is available on the website of the Rio +20 conference [http://www.uncsd2012.org/rio20/]. The environmental and social movement groups around the world have expressed their concerns over the draft, which is an attempt to continue the existing economic model which according to the critiques while pursued in the name of efficiency and economic growth is in fact driven by profit and greed. It has resulted in unprecedented levels of poverty, exploitation of natural, resources, inequality and food insecurity, which disproportionately affect women. The draft widely ignores social justice, human rights and eco-justice but opts to grow and to expand the existing economic model, greening it and transforming all ecosystem services to commodities and market products’ [The Future They Want: A critique of Rio + 20 Zero draft].

If the zero draft is already denying the rights of the people how can we expect that the assessment of the last 20 years will go in the direction of seeking the right colour for the people? It is already turning grey – or showing its real colour of profit and greed.

The Earth Summit in 1992 endorsed the notion of sustainable development and approved the international conventions on climate change, desertification and biodiversity. It adopted several legally binding environment treaties, particularly the UN Framework on Climate Change (UNFCC) and the 1993 Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD).

The Thematic Social Forum has just been held in Porto Alegre, Brazil during 24 – 29 January, 2012 in which the Latin American groups as well as global environmental and social movements got together and planned for the Peoples’ Summit (a parallel event to be held in Rio de Janeiro in June 2012). It will be called the Peoples’ Summit for Social and Environmental Justice. They plan to converge the efforts of the peoples and citizens, their networks and organizations. In fact, such convergence has started since 2010 in various forms in different regions of the world such as 2nd World Conference of Peoples on Climate Change in Bolivia (2011), the COP 17 in Durban, South Africa during 28 November to 9 December, and the upcoming Water Forum in France in March 2012. In the Asia Pacific Regional Preparatory Meeting held in October 2011, South Korea women’s groups came up with a critique of the Green Economy and the Zero Draft of Rio+20.

It is obvious that the Rio+20 is certainly not going to build upon sustainable development. It will have a pretentious colour of green to do something by 2015, when the targets set for MDGs have already failed. Yet, sustainable development seems to be less urgent than the so-called green economy, which talks about greening of the present exploitative economy. The issues of rights and justice are not even in their vocabulary. The planet earth is in deep financial, ecological and development crisis. People are becoming poorer and the living conditions are deteriorating.

According to Social Watch Report 2012 [www.socialwatch.org] there is a global abundance of resources which are sufficient to guarantee for the essential needs of all the world’s 7 billion inhabitants, and yet too many of these inhabitants suffer from hunger. Inequality between the rich and the poor is growing both in the developed and the developing countries. Rich in the developed countries as well as the rich in the poor countries have a lifestyle and consumption pattern, which is unsustainable. According to Social Watch (2012) 20% of the population enjoys more than 70% of total income and those in the bottom quintile gets only 2% of global income.

At the Earth Summit, 1992 the world leaders stated that the pattern of consumption and production in the industrialised countries is unsustainable. Today, these have remained same and in fact have spread to rich of the developing countries adopting similar lifestyles. With income inequalities sharpening in all countries over-consumption and unsustainable consumption dominates production choices (Social Watch, 2012).

Green Economy is not just going to be the natural green that will be controlled by people. But this green is actually the “great green technological transformation’ replacing the extraction of petroleum with the exploitation of biomass (food and fibre crops, grasses, forest residues, plant oils, algae etc.). The nascent biomass economy quickly acquired a patina of ‘green’’ promising to solve the problem of Peak Oil, to arrest climate change and to usher in an era of sustainable development [Who will control Green Economy from ETC group [www.etcgroup.org]).

The ETC group has listed top 10 seed companies controlling 64% of market share, top 10 agrochemical companies controlling 89% of market share, top 20 Gene Banks have accessions 3,054,982 (41.3%) of world total. The forest-based biomass covers 9% of earth’s surface area containing 600,000 million tonnes of biomass. The global south accounts for 68% of the world’s forest biomass, however, top 10 forestry companies control 40.2% of global sales. ETC warns that in the negotiating process leading up to Rio+20 there is a troubling tendency for food and agriculture to be subsumed into a wider “environmental agenda that ignores the recurring global food crises and the links between industrial agriculture and the climate crisis. The importance of agriculture and the role of small-scale producers must be central to any discussion of a green economy.

We want a process which has already started in different countries towards a corporate free world with social and environmental justice. In Bangladesh we hope such process also gets momentum towards a successful and colourful Peoples’ Summit in Rio next June, not a green that is destructive.

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Farida Akhter is an activist in women’s movement, environment and health issues, and also the executive director of UBINIG and founding member of Nayakrishi Andolon.

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