Rio+20: selling off the earth

24 June 2012

Rio+20: selling off the earth

Ike Teuling - Rio+20 is a failure, and sadly enough that surprised nobody. The ‘green economy ‘ concept was greeted in advance by so many different actors with so much scepticism that it was doomed to fail. The environmental movement was suspicious of the influence of major corporations, the developing countries of the hidden agenda of the west and the left leaning countries of its neocapitalist starting point.

And all of this distrust turned out to be justified. Of the idea of a green economy, not much remains but a green rinse for the current economic model. After three days of negotiations, the world’s leaders have got no further than fine words, hollow rhetoric and a total lack of concrete commitments. The environmental movement has re-baptised Rio+20 as Greenwash+20.

Ike TeulingCorporate influence on the negotiation process was unprecedentedly great. While the People´s Forum in the centre of town showed much emotion in fighting for the right to water, the world’s leaders and corporations were negotiating in a chic conference centre far outside the city on the marketing of natural resources such as water, timber and agricultural land. Twenty years ago Greenpeace was already displaying a banner with ‘sold’ written across the Sugar Loaf Mountain, the most prominent cliff in Rio de Janeiro. Twenty years on the process referred to has been pushed a step further. Planet earth is up for sale.

Climate change won’t be stopped, deforestation continues apace, water in mountain regions will be more polluted by mining. All to save economic growth. The victims are the farmer in Paraguay whose crops are dying through pesticide use by an industrial neighbour, the inhabitants of Famatina, an Argentine village that is fighting against a polluting goldmine, the African fishermen who have no fish left to catch because European factory ships have grabbed the lot.

The green economy has become a façade behind which the world’s leaders can hide what they are really aiming for, a race to the bottom with its only goal being to record more economic growth than your neighbour. Just as here the houses on the outskirts of the favela – the shanty town – have been painted in cheerful colours to hide the misery behind them. I paid a visit to the Favela Rocinha this week and was shocked by the mediaeval conditions behind the colourful frontages: open sewers, and diseases which have long been banished from Europe.

On to Rio+30, or is it time for another approach? Outside the conference centre this alternative approach was already in any case taking clear form: individuals and communities standing up for their rights and prepared to get into the streets to fight for the right to water, the right to a sustainable way of life, the right to a green and clean future for their children. The force and the energy with which a leader of an Amazonian tribe clad in a feathered headdress defended the rights of his community gave me more than enough hope that it is not too late. We don’t need a resolution from the leaders of the world.

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