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Certainly not for the future of the world’s peoples

By Rights for Sustainability

At the 11th hour of the Rio+20 Summit where governments are expected to renew commitments and more for a genuinely sustainable development path translating to better lives for the world’s poor majority in a document entitled “The Future We Want”, the signposts indicate a virtual burial of the 1992 Rio principles by facilitating continued and legitimised corporate stranglehold of the world’s resources under the guise of sustainable development.

The death of Rio ’92 might as well be how Rio+20 may go down in history as governments continue to lose sight of the basic tenets of social justice supposedly at the heart of the Summit’s raison d’etre.


IBON International Director Antonio Tujan Jr. (far left) speaking on corporate green economy and the need for system change at the plenary 5 of the Cupula dos Povos. Photo by IBON International

The current draft at the end of the third preparatory committee meeting of the United Nations Committee on Sustainable Development (UNCSD) finalised by the Brazilian government reveals further adherence to neoliberal prescriptions, which have in the first place gravely contributed to the worsening of the world’s ecological systems as a result of decades of development paradigms favouring profits of industrialised countries at the expense of the poor, marginalised populations in the south.

But even as the Brazilian government, as host country of this historic summit, scrambles to come up with a compromise document palatable on one hand between the US, Canada, Japan, Norway, Australia and other countries in the North and the G77 and China on the other, it finds itself in a catch-22 situation following lack of consensus on its key themes—green economy and the international framework on sustainable development—and other contentious ones such as means of implementation, and basic references to food, water and climate which critics refer to as “bracketing” or deletion of rights.

With two days to go before the arrival of heads of state for the summit proper, worries of a negotiations breakdown and total collapse are now corridor talks as negotiators embark on a last ditch attempt to come up with a compromise document.

This being said, no deal is better than a bad deal of having a corporate-designed green economy framework as a product of the negotiations, among others.


Corporate stranglehold


Corporate control through increased private sector participation principally championed by the US is a recurring reference in agriculture, finance, jobs, science and technology, aid and development effectiveness, and capacity building of developing countries.

In Paragraph 13, there is recognition that sustainable development can only be achieved through the broad alliance of people, governments, civil society and the private sector “all working together to secure the future we want for present and future generations”—as if the very profit-oriented nature of businesses do not undermine this very intent.

In Agriculture (paragraph 110), increasing agricultural production and productivity is anchored on improving the “functioning of markets… by “increasing public and private investment in sustainable agriculture, land management and rural development”. There is recognition of post-harvest losses and other food losses, but the document is silent on the basic fact that the culprit is the wasteful consumption pattern of the North, as cited even in a report by the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).

Even the issue of food price volatility (paragraph 117)—which is a result of financialisation of food resources in the futures commodity market—is superficially treated as the issue of “excessive” food price volatility at that, the private sector (alongside governments and participating international organisations) is urged to “to ensure the public dissemination of timely and quality food market information products.”


Last ditch effort


On the eve of the two-day marathon negotiations for a Rio+20 document, governments are not at all pleased with the current draft. Developing countries are emphatic on a Means of Implementation that will translate into concrete commitments for their development goals, while the North led by the US, EU, Canada and others are keen on pushing for greater private sector role in practically any aspect of the document they can come in. For instance, in the negotiations on the International Framework on Sustainable Development (IFSD), the US posed the issue of private sector entry as a funding source for UN’s operations.

Bracketing of rights remain, including the right to water which, as pointed out by Bolivia, is a right that must be clearly spelled out. Contentious issues such as technology transfer and finance remain, with developed countries insisting on mutually agreed terms and conditions while developing countries insist clearer language on how this is to be done given that there is no level playing field.

The G77 and China through their spokesperson Algeria already expressed concern that they might reach the summit date without any outcome document due to the sheer number of basic, red-line issues that need to be settled. They are worried that they have nothing to take back home from the conference – a concern shared by many.

As key industrialised governments insist on a development path for them to operate in their business-as-usual way, while countries of the South continue to get mired in deeper poverty and debt, the looming message of a Rio+20 failure is never far behind. # Rights for Sustainability Delegation at Rio+20 Summit.