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  • Published on: 25 Oct 2011
  • Source: Inter Press Service, AlertNet
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DEVELOPMENT: Disgruntled Activists Meet in Seoul Ahead of Summit
As extreme weather conditions, rising carbon emissions, unprecedented global economic crises and widening social inequalities throw the planet increasingly off balance, the world is gearing up for another earth summit.However, the big question on the table is whether the next Rio+20 U.N. conference on sustainable development, slated to be held in Brazil in June 2012, will be just another talking shop.

Will governments deliberate endlessly on how to save the earth, end poverty and emerge from the global recession through a series of multilateral negotiations, or will they provide the urgent impetus for international momentum on swift solutions to the world's social and environmental crises?

Many environmental experts and activists remain sceptical that anything will come of next year's meeting, which marks the 20th anniversary of the 1992 U.N. conference on environment and development in Rio de Janeiro, where 178 countries agreed upon Agenda 21, a comprehensive "blueprint of action for sustainable development" for the 21st century.

The upcoming earth summit, however, will likely have a "watered down" agenda based on political commitments made two decades ago, which promised to work towards environmental sustainability, the well-being of all citizens and the eradication of poverty through sustainable consumption and production.

Time is running out and the forthcoming Rio summit should act as a "wake up call" for governments around the globe, Elenita Dano, a researcher and activist based in the southern Philippines, said to IPS on the sidelines of a two-day Rio+20 meeting in Seoul for activists and NGOs from Asia and the Pacific.

Green and sustainable economies, poverty eradication, institutional frameworks for sustainable development, access to information, public participation and environmental justice were among the many issues on the table in Seoul during debates that will contribute to the Asian and Pacific statement to the Rio summit.

The meeting was also designed to build the capacity of regional actors to participate in global processes and create awareness about unique challenges facing these countries, their progress in sustainability and their potential to shape and strengthen the global debate.

Though the summit is aimed at strengthening institutional environmental protocols and moving towards a greener global economy, Dano feared it will instead "subvert and reverse the principles adopted 20 years ago" and end up protecting the interests of big businesses, leaving treaties and protocols on climate change, biodiversity, desertification and forests out in the cold.

She added that there was an urgent need to "rein in the economic dimension", which has thus far overshadowed social and environmental concerns.

"There is no discussion of the World Trade Organisation (WTO), new trade regimes or free trade," she said.

Dano is not alone in these concerns. Many gathered in Seoul agreed that the dominant economic model promotes unsustainable consumption and production patterns, facilitates inequitable economic systems and has failed to eradicate poverty.

Uchita de Zoysa, executive director of the Sri Lanka-based Centre for Environment and Development, told IPS that an attempt to "greenwash" the brown economy will not meet the challenge of climate change and rising poverty, adding that business interests favoured "greed" over green.

Zoysa believes a long-term vision of economic sustainability should be based on equity, rather than preserving the "20:80 world order" (referring to the world's current lopsided distribution of land and wealth). He stressed that vertical growth benefitted the rich and led to a larger consumer class but "did nothing for poverty eradication".

Experts also said that the dominant model of economic sustainability - characterized by market liberalisation, privatisation and deregulation - has led to rising unemployment, constituting a grave threat to livelihoods and further marginalisation of women, youth and indigenous peoples.

According to Dano, governments have had 20 years since the first high-level convention on sustainability to fully understand what constitutes sustainable development, yet they have failed to make any progress towards achieving that goal.

"Governments are still grappling with the operational issues about how to translate these concepts into policies and laws," she explained.

"Their performance in translating commitments into action has been dismal," she said. NGOs attending the summit in hopes of exerting pressure on governments and businesses to respond to the needs of the poor, while simultaneously warding off dirty industries and their lobbyists, were in for a gruelling battle, she added.

Many like Zoysa believe that, while the first Rio summit was a "great unifier", the 2012 convention promises to be a "great divider".

Describing his own disillusionment with the Rio process, the activist told IPS, "Twenty years ago, I boarded a train whose destination was sustainability." However, shortly after it left the platform, the various cars of the train - biodiversity, forestry, desertification and climate change - were left by the wayside, he said.

"The current strategy for Rio+20 has divided the environmental camp by confusing us and repackaging sustainable development as the 'green economy,'" he added.

Portending that the summit "will fail, since people's belief in it has collapsed", Zoysa is convinced that Rio 2012 will be monopolised by corporations, industrialised countries and emerging market economies.

If only governments had implemented the many conventions and declarations of twenty years ago and "fulfilled their promises", climate change would not have reached such unprecedented levels. Instead, rather than exacerbating them, the world would be well on its way to ending social and economic inequities, he concluded.
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