Kumi Naidoo, Greenpeace
There is an upsetting sense of déjà-vu as I write this. At the end of Rio+20 its plain for the world to see that the transformational change we need was not delivered. We saw an epic failure of responsibility at Rio. Rio+20 should have been be about zero deforestation, an energy revolution based on renewable energy and energy efficiency, about healthy oceans, liveable forests, and ecological food for all. Instead, it delivered no action, no targets and too many weasle words. Governments were selling us their failure as a success, Rio+20 will therefore become known as Greenwash+20.
We know the feeling. Back in 1992, we said that the Earth Summit had ‘sold out‘ the planet to vested interests. ‘Sustainable development‘ had been co-opted and mangled beyond recognition. The same can be said about the Green Economy at Rio+20. Indeed, looking back, there was more action on a Green Economy in the Agenda 21 adopted in 1992 than there is in the Polluter´s Charter coming out of Rio+20.
Looking back, Rio 1992 did another good thing. It brought together the discourses of environment and development. We at Greenpeace honour this legacy today by focusing on the strong links between environmental protection, poverty eradication and social justice. Governments, however, are failing to honour that legacy. At Rio+20 they have failed on ecology, equity and economy. They have only ‘noted‘ the problems of our world, not acted on them. The governments we want are governments that make tough choices. It is easy and cheap to talk about promoting ‘sustainable development‘ or the ‘green economy‘. But such words are meaningless unless governments act to put an end to unsustainable practices. An economy based on nuclear energy, oil and coal, genetic engineering, toxic chemicals or the overexploitation of our forests and seas will never be sustainable or green.
There is no good news in the official negotiation outcome. But today, unlike 20 years ago, more solutions are proven and exist at scale. The energy sector is already changing, for example. Twenty years ago, few would have honestly expected the renewables industry to be as strong as it is today. In Germany, 81% of all installed power capacity in the last decade was renewable. Last year, investments in renewable energies globally were higher than investments in old and dirty fossil fuel technologies. China has proven that renewable energy can be upscaled quickly and Brazil, too, has experienced an exciting boom in wind energy. Some governments are taking right steps, such as phasing out nuclear power (Germany), suspending the development of genetically engineered rice (China) or brinjal (India), or acting to collectively protect their tuna stocks (Federated States of Micronesia, Kiribati, the Marshall Islands, Nauru, Palau, Papua New Guinea, the Solomon Islands and Tuvalu). Some companies are also starting to lead, with Google investing heavily in renewable energy, Nike and H&M eliminating toxic chemicals from their supply chains, supermarket giant Sainsbury‘s investing in the responsible sourcing of seafood around the world and backing Marine Reserves, or Indonesian Golden Agri Resources, the world‘s second largest palm oil producer, committing to no more deforestation for oil palm expansion.
They do so because action for the environment is popular. That is why citizen power is achieving real change around the world. A referendum in Italy stopped nuclear power last year. Old coal-fired power stations in the US are being decommissioned and new ones stopped by an unprecedented alliance of grassroots groups, federal regulators and investors who no longer believe the lie that ‘coal is cheap‘. In Brazil, President Dilma may have failed to protect the Amazon through a complete veto of the new Forest Code law, but Zero Deforestation can still be delivered by 2015. Over 340,000 Brazilians have already put their name to a Zero Deforestation law; once 1,4 million Brazilians demand a Zero Deforestation law, the Brazilian parliament is forced to vote on it. As the warnings of 20 years ago are turning into reality, and the Arctic is melting at a shocking speed, opposition is also building against oil companies drilling for oil where ice once made that impossible. Here at Rio, Greenpeace launched a new mobilisation to save the Arctic yesterday. It is our signal of hope against the despair of the official outcome. After Rio+20 the world needs people to mobilise and force change. The Arctic will be a first key battleground. It needs masses of people from around the world to stand up and demand action to protect it. A ban on offshore oil drilling and unsustainable fishing would be a huge victory against the forces that won out at Rio+20 and would provide a future for the four million people who live there.
Beyond Rio+20 does not lie in despair. While much could have been achieved over three days in Rio to put the world on the path of sustainable development, real decisions are taken each and every day in capitals and board rooms around the world. We still need a global deal for our climate, we need global governance to support and foster a great transition where equity, economy and ecology are not in competition but in harmony to deliver sustainable development. Indeed, beyond Rio+20 lies a road worth taking: Through a groundswell of public mobilisation, social movement alliances, smart businesses investing in the future and enough governments daring to lead by regulating effectively and banning unsustainable practices, a liveable future for our children is still in our grasp.
About the author
Kumi Naidoo is Executive Director of Greenpeace International