Earlier than expected, a text was agreed on at the Rio+20 summit, denominated “The Future we want”. Is the future of the world now safe?

What is the need of calling for a big international conference like the RIO+20 one? If the objective is to bring world leaders together in a nice picture, adopting just any text that can give an impression that they are actually thinking about the environmental crisis, then the summit may be called a success. If, on the other hand, the objective is to really do something about the growing global crisis, then it should be measured in a different way.

Let’s see some of the key issues.

Economic growth or redistribution and respect for planetary boundaries?

It is nothing new to state that we are living in a limited world with limited recourses, and that we are at the edge of surpassing some critical tipping points for Mother Earth. To keep on growing economically in this setting is just a logical impossibility. Nevertheless, the RIO+20 text never considers these aspects of the environmental problem – in fact doesn’t make any assessment of the critical situation of nature at all- but on the contrary mentions “sustained economic growth” about 23 times, as an objective in itself, and as a solution to the multiple crisis that the world faces today.

The fact that the top 1% in the world has an ecological footprint that is a 3 to 4-digit multiplier of the footprint of the poor seems to be of no relevance at all, and redistribution of wealth is not on the agenda.

Green economy

On how this growth would be possible, without affecting the environment even further, no word is uttered. Well, supposedly the “green economy” would do so.  Even though it is not clear what green economy actually is, as there is no definition in the text. The closest description would be:

56. (…) we consider green economy in the context of sustainable development and poverty eradication as one of the important tools available for achieving sustainable development and that it could provide options for policy making but should not be a rigid set of rules.

So, green economy is considered a tool, but without further description of what it implies. What it is supposed to achieve is set out as follows:

(…) We emphasize that it should contribute to eradicating poverty as well as sustained economic growth, enhancing social inclusion, improving human welfare and creating opportunities for employment and decent work for all, while maintaining the healthy functioning of the Earth’s ecosystems.

The way of stating that “while maintaining the healthy functioning of the Earth’s ecosystems” doesn’t make environmental protection really an objective by itself, it sounds more like just something extra to take into account.

But then, what is the green economy tool? Those who have been promoting it are clear on it: it is the inclusion of the natural capital in the economy, so now

“(…) a market for the formerly free goods and services provided by the environment could be readily envisaged, thus removing the last stumbling blocks to our placing a value on these goods and services. (…) So nature’s storehouse becomes big business. The stability and growth of the corporate investment becomes a function of ecosystem condition. Inventories of ecosystem goods and services form part of annual accounts for corporations as well as countries.(…)[1].

The principle way of incorporating natural capital in the economy would be through “payment for ecosystem services (PES)”, which means: giving a price to everything nature does for us, making it affordable and profitable for the rich, and unaffordable for the poor. It was the objective of developed countries was to have PES in the text, as one of the main options for green economy. Finally, the concept is not in the text, but there is no reason to sing victory: the whole UN system is on its way to implement the PES scheme as the principal implementation of the “green economy tool”. Even in a country like Bolivia, which opposed to the green economy system, including REDD as one of its principal tools, it rains projects and consultancy jobs to measure nature, to implement REDD, to look for opportunities for PES schemes. A clear sign that on the one hand, the system doesn’t need an approval in the UN in order to proceed, as well as of the fact that the “national sovereignty principle”, established under the green economy chapter, is just ignored.

Any concrete advance?

“The future we want”-text does very little to really implement actions for the future. Actually 20% of the paragraphs refer to implementing previously established decisions, and another similar number is just dedicated to concerns about currently existing situations.

Wherever measures are adopted, they are stated in such a free way that they may or may not be implemented. The general tone is set as “we call on governments and relevant stakeholders, including the private sectors, to implement measures to attend the current multiple crisis”. Not really a concrete way of tackling the issues.

Even the issue of the end of fossil fuels subsidies, in the first place those granted to corporations, is attended only by reaffirming the existing commitments of some countries, and inviting other countries to consider the issue. The global civil society action, including the #EndFossilFuelSubsidy twitter storm was not heard.

Confronting paradigms

While a world conference on sustainable development should be the place where in the most open and inclusive way, all worldviews and development paradigms should be confronted, evaluated, and decided upon, quite the contrary happened. In the official top, the discussions were about maintaining or not the basic principles from the Earth Summit of Rio92, and on ways of how to implement the green economy.

The Rights of Mother Earth, any holistic view on Nature, a profound restructuring of societies, global redistribution of wealth, equity principles, solidarity economics, food sovereignty, etc. didn’t have any chance to be discussed.

At the same time, in the parallel “copula dos povos”, the global civil society meeting, those are the proposals that are heard everywhere. Nobody there agrees with the green economy.

The official top has assured its success. The show can go on, the corporate economy system as it stands has been enhanced. Until the ideas from the Copula dos Povos will gain some more strength. Or until Mother Earth herself tells humanity it’s been enough.


[1] Extract of “Valuing Ecosystem Services in a Green Economy”, Thesis submitted by Ian Arthur Curtis, Phd, James Cook University, April 2003. Actual implementation of the concept, including the UNEP description, follow the same line.


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