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Rio+20 Earth Summit – time to change the narrative

What we need at the June meeting [Rio+20] is action – not voluntary pledges and empty goals. Phil England looks ahead to Rio+20 and potential for failure of national governments – captured by corporate interests – to address the environmental problems that prompted the first Earth Summit 20 years ago.

Read the complete article at New Internationalist blog

This ‘Zero Draft’ as it is called, was summed up as a statement of ‘Zero Ambition’ by the newsletter of the NGOs that are inputting into the Rio+20 process: ‘The whole text breathes only the voluntary approach, which countries can accept or just leave. It is all up to nice and interesting partnerships, good intentions and promoting green consumption. When you read in detail you can find some good ideas, but most are not really new: other indicators, stop harmful subsidies, civil society participation; all said and agreed on a decade or two ago.’

This is the same failed voluntary approach that came out of the original Earth Summit 20 years ago. That Summit produced the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (the UNFCCC that has been the basis of the UN climate talks ever since) and the Convention on Biological Diversity. The Rio+20 agenda in its current form has nothing to offer but more of the same failed medicine. The agenda is full of voluntary pledges and empty goals with no means of fulfilling them.

As part of the agenda-drafting process, dozens of civil society groups from around the globe have submitted their ideas and proposals alongside those of national governments. Some of these initiatives have been discussed in the working groups focused on Energy, Equity & Environment and Environment & Economics and we think deserve the serious consideration of Occupy London as a whole.

First is the proposal to recognize planetary boundaries. A heavyweight paper in the scientific journal Nature in 2009 drew together what we know about Earth systems and how far we can push them. The paper identified nine boundaries (more may be identified as our knowledge develops) – three of which we have overshot already (atmospheric greenhouse gas concentrations, rate of biodiversity loss and nitrogen cycle). A group of public interest lawyers have started a campaign for these to be recognized and respected by international law.

Second is the proposal to make Ecocide the Fifth International Crime Against Peace. This would make CEOs, board members, government ministers and heads of banks personally liable for large-scale damage to ecosystems such as the Gulf of Mexico oil spill and production of oil from the Canadian tar sands.

Third is the proposal to recognize the rights of nature. This draws on the work of Bolivia – which drafted a proposed Universal Declaration of the Rights of Mother Earth in 2010 – and also on the philosophical tradition of such thinkers as Thomas Berry and the Wild Law community, who propose that the Earth – rather than humans (and corporations) – should be at the centre of our legal system. This is echoed in the words of Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams, who said ‘the economy is a wholly owned subsidiary of the environment’ and progressive thinkers such as Susan George, who has said that inverting our current priorities so that the environment comes first, humans second and the economy third is the great task of our age.”

Read the complete article at New Internationalist blog