Rio+20, 20 - 22 June 2012
Rio De Janeiro, Brazil

UNEP Head Debates Green Economy with Civil Society

Argues Green Economy is About People-Centred Sustainable Development—Not a Charter for Unbridled ‘Commodization’ of Nature

Rio de Janeiro, 16 June 2012 - A full and frank discussion between members of civil society attending the People’s Summit and Achim Steiner, the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) Executive Director took place in down-town Rio.

The focus of the often heated and engaging debate centred around views by some of the speakers and members of the audience that a transition towards a Green Economy is a pro-capitalist and an anti-poor agenda that will lead to the ‘commodization’ of nature.

Edwin Vasquez , President of the Indigenous  Organizations of the Amazon Basin, called on governments to finally and properly recognize the land and other rights of indigenous peoples.

“Every day and every year these have been infringed by states, governments and companies. Sustainable development has been disappointing and now it is called Green Economy,” he said.

“The indigenous peoples here have not come to beg but to outline clear proposals that focus on governments recognizing the legality of the territories of indigenous peoples,” said Mr Vasquez.

Kika Bessen of the People of Colour movement urged a rejection of economic models that perpetuate racism and sexism, warned of the “commoditization of nature” and called for a “respect of human rights”.

Larissa Parker of the Belem Charter said the United Nations was failing to embrace an issue that was clear to civil society, namely the crucial role of traditional knowledge as an intellectual guide to sustainable development.

She said the Rio+20 Summit would, through the Green Economy, perpetuate a 50 year-old model of development  “based on new technology and private ownership” and called for structural change and the “redistribution of wealth”.

Juan Herrero of La Via Campesina International, said governments were working with multinationals to hijack the land with commodity crops like soya that were marginalizing local peasantry.

Artur Henrique of the Labour movement, CUT said a transition to a Green Economy could threaten jobs in areas such as the automobile industry without strong social protection and claimed that a Green Economy would lead to the privatization of water, land and air.

“This is not the change in the model we are looking for,” he said.

Pablo Solon of Focus on the Global South claimed that UNEP’s Green Economy initiative was nothing more than a license to hand over nature to capitalists and unfettered free markets at the expense of people and the planet.

He claimed a key programme to assist countries in conserving forests and cutting greenhouse gas emissions-- known as Reduced Emissions from Deforestation and forest Degradation (REDD)-- was a ‘perverse incentive’.

Mr Solon, a former United Nations diplomat with the Government of Bolivia, said the proposal of issuing bonds that would be used to generate income for countries reducing deforestation as likely to trigger financial “bubbles”.

“It will lead to the continuation of pollution, not the reduction and it will lead to a huge financial bubble, bigger than the current housing ones,” he claimed.

Mr Solon urged delegates and heads of state attending the Rio+20 Summit to back ”real change not more capitalism based on profit”.

“We need a model that is not based on the unlimited exploitation of nature—you cannot grow forever, instead we need the redistribution of wealth,” he added.

Finally Pat Mooney of the ETC Group of Canada said there were aspects of the UNEP Green Economy report he could support but much he could not.

“My first point is that the message maker (UNEP) cannot control how the message is read. What is being debated at Rio+20 is quite different,” he asserted.

Mr Mooney said he also feared that the Green Economy aims would be hijacked by those whose failed policies have led to unsustainable development since 1992.

He pointed out that over the past 20 years sustainable development has led to the massive control of the world’s agriculture by multinationals.

“In 1992 the seed industry controlled less than 25% of the seed market--20 years later the top 3 control more than 50% of the seed market,” claimed Mr Mooney.

He also said the promise of technology was all too often hollow and cited the case of nuclear power and now ‘synthetic biology’ being used to make biofuels to power buses in Rio.

He said the Peoples’ Summit, being held in Flamengo Park, was far from the Rio+20 Summit and that delegates there were keeping their distance and effectively ignoring the concerns of the public and too many civil society leaders.

“Why are the governments not coming to us? The Executive Director of UNEP has come, but that is not enough. This is where the real life and the real world is,” said Mr Mooney.

Mr Steiner, also a UN Under-Secretary General, thanked the speakers, delegates and organizers for inviting him to listen at first hand to their ideas and concerns.

He said that the UN, being an intergovernmental body, could sometimes fall behind the expectations of parts of the social movement.

But Mr Steiner responded claim that the Green Economy was not a perpetuation of the free market and said much of the criticism from delegates was focused on the word economy whereas the Green Economy was a departure from the economy of the past half a century.

“The Green Economy is actually a critique of the ability of markets on their own to deliver the kind of sustainable development we hoped for 20 years ago,” he said.

Mr Steiner said markets were social constructs and needed to be managed and to be regulated to deliver social and environmental outcomes.

He said he took a different view to those who maintain that putting a value on nature automatically leads to its commoditization.

“Currently we legitimize the over exploitation of nature because we attach a zero value to it in national polices of nations and their systems of national accounts—that needs to change,” said Mr Steiner.
He said he had always been on the side of territorial rights for indigenous peoples and said the UN tries to assist governments in ways that can respect those rights.

Mr Steiner contended that if the debate on sustainable development continued on the basis of the ‘capitalism versus anti-capitalism’ it would get nowhere risking another 20 years of too little action.
He said that he hoped that the debate at the People’s Summit had triggered not only heat but light and pledged to bring the concerns to the attention of those at Rio+20.

“Even if the Rio+20 summit and those taking part seems distant to many of you, I wanted to be here today to say that there are some of us that are listening very carefully to what you have to say even if we cannot agree on everything,” said Mr Steiner.

Note to Editors

People’s Summit at Rio+20