Get Red Pepper's email newsletter. Enter your email address to receive our latest articles, updates and news.
Given how backwards the Rio Summit’s priorities were, it’s hardly surprising that negotiations ended before they began. But a slow swarm of black ministerial limousines have crawled across Rio regardless, with Ministers, Presidents and Prime Ministers queuing up to talk the language of sustainability, while mostly advancing corporate interests. It came to a close yesterday with the adoption of a final declaration called, without a hint of irony, ‘The Future We Want.’
The Rio declaration contains 283 paragraphs of blank prose that ‘reaffirms,’ ‘notes,’ and ‘acknowledges’ a long shopping list of activities, but ‘commits’ to virtually nothing. There is no program of action, figures, dates, targets, nothing at all that locks countries into taking action. It is a political non-event that turgidly regurgitates some of the sustainability-speak of the original Rio conference 20 years ago, with none of its ambition.
Despite that, there are a few straws for optimists to clutch at. The most significant-sounding, from an environmental perspective, is that the text ‘reaffirms’ a commitment to ‘phase out harmful and inefficient fossil fuel subsidies.’ This references previous statements released by the G20, the group of 20 countries accounting for over 80 per cent of the global economy, but it is the first time fossil fuel subsidies get such a mention in a document with multilateral sign-ons. However, no practical, legal or financial provisions are envisaged to support this goal, and the proposal lacks any nuance.
Fossil fuel subsidy removal is likely to fail unless it is phased in while subsidies are shifted towards support for public transport and renewable energy development, as popular backlash against recent attempts to remove fossil fuel consumer subsidies in Bolivia and Nigeria make clear. Meanwhile, significant subsidies for fossil fuel producers in industrialised countries, which should be the first target for action, remain in place, while the Rio declaration simultaneously supports ‘cleaner fossil fuels technologies’ (a point lobbied for by Canada, Russia and the coal lobby)—which, translated for the non-sustainability-speakers means things such as unproven and expensive carbon capture and storage technology.
Elsewhere in the Rio declaration, there is a welcome restatement of the original Rio principles, notably the ‘common but differentiated responsibilities’ between countries that climate justice advocates have been so keen to defend within global climate negotiations. The ‘right to water’ is reaffirmed too, although without any new measures to enact this principle.
One of the most significant aspects of the final declaration, meanwhile, is what it does not say. It is entirely silent about the ‘nature, origins and evolution of the global economic and financial
crisis that is wreaking havoc in the world today’ and undermining sustainability, as Professor Alejandro Nadal of the Centre for Economic Studies in Mexico points out. Yet finance quietly dominated from the sidelines, and to historians looking back on Rio in 20 years time, it may well be that the most significant agreement was not the summit’s final statement itself, but a $30 billion currency swap deal between Brazil and China that was announced at a G20 side-event.
Thankfully, the declaration also does not say as much as it had threatened to in terms of advancing corporate-driven ‘green economy’ proposals, which would have put a price on nature as a prelude to creating new markets in ‘ecosystem’ commodities. The G77 (a grouping of 133 developing countries, including China) blocked this language, under pressure from civil society, and the resulting agreement speaks merely of ‘green economy policies.’ That has been interpreted here as a victory for pluralism, with different countries free to define their own vision of what a sustainable economy might look like.
Some residues from this corporate-driven approach can still be found in the Rio declaration, however. Although the green economy was billed as the conceptual replacement for ‘sustainable development,’ it is actually the phrase ‘sustained growth’ that has moved to the top of the rhetorical hit-parade, with 16 mentions in the text. This echoes the emphasis on ‘green growth’ in the G20 declaration, which pre-empted the Rio summit.
One of the few substantial decisions, a proposal to upgrade the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) in the pecking order of global institutions, is also a cause for concern. In theory, a beefed-up UNEP should be a welcome development, re-balancing the multilateral system to put a greater emphasis on environmental protection. But UNEP is one of the principle targets of a new global campaign, launched here in Rio, to endthecorporatecaptureoftheUN. Through its ‘The Economics of Ecosystem Services and Green Economy reports’, in particular, UNEP has positioned itself over the last few years as the main cheerleader for a corporate-driven ‘green economy’ agenda that would leave key decisions over the future of the planet to the financial sector.
Moving beyond the declaration itself, the inadequacies of the Rio+20 declaration are a symptom of a broader crisis of multilateralism. Although the conference was marshaled to a conclusion without the all-night, beyond-deadline chaos of climate negotiations, it did so by agreeing only on lowest-common-denominator platitudes, and reaffirming other initiatives. The final declaration here is no less of a stalemate than those in the WTO or UN climate negotiations, and we know from those processes that multilateral stasis is a breeding ground for bilateral and regional agreements that stack the cards against poor countries. The outcomes turned the tables on Durban, with the EU expressing disappointment while the G77 was cautiously positive, but the overall results were the same: a victory for the dirty energy agenda of industrialised countries and corporations, while people and the planet continue to lose ground.
Trans prisoners often face a 'double-punishment', which heaps abuse and isolation on top of their incarceration.
The police spend little of their time making arrests, and most crimes are not solved, writes Alex Vitale – their real purpose is social control
Many important things happened on conference floor, reports Alex Nunns – but you wouldn’t know it from reading the newspapers
Radhika Desai says Capital by Karl Marx is still an essential read on the 150th anniversary of its publication
The Spanish state is seizing ballot papers and raiding meetings, write Ignasi Bernat and David Whyte – but it is being met with united resistance
The crunch executive meeting ahead of Labour conference agreed some welcome changes, writes Michael Calderbank, but there is still much further to go
Dipesh Pandya speaks to documentary film-maker Sanjay Kak, who for 30 years has been working outside the mainstream to tell a story rooted in the struggles of those excluded by India’s militarism and its narrative of neoliberal growth
Jeremy Gilbert on how radical Labour politics can be inspired by the utopianism of the counterculture
Disasters have unequal impacts – it's the poor and marginalised who suffer most. David Harvey writes on Hurricane Harvey
‘There is no turning back to a time when there wasn’t migration to Britain.’
David Renton reviews the Migration Museum's latest exhibition.
#MeToo is necessary – but I’m sick of having to prove my humanity
Women are expected to reveal personal trauma to be taken seriously, writes Eleanor Penny
Universal credit isn’t about saving money – it’s about disciplining unemployed people
The scheme has cost a fortune and done nothing but cause suffering. So why does it exist at all? Tom Walker digs into universal credit’s origins in Tory ideology
Meet the digital feminists
We're building new online tools to create a new feminist community and tackle sexism wherever we find it, writes Franziska Grobke
The Marikana women’s fight for justice, five years on
Marienna Pope-Weidemann meets Sikhala Sonke, a grassroots social justice group led by the women of Marikana
Forget ‘Columbus Day’ – this is the Day of Indigenous Resistance
By Leyli Horna, Marcela Terán and Sebastián Ordonez for Wretched of the Earth
Uber and the corporate capture of e-petitions
Steve Andrews looks at a profit-making petition platform's questionable relationship with the cab company
You might be a centrist if…
What does 'centrist' mean? Tom Walker identifies the key markers to help you spot centrism in the wild
Black Journalism Fund Open Editorial Meeting in Leeds
Friday 13th October, 5pm to 7pm, meeting inside the Laidlaw Library, Leeds University
This leadership contest can transform Scottish Labour
Martyn Cook argues that with a new left-wing leader the Scottish Labour Party can make a comeback
Review: No Is Not Enough
Samir Dathi reviews No Is Not Enough: Defeating the New Shock Politics, by Naomi Klein
Building Corbyn’s Labour from the ground up: How ‘the left’ won in Hackney South
Heather Mendick has gone from phone-banker at Corbyn for Leader to Hackney Momentum organiser to secretary of her local party. Here, she shares her top tips on transforming Labour from the bottom up
Five things to know about the independence movement in Catalonia
James O'Nions looks at the underlying dynamics of the Catalan independence movement
‘This building will be a library!’ From referendum to general strike in Catalonia
Ignasi Bernat and David Whyte report from the Catalan general strike, as the movements prepare to build a new republic
Chlorine chickens are just the start: Liam Fox’s Brexit trade free-for-all
A hard-right free marketer is now in charge of our trade policy. We urgently need to develop an alternative vision, writes Nick Dearden
There is no ‘cult of Corbyn’ – this is a movement preparing for power
The pundits still don’t understand that Labour’s new energy is about ‘we’ not ‘me’, writes Hilary Wainwright
Debt relief for the hurricane-hit islands is the least we should do
As the devastation from recent hurricanes in the Caribbean becomes clearer, the calls for debt relief for affected countries grow stronger, writes Tim Jones
‘Your credit score is not sufficient to enter this location’: the risks of the ‘smart city’
Jathan Sadowski explains techno-political trends of exclusion and enforcement in our cities, and how to overcome this new type of digital oppression
Why I’m standing with pregnant women and resisting NHS passport checks
Dr Joanna Dobbin says the government is making migrant women afraid to seek healthcare, increasing their chances of complications or even death
‘Committees in Defence of the Referendum’: update from Catalonia
Ignasi Bernat and David Whyte on developments as the Catalan people resist the Spanish state's crackdown on their independence referendum
The rights and safety of LGBTQ+ people are not guaranteed – we must continue to fight for them
Kennedy Walker looks at the growth in hate attacks at a time when the Tory government is being propped up by homophobes
Naomi Klein: the Corbyn movement is part of a global phenomenon
What radical writer Naomi Klein said in her guest speech to Labour Party conference
Waiting for the future to begin: refugees’ everyday lives in Greece
Solidarity volunteer Karolina Partyga on what she has learned from refugees in Thessaloniki
Don’t let Uber take you for a ride
Uber is no friend of passengers or workers, writes Lewis Norton – the firm has put riders at risk and exploited its drivers
Acid Corbynism’s next steps: building a socialist dance culture
Matt Phull and Will Stronge share more thoughts about the postcapitalist potential of the Acid Corbynist project
Flooding the cradle of civilisation: A 12,000 year old town in Kurdistan battles for survival
It’s one of the oldest continually inhabited places on earth, but a new dam has put Hasankeyf under threat, write Eliza Egret and Tom Anderson
New model activism: Putting Labour in office and the people in power
Hilary Wainwright examines how the ‘new politics’ needs to be about both winning electoral power and building transformative power
What is ‘free movement plus’?
A new report proposes an approach that can push back against the tide of anti-immigrant sentiment. Luke Cooper explains
The World Transformed: Red Pepper’s pick of the festival
Red Pepper is proud to be part of organising The World Transformed, in Brighton from 23-26 September. Here are our highlights from the programme
Working class theatre: Save Our Steel takes the stage
A new play inspired by Port Talbot’s ‘Save Our Steel’ campaign asks questions about the working class leaders of today. Adam Johannes talks to co-director Rhiannon White about the project, the people and the politics behind it