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.
What if it's not us who are sick, asks Rod Tweedy, but a system at odds with who we are as social beings?
Survivors of the fire are still relying on thousands of community volunteers, writes Dan Renwick - but the failed council is plotting a comeback
The people could reach a democratic and non-violent solution if they were freed from US meddling, argues Boaventura de Sousa Santos
A decade after the start of the crash, economic power is in our hands – we must take it, writes Ann Pettifor
Nick Dowson looks at the new wave of co-ops and community groups where people are building their own truly affordable homes
Hsiao-Hung Pai meets people affected by the fire, and finds sadness and suffering mixed with a continuing wariness of the official investigations
Chris Williamson MP, winner of the election's tightest marginal, Derby North, and recently reappointed shadow minister for fire services, talks to Ashish Ghadiali about Jeremy Corbyn, the housing crisis and winning from the left
The Corbyn-supporting group is preparing for another election at any moment, writes Adam Peggs – and now has the potential to create powerful training initiatives, union links and party reform efforts
Don’t let the world’s biggest arms fair turn 20
Eliza Egret talks to activists involved in almost two decades of protest against London’s DSEI arms show
The new municipalism is part of a proud radical history
Molly Conisbee reflects on the history of citizens taking collective control of local services
With the rise of Corbyn, is there still a place for the Green Party?
Former Green principal speaker Derek Wall says the party may struggle in the battle for votes, but can still be important in the battle of ideas
Fearless Cities: the new urban movements
A wave of new municipalist movements has been experimenting with how to take – and transform – power in cities large and small. Bertie Russell and Oscar Reyes report on the growing success of radical urban politics around the world
A musical fightback against school arts cuts
Elliot Clay on why his new musical turns the spotlight on the damage austerity has done to arts education, through the story of one school band's battle
Neoliberalism: the break-up tour
Sarah Woods and Andrew Simms ask why, given the trail of destruction it has left, we are still dancing to the neoliberal tune
Cat Smith MP: ‘Jeremy Corbyn has authenticity. You can’t fake that’
Cat Smith, shadow minister for voter engagement and youth affairs and one of the original parliamentary backers of Corbyn’s leadership, speaks to Ashish Ghadiali
To stop the BBC interviewing climate deniers, we need to make climate change less boring
To stop cranks like Lord Lawson getting airtime, we need to provoke more interesting debates around climate change than whether it's real or not, writes Leo Barasi
Tory Glastonbury? Money can’t buy you cultural relevance
Adam Peggs on why the left has more fun
Essay: After neoliberalism, what next?
There are economically-viable, socially-desirable alternatives to the failed neoliberal economic model, writes Jayati Ghosh
With the new nuclear ban treaty, it’s time to scrap Trident – and spend the money on our NHS
As a doctor, I want to see money spent on healthcare not warfare, writes David McCoy - Britain should join the growing international movement for disarmament
Inglorious Empire: What the British Did to India
Inglorious Empire: What the British Did to India, by Shashi Tharoor, reviewed by Ian Sinclair
A Death Retold in Truth and Rumour
A Death Retold in Truth and Rumour: Kenya, Britain and the Julie Ward Murder, by Grace A Musila, reviewed by Allen Oarbrook
‘We remembered that convictions can inspire and motivate people’: interview with Lisa Nandy MP
The general election changed the rules, but there are still tricky issues for Labour to face, Lisa Nandy tells Ashish Ghadiali
Everything you know about Ebola is wrong
Vicky Crowcroft reviews Ebola: How a People’s Science Helped End an Epidemic, by Paul Richards
Job vacancy: Red Pepper is looking for an online editor
Closing date for applications: 1 September.
Theresa May’s new porn law is ridiculous – but dangerous
The law is almost impossible to enforce, argues Lily Sheehan, but it could still set a bad precedent
Interview: Queer British Art
James O'Nions talks to author Alex Pilcher about the Tate’s Queer British Art exhibition and her book A Queer Little History of Art
Cable the enabler: new Lib Dem leader shows a party in crisis
Vince Cable's stale politics and collusion with the Conservatives belong in the dustbin of history, writes Adam Peggs
Anti-Corbyn groupthink and the media: how pundits called the election so wrong
Reporting based on the current consensus will always vastly underestimate the possibility of change, argues James Fox
Michael Cashman: Commander of the Blairite Empire
Lord Cashman, a candidate in Labour’s internal elections, claims to stand for Labour’s grassroots members. He is a phony, writes Cathy Cole
Contribute to Conter – the new cross-party platform linking Scottish socialists
Jonathan Rimmer, editor of Conter, says it’s time for a new non-sectarian space for Scottish anti-capitalists and invites you to take part
Editorial: Empire will eat itself
Ashish Ghadiali introduces the June/July issue of Red Pepper
Eddie Chambers: Black artists and the DIY aesthetic
Eddie Chambers, artist and art historian, speaks to Ashish Ghadiali about the cultural strategies that he, as founder of the Black Art Group, helped to define in the 1980s
Despite Erdogan, Turkey is still alive
With this year's referendum consolidating President Erdogan’s autocracy in Turkey, Nazim A argues that the way forward for democrats lies in a more radical approach
Red Pepper Race Section: open editorial meeting – 11 August in Leeds
The next open editorial meeting of the Red Pepper Race Section will take place between 3.30-5.30pm, Friday 11th August in Leeds.
Mogg-mentum? Thatcherite die-hard Jacob Rees-Mogg is no man of the people
Adam Peggs says Rees-Mogg is no joke – he is a living embodiment of Britain's repulsive ruling elite
Power to the renters: Turning the tide on our broken housing system
Heather Kennedy, from the Renters Power Project, argues it’s time to reject Thatcher’s dream of a 'property-owning democracy' and build renters' power instead
Your vote can help Corbyn supporters win these vital Labour Party positions
Left candidate Seema Chandwani speaks to Red Pepper ahead of ballot papers going out to all members for a crucial Labour committee
Join the Rolling Resistance to the frackers
Al Wilson invites you to take part in a month of anti-fracking action in Lancashire with Reclaim the Power