SOMEONE ELSE’S WINDOWS: Betrayal in Rio

MALAYBALAY CITY (MindaNews/21 June) – The three-day UN Conference on Sustainable Development, held in the Brazilian capital Rio de Janeiro, officially began on Wednesday, June 20, but observers said the serious business was already concluded the day before. June 21 and 22 will just be speeches by heads of national delegations that won’t make a dent on what has been agreed upon before the opening session.

UN chief Ban Ki-moon, in his opening address, warned that progress on the issue tackled at the conference has been slow. He was being too soft in his criticism, if it can be called as such. With a water-down agreement which is expected to be signed off without a hitch by heads of government or ministers, the Rio+20 talks may well be considered an affirmation of the general wish to betray the spirit of the Earth Summit held 20 years ago in the same city.

It may be too much to expect too much for the environment from a political gathering, but non-state participants and observers cannot also be faulted for pinning some hopes on it. Environment groups in particular can expound on the science of their cause to underscore the urgency of taking drastic actions now on climate change. At the same time however they are aware that in the end it is the governments that decide. And when politics prevails over science, frustration begins – or worsens.

One source of frustration is the absence of a commitment to end fossil fuel subsidies. The text of the agreement simply reaffirms previous commitments to phase them out if they are “harmful and inefficient,” without setting a date, according to a report by the BBC.

In addition, the agreement does not offer specific solutions to unsustainable production and consumption. It simply makes use of open-ended phrases like “urgent action” but gives no details and timeframe.

With these, it is easy to see why critics said that Rio+20 has failed to achieve its purpose of promoting “green economy” as a solution to global economic woes and ecological problems.

Green economy, according to the UN Environment Programme (UNEP), means “improved human well-being and social equity, while significantly reducing environmental risks and ecological scarcities.” In specific terms, it means a low-carbon, resource-efficient, and aims towards eradicating poverty and improving the conservation of the ecological commons, the UNEP adds.

But as Rio+20 has shown the green economy concept has been compromised by the context in which it seeks to thrive. It relies on market forces as demonstrated in the system that allows for so-called carbon credits to be treated as a commodity that can either be bought or sold. No less than the UN, through its Framework Convention on Climate Change, has given license to the trading of carbon emissions.

As a result of this market-based approach, which I explained in yesterday’s column (The carbon conspiracy), there has been no actual reduction in carbon emissions. Worse, the system may even lead to greater pollution of the atmosphere by allowing developed countries to make use of the Clean Development Mechanisms under the Kyoto Protocol.

The green economy concept therefore is nothing more than a reinvention of the system that has pushed the environment to where it is now. It treats nature and people as commodities that can be harnessed for profit. In reality, it does not a way out of ecological destruction; rather, it creates more opportunities for the rich countries to strengthen their hold on the economies and resources of the developing states.

More carbon dioxide has brought and will continue to bring incalculable suffering to millions of ordinary people. But for those who control the growing market in emissions trading, nature has never been as generous. (MindaViews is the opinion section of MindaNews. H. Marcos C. Mordeno can be reached at hmcmordeno@gmail.com.)