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June 20, 2012 by SCNCC

Heads of state, NGOs, activists, and members of indigenous tribes from across the globe began arriving in Rio de Janeiro on Monday for the UN’s Rio+20 Conference on Sustainable Development. The gathering, taking place two decades after the first such UN conference, comes on the heels of a study published in the journal Nature that warns the Earth’s biosphere is reaching an irreversible tipping point which threatens to render humanity extinct.

Arne Mooers, a professor of biodiversity at Simon Fraser University in Canada’s British Columbia, part of the international team that compiled the report, writes , “My colleagues who study climate-induced changes through the Earth’s history are more than pretty worried. In fact, some are terrified.” The study concludes that there is still a small window in which humanity can address the climate crisis, but the blinds are closing fast.

Drastic action is needed, but as a report from inside the Rio conference by Martin Khor, head of the South Centre, noted Monday, delegates are squabbling over an unambitious draft that has no feasible means of being implemented.

Developing nations often bear the brunt of global warming, through floods, droughts, and climate-induced food scarcity, yet developed nations have pledged zilch in the way of new funds to mitigate the effects of the greenhouse gas emissions.

The Kyoto agreement, which the US refused to sign, expires this year and the 17th UN Framework Convention on Climate Change in Durban last November ended with an agreement that will lead to arctic sea ice thawing by 2030 and the planet warming by at least 2C by the end of the century. A 2C warming rise, caution the authors of the Nature study, will trigger our biosphere’s tipping point. UN climate talks and sustainable development conferences truly won’t matter then as our biosphere enters a death spiral where natural phenomena spawned by human induced warming begin to compound each other.  Already, plumes of methane 1000 feet in diameter are sprouting in the arctic ocean, unlocked from beneath the Arctic permafrost.

Is it any wonder that country’s competing for a share of the global capitalist economy have not been able to come to consensus on tackling climate change, especially when their profits are tied to industrial output? This was exemplified when US Energy Department figures found that the global output of Co2 spiked by a record 6 percent between 2009 and 2010 and Energy Department official Tom Boden reasoned, “From an emissions standpoint, the global financial crisis seems to be over.” The so-called financial recovery helped make 2010 the hottest year on record.

Rio differs somewhat from UN’s typical climate talks, in that NGO’s are invited to participate, yet critics charge this is simply an effort to placate civil society. Mike Sandmel at Waging Nonviolence observes:

[O]ver the course of the last nine months [leading up to Rio] I’ve watched as negotiators have bracketed and deleted basically any and all proposals that might have meaningfully challenged the global status quo. Civil society groups have successfully fought to retain human rights language in the text but ambitious proposals for things like the establishment an international financial transaction tax or a world environmental court went out the window fast.

Notably absent from those attending the Rio Conference are the leaders of several leading (read imperialist) economies, including US President Barack Obama, UK Prime Minister David Cameron, and German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

Meanwhile, outside the conference, activists from around the world have gathered for the Earth Summit, putting out a call to “re-invent the world.” Tens of thousands representing environmental groups, unions, peasants, and indigenous tribes are expected to rally today in the streets of Rio calling for just, equitable, and immediate action to tackle our planet’s ecological crisis.

Those identifying with the Occupy Wall Street Movement are also on hand. They’ve put out a declaration and are asking individuals and organizations to sign:

In defence of our rights, freedoms & future, we call for:

1. A direct participatory democratic UN: inclusive rights-based global decision-making; open-source communications. Prioritise youth, women, marginalised voices & civil society formally in negotiations.

2. Ending corporate capture of the UN: end compromising partnerships & transfer of officials. Exclude business lobbyists from talks. Expose & prohibit the bullying & bribing✝ of poor nations by rich nations.

3. Realisation of new Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) by increased cooperation, commitment, funding & resources, strengthening the Millennium Goals (MDGs) & cancelling unjust poor country debt.

4. Peace & demilitarization, democratising the UN Security Council, a binding global arms treaty, SDG on peace & conflict, nuclear disarmament by 2030 & transfer funds to local sustainable development.

5. A Financial Transaction Tax, abolition of tax havens & a Global Carbon Fee on extraction of fuels, to transparently & equitably fund life-saving adaptation solutions, prioritising resilience & climate justice.

6. Ending fossil fuel subsidies now & extraction by 2020. Invest in non-nuclear Renewable Energy for All: global wind/solar/small-hydro/geo-energy; efficient stoves; zero carbon global electricity by 2030.

7. Outlawing Ecocide as the 5th International Crime Against Peace: prosecute destruction of ecosystems e.g. tar sands, oil spills, mountaintop removal, fracking. Protect the commons & Rights of Mother Earth.

8. Zero deforestation of Amazon rainforest by 2015 & globally by 2020‡. Rejection of pricing & trading nature, including forests, water & the atmosphere; and rejection of offsetting damage/destruction.

9. Food & water sovereignty & security. Ban land grabs. Protect Indigenous peoples’ land rights. Switch support for biofuels & industrial, chemical & GM agriculture to small organic farming & permaculture.

10. Indicators beyond GDP: measure wellbeing, participation, environmental health, socio-economic equity, gender equality, employment, provision for needs/services, protection of rights, & peace.

An indigenous assembly at the People’s Summit also put out a declaration this week. It aims a great deal of ire at the green economy, which is the catch phrase of Rio+20 and was the subject of a special pre-conference forum on corporate sustainability (a contradiction of terms if ever there was one) that featured such notable’s as Charles Holliday, Chairman of Bank of America’s board, beheader of mountains.

Green economy is a fairly amorphous term that means a lot of different things to a lot of different stake holders. For the entrepreneurs combing Rio with business cards it means capitalism with a green face. For Holliday and Co. it means more schemes like REDD+, the UN’s attempt to revamp its Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation program, and the expansion of carbon markets, both ineffective and riddled with fraud.

The Indigenous Peoples Global Conference on Rio+20 and Mother Earth outright rejects what it describes as the premise of the green economy, that “the world can only ‘save’ nature by commodifying” it, adding:

The Green Economy is nothing more than capitalism of nature; a perverse attempt by corporations, extractive industries and governments to cash in on Creation by privatizing, commodifying, and selling off the Sacred and all forms of life and the sky, including the air we breathe, the water we drink and all the genes, plants, traditional seeds, trees, animals, fish, biological and cultural diversity, ecosystems and traditional knowledge that make life on Earth possible and enjoyable.

Capitalism–its limitless growth drive, its privatization of wealth, its outsourcing of waste–got us into this mess and won’t get us out. Our Earth is burning up and business and political leaders offer us nothing but books of matches. Simply putting the word “green” in front of our inhuman, unnatural economic system–without making any meaningful changes to this system–will not put out the flames.

The indigenous declaration urges, humanity to join together with them “in transforming the social structures, institutions and power relations that underpin our deprivation, oppression and exploitation” and to struggle in solidarity for a sustainable future.

The contrast between inside and outside the Rio conference could not be clearer. Inside delegates are offering platitudes and wrangling over ineffectual minutia. Outside those with a broad vision to re-invent the world have gathered in solidarity with each other, issuing declarations ignored by those in power. But the bonds being forged at the People’s Summit could one day summon the collective pressure that will force world leaders to act on climate change and tackle our planet’s ecological crisis.

Will the future of the Earth be shaped by those whose power derives from destruction, exploitation, and oppression or by the 99%, whose power stems from cooperation? Considering our planet’s current course for ecological collapse, that day could not come soon enough. Perhaps in 20 years the watch words will be green solidarity and our arctic sea ice will still be with us.

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