Rio+20: Civil Society Protesters Upstage World Leaders

RIO de JANEIRO, Brazil, June 21, 2102 (ENS) – Demanding withdrawal of any reference to civil society support in the official outcome document of the UN Conference on Sustainable Development, Rio +20, hundreds of nongovernmental delegates today walked out of the conference and returned their badges in a symbolic act of protest.

Led by members of the 350.org climate change action movement and youth organizations, their message was “Walk Out, Not Sell Out!” Some shouted, “The Future We Want is not here!” contradicting the official UN document, “The Future We Want.”

Representatives of civil society groups protest the outcome of Rio+20 in the conference hall. (Photo courtesy Earth Negotiations Bulletin)

Meanwhile, more than 115 government leaders from China to Iran to Nigeria to Zimbabwe addressed their colleagues. Some also protested the outcome document.

Bolivian President Evo Morales condemned the concept of green economy promoted by the United Nations as a key goal of Rio+20, calling it “a new colonialism” that rich nations sought to impose on developing countries.

Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa called on the richest countries to compensate poor nations for damage caused by climate change.

A letter criticizing the Rio+20 outcome text and the negotiations process was signed by about 40 environmental organizations and hundreds of individuals and published online.

The rejection letter states, “We – the civil society organizations and social and justice movements who have responded to the call of the United Nations General Assembly to participate in the Rio+20 process – feel that the current state of negotiations severely threatens the future of all people and undermines the relevance and credibility of the United Nations.”

“After more than two years of intense negotiations and millions of dollars invested on the UN CSD 2012 Rio+20 conference, governments are unable and unwilling to reaffirm the commitments on fundamental principles they made in Rio in 1992,” the letter states.

Evo Morales, Bolivia’s first indigenous president, addresses fellow world leaders at Rio+20. (Photo courtesy ENB)

Nearly 3,000 people from the Movement of Landless Workers marched through the streets of downtown Rio today in defense of peasant agriculture in the country. Carrying flags of the movement and musical instruments, the demonstrators tied up traffic as they headed for the regional headquarters of the Ministry of Agriculture, located on the waterfront.

On Wednesday, thousands of members of environmental and social organizations rallied in front of the Riocentro, Rio+20’s main conference venue, in support of human rights of indigenous peoples and environmental protection for their traditional lands. Riot police were ready to disperse the protest but the rally remained peaceful.

“All these demonstrations show that governments must assume alone the burden of choosing a path that is not a commitment to sustainable development. It is unacceptable that the text has the reference to civil society. Who has to sign off are the governments that have opted the reverse,” said Adriana Ramos of the Socio-Environmental Institute at the People’s Summit, the civil society event taking place in parallel to the official UN conference.

Former Brazilian Environment Minister Marina Silva, second from left, with civil society representatives at Rio+20 (Photo by Taiwan Environmental Information Assn.)

Among the protesting groups is the Institute Vitae Civilis. “This document represents the Future That We Do Not Want,” said IVC spokesman Marcelo Cardoso.

“We urge our fellow 99% citizens of the world to stand up for the future we really want, and not this one, imposed by a few: the 1% negotiators and their elite constituencies,” the rejection letter states.

Former Brazilian Environment Minister Marina Silva not only signed the letter but delivered it to the Rio +20 officials. She said civil society does not see their concerns represented in the 283 items contained in the official text agreed by governments and therefore there is no reason to keep language stating that social movements support the document in the text.

Other prominent signers include ecofeminist and author Dr. Vandana Shiva, Fabien Cousteau, grandson of oceans champion Jacques-Yves Cousteau, who addressed the original Earth Summit Rio 92; and Severn Suzuki, who as a 12 year-old girl stunned Rio ’92 delegates with her impassioned plea to governments to preserve the planet for future generations.

Today, The Elders, a group of distinguished senior citizens, said that the Rio+20 outcome declaration “is not the response we need to safeguard people and the planet.”

At Rio+20 from left: UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, Norwegian Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg, former Norwegian Prime Minister Gro Harlem Brundtland (Photo by Government of Norway)

One of the Elders is Gro Harlem Brundtland, former Prime Minister of Norway and Chair of the UN commission that brought the concept of sustainable development to global attention 25 years ago. “The Rio+20 declaration does not do enough to set humanity on a sustainable path, decades after it was agreed that this is essential for both people and the planet,” she said. “I understand the frustration in Rio today.”

“We can no longer assume that our collective actions will not trigger tipping points, as environmental thresholds are breached, risking irreversible damage to both ecosystems and human communities,” said Brundtland. “These are the facts – but they have been lost in the final document.”

Greenpeace today announced that musician Paul McCartney, actress Penelope Cruz and director Robert Redford have joined a campaign for a sanctuary in the High Arctic that would be legally protected from companies and governments that want to exploit it.

The celebrities are among the first 100 to sign a scroll on which Greenpeace plans to collect a million signatures before placing it on the seabed beneath the North Pole. “We’ll mark the spot with a Flag for the Future designed by the youth of the world,” Greenpeace said today.

Greenpeace Executive Director Kumi Naidoo said, “A ban on offshore oil drilling and unsustainable fishing would be a huge victory against the forces ranged against this precious region. And a sanctuary in the uninhabited area around the pole would in a stroke stop the polluters colonizing the top of the world.”

Sir Richard Branson and Gro Harlem Brundtland at Rio+20, June 20, 2012 (Photo courtesy Government of Norway)

In other protest action today, activists from Global Justice Ecology Project and Biofuelwatch disrupted Sir Richard Branson’s speech at a Rio+20 avoided deforestation event at the Windsor Barra hotel in Rio.

Participants in the event, Advancing Public-Private Partnerships for Deforestation-Free/Sustainable Agriculture, included executives from Coca-Cola and Unilever. The protesters say both of these companies are implicated in human rights abuses and environmental destruction.

“We came here to interfere with this event because we recognize that the negotiations inside the UN’s official Rio+20 Conference are essentially irrelevant,” said Anne Petermann, executive director of Global Justice Ecology Project, based in Vermont. “The real negotiations that will determine the fate of the planet are being held outside of the UN space at these industry-sponsored events.”

A multi-billionaire, Branson heads the Virgin Group of more than 400 companies, including Virgin Airlines and Virgin Galactic, which offers trips into outer space. In the Virgin Earth Challenge, Branson is offering a $25 million prize to anyone who can demonstrate a commercially viable design that results in the permanent removal of greenhouse gases from the Earth’s atmosphere.

“Biofuelwatch took part in this action because of Richard Branson’s key role in promoting large-scale biofuels for aviation, geo-engineering and other destructive techno fixes,” said Almuth Ernsting. “Branson is responsible for vast carbon emissions from his airline to which he now wants to add space tourism. His ‘solutions’ include more destructive monoculture plantations which harm forests, peoples and climate.”

Ocean poets on Copacabana Beach, June 21, 2012 (Photo courtesy UNESCO)

At a less confrontational event on? Copacabana beach today, hundreds contributed to a 150 meter-long poem, handwritten and in different languages, calling for ocean protection.

Created by Spanish artist Angel Arenas in cooperation with the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, UNESCO, the long poem called for government actions to save the ocean ecosystem.

The oceans and seas produce oxygen and food upon which three billion people depend. But unfortunately, said a senior UNESCO official, the oceans did not merit specific protections in the official Rio+20 outcome document.

“The situation of the oceans has not had much attention. In the negotiations of the Rio +20 talked a lot about forests, which is normal, air pollution and a host of other issues. The oceans have not been discussed a lot,” said Eric Falt, UNESCO director of foreign relations and communication.

The first to inscribe his thoughts on the giant poem, Falt wrote in French, “Last week, inspired by a sweet dream, half awake, I dreamed of a generous and conciliatory world where everyone would be citizens of one nation, living in one land and one ocean.”

Surfer Carolina Nunes wrote, “If you go to the beach, do not leave a soda can, a straw, a drink bottle or party flyer. We surf through all of this and other things far more disgusting about which it is better not to speak.”

Tourists Alvaci and Jose Goncalves wrote, “Once we become aware of saving the planet, the sea will also benefit.”

Arenas is happy with the public participation in his poetic effort. “Only the people can pressure governments now,” he said of the work, which will be donated to the city of Rio. “Our goal here is this.”

Copyright Environment News Service (ENS) 2012. All rights reserved.