Expect more natural disasters, social and economic inequality and marginalization in the near future once the United States and other Northern countries succeeded in ramming through its proposed “Green Economy” in the upcoming Rio+20 Conference.

A historic conference to be held in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil on June 20-22, this year, the Rio+20 Conference or the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development (UNCSD), will review the extent of compliance by the participants to the first UN Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED)  held in  1992 also in Rio.

The first Rio Conference or UNCED is a watershed event of world significance. For the first time in history, state leaders and diplomats all over the globe formally recognized the environmental crisis in all its facets, contextualized this crisis within the prevailing social and economic systems and development, and defined the way to a sustainable future by integrating environmental and developmental solutions on a global scale on the basis of equitable international and domestic relations. UNCED came out with landmark documents and treaties such as Agenda 21, the Earth Charter and the Convention on Biodiversity, the Climate and Desertification – all giant strides to save the future for humankind.

Realizing the importance of Rio+20, the Freedom from Debt Coalition (FDC) has sent three of its leaders to Rio to participate in a People’s Summit together with delegates from other Philippine civil society organizations and will stage a mass action with other groups on June 20 to voice out its major concerns on the issues to be discussed at the Conference.

FDC President Ricardo B. ReyesFDC’s biggest concern is the “Green Economy” agenda being pushed by the United States and its allied countries, especially from the North in Rio+20.  On the surface, “Green Economy” sounds environment-friendly, especially if it is described as the “new rallying point for the better integration of the three pillars of sustainable development,” namely environmental protection, economic development and social development.  However, as we go deeper, the substance and implications of this US, et al devise will result in the exact opposite of the principles and objectives of the first Rio.

First, this “Green Economy” concept pulls out the Green, the Environment, from Sustainable Development which includes the reform of production and consumption patterns through equitable international relations between the North and the South and social and gender equality in national societies – the mandate of UNCED.  In the words of Dr. Kerri-Ann Jones, US Assistant Secretary of State for Oceans and International Environmental and Scientific Affairs, the green economy means value ecosystems, developing clean energy technologies, improving energy efficiency and eliminating fossil fuel subsidies (European Policy Centre, 31 May 2012).

Second, ripped from Sustainable Development where it should be embedded, the “Green Economy” is reduced to technological innovation as the solution to the environmental crisis.  The development of renewable energies and the reduction of resource use are pushed aside in favor of the “resource efficiency” of centralized, corporate forms of energy production and supply.  The entry of the private, corporate sector is now assured.

Again, in the words of US Assistant Secretary Kerri-Ann Jones: “Engage the private sector, because the trajectory of where industry is heading is crucial. Create an environment in which green technology gets out quickly. Offer tax incentives. Look at cleaner production practices — and include them in free-trade agreements.”  (European Policy Centre, 31 May 2012).

Environment and climate change are now seen as new channels for renewed capital accumulation by the leading capitalist economies and states in the face of the continuing failure of global capital to recover from the economic crisis now gripping the capitalist world.

And third, the “Green Economy” is pushing an idea that is far more dangerous and disempowering to humankind:  nature as capital.  Nature’s elements, like forests and their carbon sinks capacities are commodified.  Nature becomes “resources” upon which property rights are established. The trading of “carbon credits” in the “carbon markets” makes the polluters compensate for their emissions. Carbon markets are now looking at forest to create "carbon credits" by valuating the function of trees forest to sequester carbon emissions. Mechanisms such as Reducing Emission through Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD) promotes this new form of valuating of forests, hence commodifying the function of our natural resources while promoting carbon offsetting.  With market-based instruments and mechanisms, rich, industrialized nations continue their “business as usual” operations by not cutting domestic emissions, but by buying carbon credits of developing countries to offset their continued levels of emissions.

Mother Nature will now have a price tag. Treating nature as capital and accompanying low carbon technologies will be the new drivers of “green growth.” Commons or traditionally shared resources will now be allowed in the hands of few profit-driven corporations.

We believe that this framework will raise the commodification, privatization and financialization of nature, and accelerate further the concentration of control over nature by economic and political global and national elites to higher levels. The framework will deepen these processes and expand them to include all resources that are vital for survival, such as water, biodiversity, atmosphere, forests, lands, food, etc.

Once these natural resources are treated as economic goods – meaning they are owned privately, commodified and traded – the already highly inequitable and undemocratic structure, where a few control a vast portion of natural, economic and financial resources, will linger. Those who are poor will remain poor. Those who are marginalized will remain marginalized.

The “Green Economy” agenda is the latest manifestation of the dogged resistance put up by the United States and other major capitalist countries to international efforts to confront climate change and promote sustainable development in a global scale. They continue to drag their feet when it comes to implementing the principle of Common but Differentiated Responsibilities (CBDR).  This principle is anchored on the recognition of the historical responsibility of the US and other major capitalist countries to contribute more financially and technologically to climate change solution because they did more damage to the environment and climate.  Until now, the US refuses to ratify the Kyoto Protocol, an international agreement to reduce Greenhouse Gas emissions. Canada renounced the Protocol last December 2011.  The commitment by these countries to mobilize US$100 billion a year by 2020 to address the needs of the so-called developing countries is far short of the hundreds of billion dollars or even a trillion dollars more a year that these countries need.  The Green Climate Fund, a mechanism established to assist these countries in their adaptation and mitigation programs to counter climate change was placed under the interim trusteeship of the World Bank, an institution which has ravaged for decades their economies through usurious loans and policy conditionalities.

Underlying all this is the social and economic system which holds the entire globe under its tight grip, a system which puts Profits above People, above Nature, a system which allows a few nations and few people to dominate and exploit the far many.  UNCED or the first Rio in 1992 shed light on this, and produced conventions that take the first steps to reverse this.  Rio+20 this year is being pressured to abandon the early gains.  Let us do everything within our means and capacity to resist and overcome this monumental GREED now and in the years ahead.  It is our future, the human survival, the survival of our planet that is at stake.


Ricardo B. Reyes
President, Freedom from Debt Coalition

20 June 2012

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