Thursday, January 12, 2012

Fighting for a Real Green Economy

By Anil Naidoo
Council of Canadians
January 12th, 2012

Dear Friends,

The Zero Draft document was released this week and this will be the starting point for negotiations at the Rio+20 Earth Summit. It is a very general document and seems to be fairly non-threatening, but please do not be fooled!

If you have been following Rio+20, you will know that the Green Economy is being heavily promoted for Rio. We understand that our current actions are unsustainable and so most of us would welcome a Green Economy, but as Maude Barlow and Pablo Solon have articulated in the book “The Rights of Nature: The Case for a Universal Declaration of the Rights of Mother Earth”, this proposed Green Economy is very dangerous. Passages from both are attached below….

What is being considered and proposed for this Rio summit is very different than anything we have seen and represents an attempt to effect the last enclosure of the commons – that of nature itself.

This is what is embedded in what is being called the Green Economy but is more accurately called the false Green Economy.

This Rio Green Economy (Rio GE) is a bold attempt to overlay the dominant paradigm of markets, property and commodification to this final frontier by attempting to put a price on water, the air, land, forests etc. It presents a very compelling narrative of moving away from subsidizing dirty industry to green industry, by suggesting pricing and privatization will save us from unfettered environmental destruction, by making a case for added revenues when governments are suffering a debt crisis and by promising growth and expansion through a transition to green. It also focuses very much on ‘innovative’ financial instruments and on partnerships between the state and private corporations.

The reality of the Rio GE will be far different from what is being suggested in the Zero Draft. At its core, the Rio Green Economy is poison for all the things it pretends to value. It suggests that the very thing that is stressing all the systems of the planet - unfettered capitalism, markets, pricing, and absurd private property rights regimes – is what will save us. Proponents explicitly invoke the discredited ‘Tragedy of the Commons’ as rationale for legitimizing the Green Economy.

In the midst of an unprecedented, capital-created, financial cum social crises in which the world finds itself, this should be seen as a call for social movements to come together to challenge the false Rio Green Economy being promoted in this draft document and call for a Real Green Economy. To do this we must come together quickly and also be prepared to challenge those who are promoting this destructive agenda.

While it may not be readily apparent in reading this somewhat bland and vaguely positive sounding document why this Rio Green Economy is false and a Trojan Horse that will do irreparable damage to our environment and communities, it is important to look at it critically. Who is proposing this initiative, what is their agenda, and who benefits from the Rio Green Economy. The reality is that after you get past the wrapping, what is inside the Rio Green Economy is a neo-liberal agenda predicated on markets, pricing, commodification and trading for air, water and even land.

It is important to know that the roots for this GE are from the G8 and G20 looking at the 2007/2008 global financial crisis and deciding that the reason for that catastrophic failure of capitalism lay in nature and natural resources not being valued in economic terms or owned. The World Economic Forum, the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank are all proponents as are the leaders of some specialized UN agencies like UNEP. Aquafed, the global water lobby, promotes the Green Economy as do most of the major corporate lobby organizations globally. Powerful countries of the G8 will no doubt financially support the Rio GE because they will want to use it to create the mechanisms to price nature, create markets and to promote private property rights over nature. Again, this is clearly an attack on the commons and I would suggest on sovereignty of states and communities because this Green Economy will become part of the global financial system which is being lead by the WTO (another GE supporter).

We also can see that all the initiatives are explicitly focused on voluntary measures rather than promoting binding mechanisms that can be monitored and where obligations can be made accountable.

There are some things that would be viewed positively coming out of the Rio+20 Zero Draft. Sustainable Development Goals are being promoted, but again, these are in line with the non-binding Millennium Development Goals. A Council on Sustainable Development will probably be agreed upon and report to the General Assembly. Maybe there will be a High Commissioner for the Environment or for Sustainable Development, but I believe that any positives would be outweighed if this negative false Green Economy gets implemented.

This draft Rio document does not encompass the whole false Green Economy agenda, but it is clear that the false Green Economy is based on fear and using that fear to promote even further neo-liberal goals. In a world built on the need for limitless growth, it terrifies many to consider a no-growth or even a low-growth scenario, let alone a de-growth scenario. What does capital do when faced with such limits?

The answer is that you find new horizons, new mechanisms and new frontiers. Nature itself is now being viewed as a frontier for capital investment and the climate change negotiations and Rio negotiations are the vehicles being used to promote this agenda.

What do you do when resources around the world are peaking and it is not clear how to ensure access to continue feeding the capitalist engine?

You implement a scheme to privatize and enclose the last remaining commons, Nature itself, and ensure it is put under a tradable market model so that you can have access over those who cannot pay or compete. Human Rights, Community Rights and the Commons are all dispensable and secondary in a system where the market makes decisions based on scarcity, pricing and supply and demand.

At its core, the false Green Economy’s greatest threat is that it will implement a model of governance and management that is based on property rights, pricing and markets and this will deeply impact our environment, economy and ultimately our societies. Make no mistake, this model is not sustainable and it means that people and communities would no longer be able to control their own destinies or be able to rely on access to the resource heritage that they have enjoyed for generations. In fact, we are already seeing in the climate negotiations that REDD (reduced emissions from deforestation and forest degradation) represents a precursor to a full blown false Green Economy. This is a system which uses offsets and trading to give corporations and the North a way out of their obligations. It also has the perverse impact of pushing people off their land resulting in unsustainable forest management.

The false Green Economy means an over-exploitation of what it is ostensibly meant to protect, a degradation of the environment that will leave us all poorer and a model that leaves no room for other values beyond economic. We must press strongly to apply our own counter vision to this bold but desperate gambit by the pro-corporates (including the governments, and NGO’s who work in concert with them…)

What the Real Green Economy represents is one that is based on respecting the commons, rights of nature and collective/community and human rights is a vision that directly challenges the false GE. At its core, the Real GE must contrast with the false GE and promote a vision that challenges a control and management system for nature that will ensure market mechanisms divert scarce water, air and land to corporate ‘high’ value interests.

The Real GE of the commons/rights of nature/community and human rights framework is about a vision of governance and management of ‘resources’ that asserts different values than the seemingly impartial markets with its ‘invisible hand’ that oppresses the poor and marginalized. Our counter system is based on justice, human rights, equity, sustainability etc. not on profit, growth and property. In our world, economies are not separate from people and the environment the way markets are, instead our system is organic and imbedded in communities, ecosystems etc.

We clearly have a lot of work to do to come to a consensus and framework to propose a positive solution to the immense challenges we face, but the good news is that there are many working examples to inspire us that we need to draw upon. These are under attack but for generations the norm has been a world that was more cooperative, more caring and more in harmony with nature. There are many factors as to why people lived this way in more traditional societies, but we can draw many lessons from these models.

Strategically, if we do not present a strong alternative to the false GE then we are stuck playing defense in Rio and beyond. This means we would be seen as trying to undermine the very concept of a Green Economy because we are not pressing for something positive. This is dangerous and may not work because the false GE will be presented with financing for implementation, just as the climate fund was used to get Southern governments to let the North off the hook with Kyoto. If we are weak and inarticulate, then the false GE with funding becomes the only shiny object to show that Rio has moved something forward - which will be difficult for governments to resist as they virtually all want and need to show progress and have that reported back to their citizens.

20 years ago, at the first Rio summit, despite immense odds and powerful resistance, activists were able to win the launch of global initiatives to address Biodiversity, Deforestation, Desertification and Climate Change. A new Commission on Sustainable Development was struck and a plan called Agenda 21 was put forward. These were all positive steps. Even the one major gap of water not being addressed at a UN institutional level got a boost in July 2010 when the General Assembly recognized the human right to water and sanitation!

Unfortunately, we know that in the past 20 years powerful governments and corporations have actively worked to erode the progress made in Rio. Today we have a system which prefers voluntary and vague, non-binding agreements which use market mechanisms and the promise of funding to replace legally-binding agreements with hard targets. This strategy of seeming to do something has been very successful in climate negotiations recently and we can expect more of the same in Rio. If we are strong we can counter these false solutions and choose the right path, the one that leads to a Real Green Economy.

The Zero Draft for Rio signals the first clear indication of a possible catastrophic failure in Rio and it must be a call to action for all civil society, social movements and those governments which share our concerns.

There is still time to work together to promote positive solutions in Rio but we need to begin now to pull together a consensus among social movements and to open a dialogue with supportive UN Member States. We must work together to achieve the better world we know is possible. The World Social Forum, late January in Porto Alegre, will be an important moment for us to come together and move the work forward towards Rio.

Finally, as promised, here are excerpts from Maude Barlow and Pablo Solon’s chapters in ‘The Rights of Nature’ book:

False solution

Protecting the Rights of Mother Earth will also challenge the current trend to commodify Nature in the name of the green economy. While there are many definitions of what a green economy could look like that fit very well with an Earth-centered vision, many in power now use the term to essentially protect the current economic system that promotes more growth, production and global trade. There is no need to change our lifestyle or to curb global production and trade, goes the argument; we simply have to replace bad technology with good technology and we can keep our economic and development models intact.

Let’s be clear; no amount of talk of green futures, green technology, green jobs and a green economy can undo the fact that most business and nation state leaders, as well as UN and World Bank officials, continue to promote growth as the only economic and development model for the world. Until the growth model is truly challenged, great damage to the Earth’s ecosystems will continue. Further, much of their false green vision is based on a market model to save Nature and create new opportunities for growth and profit.

Maude goes on to give specific examples of the false vision in the chapter…..

Ambassador Pablo Solon also writes against this Green Economy:

The green economy may sound like an attractive notion, but it has serious implications for the expansion of capitalism into all corners of the globe….

From the point of view of these proponents of the green economy, in order to re-establish equilibrium with Nature, we must assign an economic value to the environmental ‘services’ nature provides. An underlying assumption is that only which can be owned and profited from deserves stewardship. But the green economy goes beyond putting a price on the things we consume such as wood, fish, or cattle. It also puts a price tag on ‘services’ like the pollination of plants by insects, the biodiversity of coral reefs, or the capacity of forests to act as carbon sinks…

In sum, under the concept of the green economy we are seeing the promotion of the kind of capitalism that is ever more aggressive toward Nature and that privatizes and commercializes everything it can (even the advocates of the green economy recognize that not all of Mother Earth’s environmental services can be measured and monetized).

Amb. Solon goes on to outline a much more positive vision of a different path and finally says “The future of humans and Nature depends on the path humanity chooses.”

In Solidarity,
Anil Naidoo
Blue Planet Project
Council of Canadians

The Rights of Nature: The Case for a Universal Declaration of the Rights of Mother Earth - can now be purchased on-line at

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