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NEWS: Civil society condemns Rio+20 Earth Summit declaration

The Canadian Youth Climate Coalition, Greenpeace Canada and Greenpeace International, Équiterre, Oxfam, the Ecology Action Centre, AQLPA (the Quebec Association of fight against air pollution), the High Seas Alliance, as well as CARE and the World Wide Fund, have all condemned the Rio+20 Earth Summit declaration.

While agreeing with their critique, the global water justice movement can also claim an important gain with respect to the right to water and sanitation.

The overall declaration

The Canadian Press reports, “The bad blood between Ottawa and environmentalists was on display before the entire world Tuesday as negotiators from more than 100 countries signed a draft blueprint for sustainable development in Rio de Janeiro. After months of trying to boil down proposals, environmental officials at the Rio+20 conference in Brazil this week finally compromised and delivered a 283-point ‘vision’ for leaders and politicians to ratify later this week. In the draft, the countries pledge to work with civil society to ‘renew our commitment to sustainable development, and to ensure the promotion of economically, socially and environmentally sustainable future for our planet and for present and future generations.’ The plan would commit countries to fight climate change with ‘urgent and ambitious action,’ increase their aid for developing countries, and work out a global set of long-term sustainable development goals to alleviate poverty and prevent global warming.”

“Critics (from the Canadian Youth Climate Coalition, Oxfam, the Ecology Action Centre, and Greenpeace Canada) say the draft is weak on timelines and firm commitments, and lacks heft when it comes to overseeing the state of the world’s oceans.”

– Cameron Fenton, director of the Canadian Youth Climate Coalition, says, ‘The text is extremely weak, and as it stands represents a sell-out of people and the planet.’ …’Canada’s role has been at its best not engaging in the process, and at worst acting to weaken ambitious language and delete commitments.’

– Oxfam Canada’s Mark Fried noted the official text did not contain any new commitments, and even modest proposals — such as improving smallholder farmers’ access to resources — were dropped. ‘The Rio+20 summit was never going to save the world,’ Fried said in an email from Rio. ‘But it should mark a decisive turning point in our ambition to do so.’

– Susanna Fuller, marine conservation co-ordinator for the Ecology Action Centre in Halifax who was in the negotiating room in Rio, says, ‘It’s a big failure of Rio, especially since this was talked about as the summit of the seas.’ While regional agreements and fishing accords do control some aspects of biodiversity in some parts of the world’s oceans, there are many gaps that beg a global agreement in order to prevent destruction of habitat and ocean pollution, she said. …Europe and some developing countries, as well as many environmental groups, had hoped to see leaders commit to forging a new agreement that would protect marine habitat and keep an eye on deep-sea mining. Instead, negotiators agreed to talk some more, and decide later.

– Greenpeace Canada’s ocean campaigner, Charles Latimer, adds developing countries in particular had hoped to have a biodiversity pact so that any benefits derived from marine genetics are shared for the common good. But Fuller said Canada, the United States, Russia and Venezuela worked together to make sure there would be no new agreement. …Canada’s companies have an interest in deep-sea mining that might be fettered by a new high-seas biodiversity agreement, they say.

Le Devoir adds (in French) the critiques by Équiterre and AQLPA (the Quebec Association of fight against air pollution):

– Richard Brooks of the group Équiterre says, ‘the Heads of State who began to arrive have a serious examination of conscience to do. They will have to ask what is most important: have a deal at any price and watch the planet deteriorate further and allowed to increase the gap between rich and poor countries? Or have the courage to say we do not sign it!’ …As for Canada’s role in this negotiation, one word describes it: we’ve become a rogue state!’

– Patrick Bonin, spokesman for the Quebec Association of fight against air pollution (AQLPA), says, ‘Developed countries, he said, continue to spend over 750 billion a year in subsidies to oil companies here and they dare to claim they are not able to put on the table 30 billion per year to help developing countries to begin to exit the hole, to build facilities for drinking water and minimal sanitation and minimal energy for all. This is outrageous, including to see Canada take this speech. Canada, meanwhile, has not even paid all the money he had promised in Copenhagen!’

Other news reports note:

– Kumi Naidoo, Greenpeace’s international executive director, says, ‘This is not a foundation on which to grow economies or pull people out of poverty. It’s the last will and testament of a destructive 20th century development model.’

– Susanna Fuller of the High Seas Alliance, a coalition of NGOs, says, ‘There’s no commitment – it’s like telling your girlfriend you promise to decide in three years whether or not to decide, whether or not to get married.’

– Jim Leape, the director-general of WWF, said ‘weak words’ had been replaced with ‘toothless language’. ‘Despite a late night negotiating session, the revised text is a colossal failure of leadership and vision from diplomats,’ he commented. ‘They should be embarrassed at their inability to find common ground on such a crucial issue.’

And a Natural Resources Defense Council blog quotes Sundance Chief Rueben George from the Tsleil-Waututh Nation who recently spoke at our ‘Shout Out Against Mining Injustice’ conference:

– Chief George says, ‘Some of our government and industry are stuck in their dysfunction – too blind to see that they are ruining themselves. If they are not going to save our future, we are. We are here (in Rio) to network with organizations that have similar fossil fuel problems. We want to send the message that there are alternatives. Clean energy jobs are the future. …It is beautiful to see that all First Nations from Canada down to Chile are here and all on the same page.’

Water and sanitation

That all said, and agreed with, there is an important gain to be claimed with respect to the right to water and sanitation.

Blue Planet Project organizer Anil Naidoo – who is in Rio for the Earth Summit – has written to the water justice movement highlighting, “On water we still do not have our main goal of respect for the General Assembly Resolution 64/292. That being said, we have been some small gains which are very important. We also have been able to get water and sanitation to again have its own chapter. …There was obviously strong resistance to our demand to respect and include the language from the General Assembly resolution 64/292, still, my assessment is that this weaker language does not do any damage to our previously victories.”

He adds, “This document, even if passed as it currently stands without reference to the GA Resolution, would represent the first time all UN Member States have recognized the human right to water and sanitation by consensus. I believe this is a major step forward (because) from this point forward no country, not Canada, US, UK, Israel or any other would be able to say there is no consensus on the human right to water and sanitation.” The declaration states, “We reaffirm our commitments regarding the human right to safe drinking water and sanitation, to be progressively realized for our populations with full respect for national sovereignty.”

But Naidoo cautions, “We must also be aware that the corporations and their lobby groups will now also be trying to use the recognition of the human right to water and sanitation to push their agenda of privatisation, commodification and increasingly financialization of water. The World Water Council, Aquafed, Global Water Partnership, the World Economic Forum and others are already setting up their next steps to push governments to open up their water sectors to the private sector. The Green Economy agenda still remains a clear threat to our water.”

More soon.