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NEWS: Water privatization, water markets agenda likely to dominate Rio+20

The Financial Times reports, “June marks the 20th anniversary of the Rio Earth Summit… It is being marked by another summit, known as Rio+20. But while the 1992 meeting was policy-focused, with more than 100 heads of state turning up to hammer out a deal, business is set to play a much bigger role this year. …One of the conference’s key themes is how to create ‘a green economy in the context of sustainable development and poverty eradication’, with business increasingly seen as one of the main drivers of progress. …Curtis Ravenel, sustainability director at Bloomberg (says) ‘Businesses have taken the lead because they have recognised this is not a pure cost to them – there are significant benefits both real and intangible.'”

The article highlights, “Companies that wish to thrive in future will have to embrace sustainability, says Mikkel Vestergaard Frandsen, chief executive of Vestergaard Frandsen, a Swiss company that used to make uniforms for hotel and shop workers but has transformed itself into a maker of disease control products ranging from mosquito nets to water filters. …The company has even found a way to link its work in public health with efforts to cut emissions by funding a $30m scheme to provide water filters in Kenya using voluntary carbon credits. ‘The water filters reduce the need to boil water, cutting the need to burn firewood and therefore to thin out forests for fuel,’ says Mr Vestergaard Frandsen.”

Big business set to dominate Rio+20
In terms of business ‘being set to play a much bigger role’ than at past Earth summits, Council of Canadians chairperson Maude Barlow has stated, “At Rio+10, the corporate World Business Council for Sustainable Development and the World Water Council were already major players. The World Summit on Sustainable Development held in Johannesburg in 2002 became totally captive to the interests of transnational corporations and is generally acknowledged by all but the big business community to have been a complete failure. The only concrete outcome of Johannesburg was that governments and the UN cemented their relationship with the corporate elite and paved the way for years of partnership hype and ‘greenwash’.”

The World Business Council for Sustainable Development, a CEO-led global association of 200 corporations including Coca-Cola, BP, Royal Dutch Shell and Walmart, will be active at Rio+20. It recently stated, “the foundation for a green economy must be built upon water, energy and food security.” And it highlights, “Business plays an important role deploying new initiatives which are helping improve access to water and sanitation…” And Barlow has explained, “The World Water Council is basically transnational water corporations, the World Bank, the other regional development banks and the development agencies of the northern governments. It set itself up as a global high command of water existing for its own benefit, to commercialize and commodify water.” It is believed that the World Water Forum, organized by the World Water Council, might serve as a launch pad for a water privatization agenda to be advanced at the Rio+20 summit.

Carbon/ water markets
With respect to Vestergaard Frandsen, this water business is funded through carbon credit markets, which allow wealthy countries and corporations to ‘offset’ their emissions by financing other projects that promise to reduce emissions.

Barlow counters, “Climate justice is water justice, you can’t have one without the other.”

Similarly, the US-based Bonneville Environmental Foundation announced in 2009 that they had started the first water offset market “allowing businesses and individuals to offset their water use in the same fashion as one would offset their carbon emissions.” Basically, by purchasing a ‘BEF Water Restoration Certificate’ a company or individual can buy/ trade one thousand gallons of water for “a critically dewatered stream” to offset their water consumption/ pollution elsewhere. And that same year, the UK-based company Climate Exchange PLC proposed the idea of applying the model of carbon cap-and-trade markets to water. Their plan? Cap water extraction rights from the Great Lakes and then sell those rights to the highest bidder.

Barlow and Food & Water Watch executive director Wenonah Hauter have rejected these ‘false solutions’ commenting that, “Water is a human right, not a corporate commodity. The idea that it can or should be bought, sold or traded away to the highest bidder must be stopped.”

The right to water at Rio+20?
Blue Planet Project organizer Anil Naidoo has written, “In a leaked copy of amendments to the Rio+20 negotiating text, the European Union has called for removal references to the Human Right to Water and Sanitation. This dramatic move exposes the ‘Green Economy’ initiative for what it is, a regime that is not compatible with human rights as it clearly valued profit over people or nature. Pricing water, trading water rights and commodifying water are all clearly part of the ‘Green Economy’ and these are not compatible with implementing the newly recognized human right to water. In trying to change the text for the Rio+20 document, the EU has realized that in order to achieve their goals of a corporate Green Economy, they must remove reference to human rights.”

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