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UPDATE: A complicated picture emerges for Rio+20 organizing

It’s the end of a first day (11 pm local time) for me in Porto Alegre, Brasil at informal meetings related to the World Social Forum ‘thematic forum’, which aims to lay the groundwork for a popular response to the Rio+20 Earth Summit this June.

A very complicated picture is emerging here.

Tierramerica reports, “Large-scale social mobilization, including street protests and parallel activities, is the only thing can save the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development (Rio+20) from ending in nothing but frustration, according to activists and analysts (gathered in Porto Alegre). …Cândido Grzybowski, the director general of the Brazilian Institute of Social and Economic Analysis (IBASE) and one of the founders of the World Social Forum, the largest global civil society gathering, (says) only strong pressure from civil society as a ‘unified voice’ at parallel events to Rio+20 can potentially force clearer commitments out of the world’s governments to tackle global imbalances, beginning with ‘financial hegemony’…”

Fair enough, I think we can agree with that. Among the mobilizations being planned:

People’s Summit, June 15-23
“Civil society attendance at Rio+20 is to be facilitated by the Brazilian government, which is reportedly interested in promoting strong ‘popular’ participation at least, given the likely absence of heads of state and government at the conference’s official activities. The People’s Summit, a parallel event to Rio+20 being held Jun. 15-23, will bring together three times the number of participants in the intergovernmental conference, according to observers. Its slogan, like that of the Thematic Social Forum this month, is ‘Social and Environmental Justice’. ‘To propose a new way of life, in solidarity, against the commodification of nature and in defense of the commons’ is the objective of the summit, according to the Brazilian Civil Society Facilitating Committee for Rio+20, which is organizing this major international event.”

And while working “against the commodification of nature and in defense of the commons” is a shared objective, the Brazilian government (‘facilitators’ of the People’s Summit), also views private sector particpation in the Rio+20 official conference as critical, according to Brazilian environment minister Izabella Teixeira.

Street protests
“Eduardo Viola, a professor at the University of Brasilia who studies the consequences of climate change on international relations, the WSF movement has lost strength and will be unable to attract the numbers needed for a march that could make Rio+20 more than a ‘mega-meeting’ devoted exclusively to declarations… Bringing together ‘a million demonstrators on the streets’ is a ‘rather unlikely but not impossible’ feat that could revive the impact of the original 1992 Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro…”

On Tuesday, about 15,000 people marched in Porto Alegre against the World Economic Forum taking place in Davos, Switzerland. But according to an Agence France Presse report, “Even so, this year’s World Social Forum — which stretches through Sunday — was smaller in size than in previous years.”

Protests around the world
“The Brazilian Forum of NGOs and Social Movements for the Environment and Development (FBOMS) is planning to promote demonstrations in many other cities around the world, with the aid of the internet and social networks. …FBOMS activist Ruben Born (says) the Thematic Social Forum in Porto Alegre will help to coordinate these initiatives, with the participation of representatives of civil society movements like the Indignados (Indignant) movement in Spain and the Occupy movement in the United States…”

But with less than five months until Rio+20 takes place, there are concerns that it could be very difficult to mobilize against linguistically-inoffensive terms such as the ‘social development goals’ and ‘green economy’ agenda of the conference. Most recognize that a ‘stop the green economy’ campaign would be very difficult to mount, unless the term is understood broadly to be negative.

Green Economy debate
Agence France Presse reports, “WSF militants are sharply critical of the ‘green economy’ concept which they view as ‘mercantilization’ of natural resources and called for real change outside the capitalist that would take into account the welfare of people and the planet.”

And yet, as noted above, there are concerns about the linguistic challenge posed by the positive-sounding ‘green economy’, labour-backed ‘green jobs’ campaigns which are different than the Rio+20 ‘green economy’ agenda now unfolding, as well as just the general lack of familiarity with the term world-wide. There are suggestions that ‘the commodification of nature’ or the ‘financialization of nature’ are better terms to frame the Rio+20 summit agenda, but also concerns that these are not widely understood terms.

A Permanent People’s Assembly
“The People’s Summit aims to build a Permanent People’s Assembly with the goal of ‘reinventing the world’ through the convergence of the different struggles against capitalism, class divisions, racism, patriarchy and homophobia. It is highly critical of the agenda of the official conference, which focuses on the so-called green economy and a global institutional framework.”

Here there is the anticipated tension between civil society groups that reject market mechanisms to address environmental issues and non-governmental organizations that press for measures within that framework.

Carioca Village
“Indigenous activists plan to express their cultural and ethnic identity at Rio+20 by calling on their counterparts around the world to participate in the Carioca Village to be set up in Rio de Janeiro. Around 350 indigenous representatives from different regions of Brazil and 700 from abroad will gather in four ‘ocas’ (traditional houses), one of which will be used for plenary meetings, while another will be equipped for videoconferencing with indigenous peoples in other countries and continents, Marcos Terena told Tierramérica. Terena is one of the organizers of indigenous participation at Rio+20, reprising a role he played 20 years ago at the Earth Summit.”

And here it remains to be seen how many Indigenous communities will view this participation in the official conference.

More tomorrow.