One year after Rio+20: The movement for a better world is growing

by Guest Blogger

June 21, 2013


By Daniel Mittler

One year after thebiggest ever UN Summit closed at Rio de Janeiro, Brazil is in the news again. An impressive and large movement is growing as people stand up for theirright to fairly-priced public transportand for a better future for all Brazilians. As with the recentGezi Park protests in Turkey, the images of police brutality are chilling. But thecolourful, humourous and determined spiritof the movement for change is a real inspiration.

A year ago, I hoped that the failure of Rio+20 wouldmotivate more people to mobilize for a better world.I am not saying Rio+20 is the cause of the current protests. But, Rio+20 certainly was a global symbol for governments failing to deliver the decisive transformation we need to achieve a decent environment for all. And while most people now out on the streets will never have read theRio+20 outcome document, themovement of movements to force the future we wantappears to be under way.

A year ago there were encouraging signs: As we launched theSave the Arcticcampaign in Rio with asignal of hope against the despair of the official outcome, the Guardians John Vidal predicted that thefight for the Arctic was sure to grow into great global causes over the next 20 years.It looks like he was right. Since then, over 3 million of you have already come together to support our call to keep the oil industry and industrial fishing fleets out of the Arctic. Thank you.

And while things are looking bleak for the Amazon, the coalition of civil society that came together aroundRio+20 to demand a zero deforestation lawis going from strength to strength. Over 1 million Brazilians are now supporting our call for ending deforestation once and for all. Sadly, theurgency is growing everyday as deforestation appears to be on therise:Trends for the period August 2012 to April 2013 show an increase of 15% compared to the previous year. Meanwhile,conflicts with indigenous communitiesare multiplying. Stand with Brazil by adding your voice to the call toSave the Amazon.

Rio+20 failed to deliver theenergy revolution neededand governments from Canada to Venezuela acted as mouth-pieces for their fossil fuel industries at the Summit. Meanwhile, bodies as varied as theInternational Energy Agencyor theAustralian Climate Commisionacknowledge that the vast majority of fossil fuel reserves must stay in the ground. Rio+20s failure increased the need for a global movement to keep fossil fuels in the ground. And that movement, too, is growing – and growing fast. Bill McKibben tells the story of its rise in a seminalRolling Stone piece; the movements movie isonline here; next week, 500+ leaders will gather at theGlobal Power Shiftmeeting in Istanbul probably the most important climate event of the year. All of you can join the global resistance against fossil fuel: Pledge toend the age of coaland join theInternational Day of Action on Coalon June 29th.

As Rio+20 failed to make decisive decisions, the political progress report one year after Rio is mostly about processes. But even there, there are signs of movement building. As you may recall, we put governments under a lot of pressure tomove forward on protecting the High Seas at Rio. As a result, governments will decide on the future governance of the High Seas by 2014, at the latest. France is championing theOceans Constitution we need. To support their efforts they have launched aglobal, public callto protect the High Seas. Some members of the global elite have already understood the need to end the plunder of the High Seas. I used tocampaign againstthe likes of ex-World Trade Organization head, Pascal Lamy. But that someone like him supports the newGlobal Oceans Commissionand their call for proper governance on the High Seas is encouraging. It doesnt inpspire me like people on the streets of Rio or Istanbul. But it does give me hope that with enough political pressure we may yet getthe right political outcomefor the High Seas in 2014. Help us build the pressure bysigning our call.

One concrete thing that has happened since Rio is that the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) got strengthened a little bit. TheUN General Assembly agreed in December 2012that UNEP will receive secure, stable and increased financial resources from the regular budget of the UN. It was about time to end a state of affairs where UNEP needed to pass around a begging bowl each year to secure vital funds for environmental protection. Other new bodies initiated in Rio such as a High Level Political Forum on sustainable development– are still on the drawing board. Thefundamental reform of global governance that we needwill not happen without much morepressure from the streets.

Governments at Rio+20 argued that the launch of a three year process to developSustainable Development Goalswas a major breakthrough. And so it would be, if these goals were to enshrine important global goals such as protecting the Arctic for all. However, as governments spent months arguing over who should be in the working group (some 70 nations now share 30 official slots …), the best that can be said is that this global conversation is now – finally – under way. We hope the Co-Chairs will be bold and not as timid as theHigh Level Panel on the (parallel) post-2015 development agenda.

A year after Rio, I feel less exhausted than I did after that negotiations marathon. I feel as angry as ever about our governments failing to take the decisive action we need. But I am truly inspired by the movements for a just, fair and sustainable world that does seem to be growing and gaining in strength. A year ago, I called formore movements to rise up. But not in my wildest dreams did I expect that one year later protest movements the world over where making their voice heard and making the front pages. Lets build on the current momentum. Lets redouble our efforts and make sure that soon – a year from now – governments and corporations will have no choice but to finally deliver the future we want.

Daniel Mittler is the Political Director of Greenpeace International

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