Brazilian fractals

by Maria Alejandra Escalante

“I also take it as granted that every created thing, and consequently the created monad also, is subject to change, and indeed that this change is continual in each one.

Gottfried Leibniz 


Listening to political conversations about the past, the present and the future of Rio+20 has been a daily ingredient of my life since I first jumped into the global politics realm a year ago. Many words I have read in preparation to what came already. Yet, words fall short when living what Rio+20 meant in all its wholeness. I still need to process what I saw, heard and talked about to come to any accurate understanding of this overwhelming trip to Brazil. Therefore this post becomes my thoughts’ delineation so I can hope to make any sense out of this experience, rather than an explanation or a description for you, the reader, about Rio+20. And as this is more for me than for you, I am doing it my way. According to the theory of fractals, any chosen element has infinite scales of reflections that interact with one another and affect what they are. I see myself an element reproduced in the Earth in Brackets team, the UN as an institution and the rest of the world that does not involve the UN. This view is my best attempt to reach an understanding. 

The idea of sustainable development renovated my faith in the human spirit. It is a brilliant strategy that, in theory, addresses the root problems of this unconscious society: overconsumption and overproduction of everything and all you can think of. I got inspired. In my head I thought that if we pushed hard enough, this new way of living would be a breakthrough in the course of our existence. But that could not happen at Rio+20 because the people of the world cannot reach consensus on any major issue. With sharp words and speeches they, the delegates, convinced and unconvinced each other several times. Words in this context seem to weigh a lot, and the power they possess is a delegate’s best weapon. But delivered how it was, sustainable development could not pass through the UN’s framework. If that was the only idea that I believed in and as it was unsuccessfully adopted by the UN, then I had no choice but to lose my minimal faith in the UN as an international platform for agreements. 

Then me, an individual finding no sense in what is being done, was part of a group of people that, believing or not, was also embedded in this frenetic Rio+20 bubble. I had to respond to them and make them count on me because one thing is to walk away from a system, like the UN one, and another thing is to walk away from the people who are acting as teachers to me. So, for most of the time, I let my apprehension hide away from the common goal. We found a common group goal that more or less aligned with my thoughts: the future we want was not being given by the negotiators at Rio+20. We worked hard to deliver such message. And then I felt that as much as I disagreed in a bigger sense with even participating in a conference that was mostly set to give media comfort and some work, having a cohesive group was important if we wanted to maker ourselves heard loud enough. 

And so Earth in Brackets became known as a radical voice to the youth participants in particular but among civil society in general. We spread around like a plague, covering negotiations, networking with key people, transmitting messages from and to RioCentro, pushing everywhere we could for The Future We Really Want. We were united and had a direction (this seems like an easy task, but it is truly not. We had many meetings to decide which direction to go), and hence we were heard by other groups. Again, in this political world if your rhetoric is not strong enough you are not heard. I felt like we, clearly with the help and input of so many other people who became our “allies”, tilted the balance of the Rio+20 outcome towards our favor. At least a little. Through conversations and especially through the protests and manifestations, we made sure that Rio+20 did not walk out with an absolute victory and be transcribed into History as the biggest and most important conference of the United Nations. 

But Rio+20 is just one reunion within dozens of UN meetings. The UN is just one institution organizing (or trying to) the structure of this modern society. It is just one institution that has existed over less than a century in History. The chances that I, or  that Earth in Brackets, or the final negotiating text will radically change the destructive senseless model of living is pretty slim according to my calculations. So I cannot leave Rio de Janeiro without asking the question: was this whole endeavor worth it? I burst out a gigantic NO, but then I remember my fractal theory. These scales of perception can and may influence each other in ways I cannot even perceive. In that case, the work that we all have done here can potentially have unknown repercussions in the course of the universe. It might change it. But it might not. If something indeed changes, I hope I can perceive it before deciding if it worth it to go to the next COP in Qatar, or not. 

An ambiguous path

Discussing the concept of sustainability

By Nimisha Bastedo

Sustainability. It’s a word that can mean so much and so little at the same time. Throughout the entire Rio+20 roller-coaster, everyone from the most conservative State representatives to the most radical activists were either advocating for it, or at least pretending to be. If we all agree that we need to move towards a more ‘sustainable’ world, why was it so impossible to produce any concrete plan for how to make it happen? I believe that part of the problem was the collision of multiple, very different visions of what ‘sustainability’ actually entails.

Before the Rio conference in 1992, the Brundtland Report introduced what became the trendiest definition for ‘sustainable’ development in the United Nations. It’s all about “meeting the needs of the present generation without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their needs”. As far as this definition is concerned, it seems like we only care about the Earth staying in good enough shape for our great grandchildren to fulfil their daily caloric requirements, have air to breath and water to drink.

Even the three-pillar concept of sustainability focuses on human need. ‘Environmental protection’ supposedly has equal ranking to ‘economic development’ and ‘social equity’, but as we saw here in Rio, discussion about the environment is all too often dominated by neoliberal ideologies that only frame it in terms of what humans need in order to survive and continue consuming. If negotiators have this approach to sustainability, it is no wonder that there was a push from the most powerful to commodify nature and plow ahead with free-market capitalism.

Human-centered, needs-based, market approaches to sustainability are what prevail in international negotiations, but I know that I am not alone in believing that there is a lot more to sustainability than human needs, and that the market cannot be given the power to decide what should be sustained. Take la Via Campesina for example. This grassroots international peasant movement is one of the many organizations we encountered here that are pushishing the sustainability discussion beyond needs, to rights–not only for people, but for Mother Earth.

In sustainability, I see securing meaningful lives for the present, while ensuring that future generations will have an equitable opportunity, not only to meet their needs, but to dance in the streets, express their opinions, feel safe and respected. I see universal recognition that humans are a part of the environment; that society and the economy are subsets of the natural world and entirely dependant on its integrity. If there is any hope for sustainability, we must respect and care for the environment instead of commodifying it for the short-term benefit of a select few. Humans are not the only thing that needs to be ‘sustained’ after all. Ecosystems, biodiversity and the planet itself all have every right to flourish and persist.

Sustainability does not mean invariability. The world will always be changing, and societies will forever be changing with it. But through those changes, humans must work in harmony with the planet, instead of pretending it is theirs and free for the taking.

Demand A Future

Some new friends of ours were present at the Thursday action, and made a short video about it:

Basta! Rio+20 Walk Out from Permacyclists on Vimeo.

On June 21, 2012, leaders from around the world gathered in Rio de Janeiro to discuss sustainable development and related issues. Nobody hoped for much but the results were even worse than expected. Some members of civil society who were present decided to take bold action to show their anger at a failed process and that the time has come to unite to demand a future for all. Over a hundred people walked out the conference center, symbolically returning their UN badges on the way out. Here is the story of that day.

Music: 'Polaroid' by Jahzzar:

Too bad no one really wanted sustainable development


 by Adrian Fernandez Jauregui
Rio+20 has come to an end. After an almost two and a half years long process governments finally came to an agreement just before the heads of state and ministers arrived to Rio de Janeiro. The outcome 49 pages text  was inaccurately called ¨the future we want¨, but then re-named to Our common vision. It was tough, even for them, to present the document using the initial title. 
By the end of the third Prep-Com meeting and only few days before high level representatives arrived to Rio, delegations had agreed, ad referendum, only in one third of the of the text, but the most contentious issues remained on the table. In the corridors one could feel the tension and preoccupation, it seemed that the negotiations were going to be a complete catastrophe. Two speculative theories competed on popularity; some thought that this summit will conclude with a regression on agreements and declarations from various UN conferences. Others, thought that negotiations were going to collapse and negotiations were going to be suspended. 
None of these two happened. As previously decided, Brazil took over the control of the negotiations and established new rules. Brazil presented a new text that ¨reflected everybody's interests and concerns¨. As the Brazilian chair said, ¨the new document made everyone a bit happy and a bit unhappy, that was the best compromise¨. It was a take it or leave it option; and they took it. 
Yet, a better outcome doesn´t mean a good outcome. The document that all countries agreed upon reflects only the minimum common denominator shared among all. There is no ambition what so ever. There were three main objectives for this conference: assess progress to date on regard to the implementation of the Agenda 21 document; identify new emerging challenges; confirm and renew political commitment to sustainable development. The conclusion is: after 20 years, objectives are still far from being achieved, some more than others, mainly because of unfulfilled commitments over Means of Implementation (MoI) from the developed world;  there are a number of new challenges that represent further complications to sustainable development, climate change, environmental degradation, and the financial crisis are just examples; countries have struggled to re-commit, and only modest new commitments were made, unfortunately they don't match the challenges we face. 
It is hard not to wonder, how did we get to this point of chronic incoherence and blind denial. The imaginary world in which international politics takes place ignores planetary boundaries and climate change, extreme inequalities and social instability around the globe, and the fact that current economic models are about to collapse. In that world political impossibilities are the only limitations. Only that logic explains the outcome. They achieved what was politically possible, or as the Nigerian president, Goodluck Jonathan, said ¨the outcome represents what the global community can achieve at this moment in time¨, but that is clearly not what was needed. And what was possible was defined by three big coalitions: the EU and South Korea, conservative and overdeveloped countries (Japan, US, Canada, New Zealand, Australia, and others), and the G77+China.
The Eu and Korea position was all about protecting the environment and stimulating the green industry (their industry), but their proposals . Their proposals lacked the social component, especially on issues that concerned the global south, such as poverty eradication, food security, access to land, among others. They had a strategy that consisted of three elements: upgrade UNEP to a specialized agency that will have greater power to enforce environmental programs; lay the foundations for a (read: their) green economy roadmap that will incentivize green growth (although not clearly defined, it refers to economic activities that are low carbon intensive) while creating the environment to face out harmful subsidies, such as fossil fuel; and the creation of Sustainable Development Goals (SDG´s). Their overall objective was to change the rules of the game of development in a way that will favour their model of development and own industry.
The block of conservative overdeveloped nations showed up with a completely different agenda that had little to do with sustainable development. In fact, these countries pushed used the platform of Rio+20 to fight battles that belonged elsewhere, in some cases to the WTO (subsidies, Intellectual Property Rights).For example the US fought heavily in the section of Food security and nutrition and sustainable agriculture against the right to food and supporting the inclusion of GMO´s. Canada tried to eliminate any mention of the right to water (they are a country with plenty of that resource) while making sure Fossil Fuel Subsidies are maintained, especially for production. Japan, as well as US and others pushed very heavily to achieve tougher Intellectual Property Rights (IPR´s). And, as a general trend all of them avoided to take  new responsibilities while at the same time ¨acknowledging¨ the role of the private sector. They almost didn't even re-commit to previous agreements (Official Development Assistance, technology transfer, reduction of consumption partners) or reaffirmed important documents such as the Rio principles.
G77+China surprised no one with its traditional rhetoric about the need for social and environmental justice, principles like equity, CBDR or polluter pays, and its popular repertoire against the mercantilization of nature and the dangers embedded in the capitalist system; it did surprised many when doing concessions and making the real demands. Although their arguments were valid and in most cases probably also genuin, the block had also a hidden (its priority is denied) agenda that consisted on maintaining a development model based on the predatory  natural extraction and carbon intensive activities. 
There three major political powers defined what was possible for this negotiations. And negotiators did their best to draft a document within those limits. As the Brazilian chair said, ¨the new document made everyone a bit happy and a bit unhappy, that was the best compromise¨. At the end everyone got a little bit of what they wanted and a little bit of what they didn´t wanted. 
Too bad no one really wanted sustainable development… 

¿Si un barco se hunde es porque todos están del mismo lado? Siempre hay algo más

escrito por Anyuri Betegón

El barco que todos habíamos abordado hace un año camino a Rio+20 giraba en círculos y al final durante el último mes tomaba posiciones definitivas en diferentes direcciones. Brasil tomó el mando del barco luego del PrepCom III (durante los días de los diálogos), presentando al final una dirección que para muchos fue un balde agua fría.

En las negociaciones sobre los mares y océanos al principio de esta conferencia (como en otros cuartos de negociación) se mostraban incapaces de avanzar en cuanto a los acuerdos y compromisos necesarios para la aplicación efectiva de éstos en el futuro cercano.

Las organizaciones no gubernamentales presentaron en uno de sus eventos paralelos a las negociaciones, un número de propuestas para empezar a trabajar y tratar  temas importantes, sin embargo ellos decían no haber sido escuchados y se quejaban de que mientras ellos llevaban a cabo su evento paralelo los políticos tomaban decisiones sin considerar sus sugerencias.

Los párrafos más debatidos fueron principalmente los párrafos 162,163, 169 y los párrafos en donde se hablaba sobre la ratificación de la UNCLOS (el cual fue eliminado por completo), y las áreas fuera de la jurisdicción nacional.

En el documento final de esta conferencia en la sección de océanos y mares se establecen compromisos claros y contundentes para enfrentar los problemas relacionados con la protección de las áreas fuera de la jurisdicción nacional, la contaminación por plástico, especies invasoras, entre otros temas. Cabe destacar que esta sección es una de las más largas (comparada con otras áreas tratadas en la sección del marco para la acción y el seguimiento, específicamente esferas temáticas y cuestiones intersectoriales); lo que no la hace ni la mejor ni la peor.

Según el consenso general este documento político ha fallado y no merece ser llamado exitoso (hecho demostrado en las acciones lideradas por los jóvenes dentro de Río Centro y fuera del área de la ONU). Este mismo sentir se escuchaba dentro de las salas en las palabras de un delegado “este documento es muy largo para fallar y demasiado incoherente para ser aceptado.”

Dentro del círculo político del G77 había claras divisiones y al final los países más pobres y las islas salieron perdiendo, puesto que la falta de compromisos requeridos para la capacidad de construcción, la transferencia de  tecnología, financiamiento, entre otros, hicieron de este documento, un documento lleno de palabras sin acciones concretas de cómo implementar los acuerdos en el documento.

En todo caso habían differentes perspectivas con respecto al documento, unos alegaban que este documento abría las puertas para una mejor implementación del desarrollos sostenible, mientras otros se preguntaban dónde estaba la ambición y las acciones a tomar para un futuro más sostenible. Así cada quien se preocupaba por tirar el barco de su lado causando una fricción entre la conferencia en sí y la sociedad civil.

Como dijo El Salvador en esta conferencia” se ha luchado para evitar una hemorragia y ha tocado defender a capa y espada los principios acordados en 1992.” Al final con todo y el esfuerzo de Brasil de consolidar este documento, la gente seguía en un rincón del barco; sin dejar sus posiciones y mejorar la situación.

En esta conferencia dentro de cada grupo nadie estaba de mismo lado y debido a esta marcada división en vez de hundirse el barco, terminó por romperse. Unos felices, otros no tanto, esperan que este no sea el final sino que sea el principio para la reavivación del entusiasmo y ganas de luchar que había en 1992.