“You can’t have a tug-of-war without a rope”

By Nathan Thanki

As CSD-19 finally drew its last breath at 8.52am on Saturday morning, the road to Rio looked not only rocky, but downright perilous. The CSD had failed to come to an agreement, the text was left, brackets and all, as delegates flew home. The possibility of a resumed session remained minimal—the likelihood that it would be an inclusive process; nil. As a result, the overwhelming feelings of the MGCY were of frustration and disillusionment. That the UN would “fail” this cycle after 2 years of hard work was not only deeply disappointing, but also insulting.

Now think: how would we feel if they had agreed on a text and perhaps included more of our lobby points—maybe even pertaining to contentious issues like acknowledging the impact armed conflict has on waste management? Would that change the UN? Would that make it more or less [UN]sustainable, [UN]fair, [UN]ethical, and… [UN]viable?

Some see the lack of an agreed text as a good thing—it means some governments refused to do a quick and dirty job, and would rather have nothing than have nothing good. It means efforts will be re-doubled at Rio, and beyond. I hope this is true. Maybe it is, maybe my grandmother was right and “god loves a trier,” but maybe we have misunderstood something very basic: that the UN system is the result of sovereign states all coming together, all willing to sacrifice a little bit (some more than others) so that the tides can be turned on poverty, biodiversity loss, climate change, desertification, deforestation, human rights abuses, and environmental degradation. On one hand we forget that in order to block action, states have to be at the table; while on the other we remind each other that to affect change we must be on the inside. But can you really use the masters’ tools to dismantle the masters’ house? This belief of internal reform makes us Major Groups as bureaucratic as the UN, whereas we are supposed to be an antidote, a breath of fresh air in a stuffy negotiating room. We have too much respect for delegates, too much preoccupation with procedure and too much fear of losing our token seat at the back of (some) rooms. What have we really got to lose, apart from this paltry offering? We have our home at stake! We have our resilience as a species on the line. We have the (not our) planet up for auction.

So the question stands: how can we be involved in this process while challenging it? Is it possible to have one foot on the inside and one on the outside? Above all, we need more diversity (in the members of MGCY, in our experiences, in our interests and in our know-how)—this is what breeds resilience. Forget a united front: imagine a million fronts. One of those fronts is our presence within the UN system; this much is certain. So I’ll see you at Rio, but till then remember: resistance demands more than this narrow approach. Let’s have a multi-pronged, trans-disciplinary assault, one that isn’t afraid to challenge the structures we are a part of. Out to the field; and practice permaculture. Out to the forest and ocean and city; and know their ecologies. In to the community; to see that your health is intrinsically linked with its wellbeing!  And then on to Rio with more grit, and two strong hands pulling on the rope.


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