From the advocacy of “sustainable development” at the Rio earth summit in 1992 to “green economy” at Rio +20 in 2012, the terms illustrate optimism yet fail to live up to expectations. This year’s summit is held in one of the most environmentally diverse countries in the world: Brazil. In fact, almost 50% of Brazilian territory is taken up by the earth’s largest tropical forest, the Amazon rainforest, home to nearly 50% of all the world’s biodiversity (The Guardian). As the world’s sixth largest economy, surrounded by plentiful natural resources, Brazil is a land of contradiction as environmental struggles remain to be addressed.
In fact, a new forest management law recently approved by the Brazilian congress goes against their pro-environmental mandate. The law was to give a “green card” to land owners who illegally invaded and deforested riparian areas, which are ecosystems that occur around watercourses or water bodies. In addition, this law allows the legalization of further deforestation. Now let’s look at the bigger picture.
As can be seen, twenty years after the first summit, which engendered hopes of actions destined to protect the planet, issues concerning the environment, society and economy prove otherwise. The increase in global warming, desertification and the destruction of biodiversity are a few consequences of the expansion of privatization and industrial agriculture. Moreover, populations are increasingly hungry, namely 1 out of 6 people are eating below their needs (Via Campesina). Expulsion from lands and territories are increasing due to new forms of monopoly control over land and water. All of these issues stem from an obsession with economic growth.
This economic growth goes alongside with the new term “green economy”. This term has been coined positively as the “valuing of ecosystem services and internalizing of environmental externalities” and negatively as a “further marketisation of nature’s services” (Via Campesina). The latter approach focuses on fixing a price for nature in order to protect it. This myth of “green economy” constructed by governments, organizations of the United Nations and business people is suspected to prone neoliberal policies and further push capitalism which rhymes with monopolization and privatization. Via Campesina denounces “green economy” by pointing out that large corporations can pursue environmental deterioration as a reasonable act and continue land-grabbing.
In parallel with the Rio +20, the People’s Summit reflects the reunion of citizens all over Brazil in the discussion of issues such as their rights of determining their own food and energy systems in contrast to global markets taking over.
Focusing on food sovereignty, Via Campesina provides the voice to peasants and indigenous people who form over 90% of the rural population. The NGO calls for action as it “repudiates and denounces the green economy as a new mask to hide increasing levels of corporate greed and food imperialism in the world, and as a brutal “green washing” of capitalism that only implements false solutions, like carbon trading, REDD, geoengineering, GMOs, agrofuels, bio-char, and all of the market- based solutions to the environmental crisis” (Via Campesina).
One of Rio’s straplines is “The future we want”. Who is “we”? Corporations? Farmers? Children? In defining the word “we”, there must be compromise in considering the interests of different parties and how best to accommodate different needs (food, water, rights) and wants (money, growth, social cost).