By Daniel Mittler
One year after the biggest 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 their right to fairly-priced public transport and for a better future for all Brazilians. As with the recent Gezi Park protests in Turkey, the images of police brutality are chilling. But the colourful, humourous and determined spirit of the movement for change is a real inspiration.
A year ago, I hoped that the failure of Rio+20 would motivate 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 the Rio+20 outcome document, the “movement of movements to force the future we want“ appears to be under way.
A year ago there were encouraging signs: As we launched the Save the Arctic campaign in Rio with a “signal of hope against the despair of the official outcome”, the Guardian´s John Vidal predicted that the fight 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 around Rio+20 to demand a zero deforestation law is going from strength to strength. Over 1 million Brazilians are now supporting our call for ending deforestation once and for all. Sadly, the urgency is growing every day as deforestation appears to be on the rise:Trends for the period August 2012 to April 2013 show an increase of 15% compared to the previous year. Meanwhile, conflicts with indigenous communities are multiplying. Stand with Brazil by adding your voice to the call to Save the Amazon.
Rio+20 failed to deliver the energy revolution needed and governments from Canada to Venezuela acted as mouth-pieces for their fossil fuel industries at the Summit. Meanwhile, bodies as varied as the International Energy Agency or the Australian Climate Commisionacknowledge that the vast majority of fossil fuel reserves must stay in the ground. Rio+20´s 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 seminal Rolling Stone piece; the movement´s movie is online here; next week, 500+ leaders will gather at the Global Power Shift meeting in Istanbul – probably the most important climate event of the year. All of you can join the global resistance against fossil fuel: Pledge to end the age of coal and join the International Day of Action on Coal on 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 to move 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 the “Oceans Constitution“ we need. To support their efforts they have launched a global, public call to 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 to campaign against the likes of ex-World Trade Organization head, Pascal Lamy. But that someone like him supports the new Global Oceans Commission and their call for proper governance on the High Seas is encouraging. It doesn´t 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 get the right political outcome for the High Seas in 2014. Help us build the pressure by signing our call.
One concrete thing that has happened since Rio is that the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) got strengthened a little bit. The UN General Assembly agreed in December 2012 that 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. The fundamental reform of global governance that we need will not happen without much more pressure from the streets.
Governments at Rio+20 argued that the launch of a three year process to develop Sustainable Development Goals was 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 the High 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 for more 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. Let´s build on the current momentum. Let´s 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