UN development conference closes amid acrimony


THE UN Conference on Sustainable Development drew to a close here yesterday evening after three days of largely pro-forma speeches by world leaders who were severely criticised for a collective failure of vision and ambition.

“I haven’t seen this much fake green covering since last St Patrick’s day,” youth leader Nathan Thanki said, adding that the outcome “does not come close to the future we really want ... because it was written with the interests of the few rather than the many in mind.”

Activists from the Avaaz civic group held a “tug-of-war between people and polluters” at Rio Centro, highlighting the influence of multinational corporations and the fossil fuel lobby on the “weak” Rio+20 outcome, with one dressed as Brazilian president Dilma Rousseff acting as referee.

Civil society groups staged a mass walk-out from the conference, turning in their identity badges. “Twenty years ago, Rio was the scene of valid and earnest hope but by this point it’s mostly sham and charade,” said Bill McKibben, founder of the 350.orgcampaign.

Later, mock representatives from the corporate sector unveiled a “true” version of the Rio text called The Future we Bought – an ironic reference to its actual title The Future we Want. The text was then rejected by a “people’s plenary” and ritually destroyed.

“Rio will go down as the hoax summit. They came, they talked, but they failed to act,” Oxfam said. “Paralysed by inertia and in hock to vested interests, they were unable to join up the dots and solve the connected crises of environment, equity and economy.”

Oxfam chief Barbara Stocking identified two “rays of hope” — the people’s summit, held in Flamengo Park, which offered “a vision of a future we want with people at its centre” and UN secretary general Ban Ki-moon’s announcement of his “zero-hunger challenge”.

After Rio was lashed by a tropical rainstorm on Thurdsay night, a calm grey sky returned yesterday morning in time for the arrival from Washington of US secretary of state Hillary Clinton, who spent the day here amid tight security before flying back home last night.

On her way into the heavily-guarded conference centre, she was the latest world leader to be presented with a green thread bracelet by young climate ambassadors from YOUthinkgreen “as a sign of common engagement for climate protection within the negotiations”.

In her speech to the final plenary session, Ms Clinton made much of a US commitment of $2 billion (€1.6 billion) in grants and loans towards the UN secretary general’s “sustainable energy for all” initiative, which is aimed at achieving universal access to electricity by 2030.

According to the UN, energy companies and investors have committed more than $50 billion (€40 billion) towards achieving this objective, while the government of Brazil is to invest a further $4.3 billion (€3.44 billion) to achieve universal energy access throughout the country by 2014.

Meena Raman, of the Third World Network, said it was “despicably disingenuous that Hillary Clinton came here to be applauded while her negotiators were ordered to object to language [in the text] that reflected the principles and hope of the 1992 Earth summit in Rio”.

The EU also came under attack, with Asad Rehman of Friends of the Earth, saying it was “hypocritical to claim it has no money to help deliver global transformation when EU politicians have found billions to bail out the banks and give tax breaks to dirty fossil fuel industries”.

Augustine Njamnshi of the Pan African Climate Justice Alliance said developed countries came to Rio and have not been able to live up to their meagre promises on resources for sustainable development.

Achim Steiner, head of the UN environment programme, conceded that there was disappointment and frustration.

“But if nations, companies, cities and communities can move forward on the positive elements of the outcome, it may assist in one day realising the future we want,” he said.

Children from global initiative Plant for the Planet planted two “trees of hope” at Rio Centro yesterday to “symbolise their hope that we will overcome the climate crisis, even though the current generation of leaders is failing young and future generations”.