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CHALLENGES OF RIO+20

Ignacio Ramonet

BRAZIL is hosting, June 20-22, the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development, also called Río+20, given that it is being held 20 years after the first great Earth Summit of 1992. Attending are 80 heads of state and discussion will focus on two central issues: 1) a "green economy" in the context of sustainable development and the eradication of poverty, and 2) the institutional framework for sustainable development. Parallel to the event, a Summit of the Peoples will also be held, bringing together social and environmental movements from around the world.

In 2010, climate change was the cause of 90% of the natural disasters which took the lives of some 300,000 people.
In 2010, climate change was the cause
 of 90% of the natural disasters
 which took the lives of some
300,000 people.

Nobel economist Paul Krugman added fuel to the fire saying that Greece could abandon the euro during the month of June….(krugman)
Nobel economist Paul Krugman
 added fuel to the fire saying that
 Greece could abandon the euro during
 the month of June

The eradication of poverty will be addressed in Rio, during debates about the "green economy."
The eradication of poverty will be
 addressed in Rio, during debates about
 the "green economy."

Environmental questions and the challenges of climate change are urgent concerns on the international agenda, (1) but this reality is being overshadowed in Spain and in Europe by the seriousness of the economic and financial crisis. Nothing new.

The Eurozone is experiencing one of its most difficult moments, as a result of the obvious failure of "extreme austerity" policies. The recession continues in several economies, with unemployment on the rise and dramatic financial tensions. Spain, in particular, is facing its most disconcerting moment since 2008, worse than when the Lehman Brothers Bank failed. The economy has been subjected to an audit by inspectors from Brussels. The risk premium took off, entering into the intervention zone, and doubts have re-emerged about the solvency of the Spanish banking system, following the scandalous bankruptcy of Bankia.

Given the Banco de España failure and doubts about the credibility of the financial system, foreign ‘independent’ firms have been called upon to analyze the hidden debts in arrears of Spanish banks (2). Among the citizenry, the idea is growing that Spain is, one way or another, going to need the support of the European Rescue Fund, as Ireland, Greece and Portugal have. Sixty-two percent of Spaniards see it coming.

The worst is yet to come. Nobel economist Paul Krugman added fuel to the fire last month (3), warning that it is very likely that Greece could abandon the euro in the month of June… A Greek exit from the European unitary currency would have as a consequence the immediate flight of capital to neighboring countries and massive withdrawals from bank accounts - phenomena which would inevitably spread to Portugal and Ireland and, no doubt, Spain and Italy. Krugman predicted that it could not be ruled out that later, Spain and Italy could face a corralito, to prevent a run on the banks (4).

These are the concerns we face and the reason European citizens are carefully watching the electoral agenda: French legislative elections June 10 and 17; New elections in Greece on the same 17th and a summit in Brussels June 28- 29, which will finally decide if the European Union will follow the German road of austerity at all costs, or the French route of growth and resurgence – a critical dilemma.

Despite the dramatics, we should not forget that there are other vitally important dilemmas on a world scale which are equally decisive. The principal one is the impending climate disaster which will also be an issue in Rio de Janeiro this month. Let us remember that, in 2010, climate change was the cause of 90% of the natural disasters which took the lives of some 300,000 people and cost a devastating 100 billion euros in damages.

Another contradiction: in Europe, citizens are justifiably demanding more growth to get out of the crisis, but in Río, ecologists are warning that growth, if it is not sustainable, always means more degradation of the environment and the danger of depleting the planet’s limited resources…

World leaders, along with thousands of government representatives, private enterprises, social movements and other civil society groups will meet in Rio to precisely define a global agenda to guarantee environmental sustainability, reduce poverty and promote social equality, as well. The debate will be between the concept of a "green economy" defended by neoliberal spokespeople and a "economy of solidarity" promoted by social activists who believe that there will be no environmental protection if the current economic model of "predatory development," based on the private accumulation of wealth, is not replaced.

The rich countries will be attending the conference with this proposal for a "green economy," a trick concept which limits itself, most of the time, to applying green camouflage to the same old economy. A "greening," that is, of speculative capitalism. These countries are hoping that the Río+20 Conference will grant them United Nations approval to begin to define, on a world scale, a series of criteria to economically evaluate different natural functions and this way create the basis for a world market for environmental services.

This "green economy" looks to commercialize not only the material part of nature, but its processes and functions, as well. In other words, the "green economy," as Bolivian activist Pablo Solón has said, not only attempts to sell wood produced by forests, but their capacity to absorb carbon dioxide, as well (5).

The central objective of the "green economy" is to create, for private investors, a market for water, the natural environment, the oceans, biodiversity, etc.

A price is assigned to every element of the environment, with the objective of guaranteeing the profits of private investors. Thus, instead of producing something real, this "green economy" will organize a new immaterial market of stocks and financial instruments which are negotiated through banks – the same banking system responsible for the 2008 financial crisis, which received billions of government euros. This system will have Mother Nature at its disposal, to use as it sees fit, to continue speculating and reaping more astronomical profits.

Opposing these proposals is the Rio Summit of the Peoples, a parallel gathering of civil society. Alternatives in defense of "humanity’s common goods" are being presented here. Produced by nature itself or by groups of people at a local, national or global level, these goods should be collective property. Among these are the air and the atmosphere, aquifers, rivers, oceans and lakes, ancestral and common lands, seeds, biodiversity, natural parks, languages, landscapes, memory, knowledge, Internet, open license products, genetic information, etc. Fresh water is emerging as the most important of common goods and the struggle against its privatization in several nations has had notable success.

Another idea promoted by the Peoples’ Summit is the gradual transition from an anthropocentric civilization to a "biocentric" one, focused on life, implying the recognition of the rights of Nature and a redefinition of the good life and prosperity, as not dependent on continual economic growth.

Also defended is food sovereignty. Every community should be able to determine the foods it produces and consumes, with consumers and producers living closer. Small farmers must be defended and financial speculation in foodstuffs prohibited.

The Peoples’ Summit is calling for a far-reaching program of "responsible consumption," which includes a new ethic of caring for and sharing the earth, opposing the artificially planned obsolescence of products, preferential support for goods produced by a socially conscious economy based on work, not on the needs of capital, and the rejection of products created by slave labor (6).

The Rio+20 Conference offers social movements around the world the opportunity to reaffirm their struggle for environmental justice, in opposition to the speculative development model and attempts to promote the "greening" of capitalism.

According to these forces, the "green economy" does not constitute a solution to the world’s environmental and food crises. On the contrary, it is a "false solution" which would aggravate the commercialization of life (7) – just a new disguise for the system. The world’s citizens are increasingly tired of disguises… and tired of the system. (Taken from Le Monde Diplomatique)

(1) See Ignacio Ramonet, "Urgencias climáticas", Le Monde Diplomatique in Spanish, January, 2012.

(2) El País, Madrid, May 21, 2012.

(3) The New York Times, May 13, 2012. http://krugman.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/05/13/eurodammerung2/
?smid=twNytimesKrugman&seid=auto

(4) Corralito is a term which emerged during the 2001 economic crisis in Argentina, when, faced with an avalanche of customers withdrawing their savings from banks, Minister Domingo Cavallo declared that account holders would be allowed to withdraw a maximum of 250 pesos a week. After the stir caused by Krugman’s remarks, Spanish Treasury Minister Cristóbal Montoro announced that a corralito in Spain was not technically possible.

(5) Pablo Solón, ¿Qué pasa en la negociación para Río+20?, April 4, 2012. http://rio20.net/documentos/que-pasa-en-la-negociacion-para-rio20

(6) http://rio20.net/en-camino-a-rio

(7) See, "Declaración de la Asamblea de movimientos sociales", Porto Alegre, January 28, 2012. http://redconvergenciasocial.org

Jamaica Patriot

Writing about the realities faced by the oppressed people across the world
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This is an attempt to create a revolutionary movement to arrest the social decline of our country and reverse foreign domination of our economic and political life through the co-operation of our two political parties.

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