ANPED's monthly newsletter on the switch to a sustainable society covers new debates, campaigns, books, papers, policy processes and more. Send suggestions & articles to editor Nick Meynen: nick[at]

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Durban to Rio: multilateral propaganda?

It seems logical that global problems like climate change and dwindling resources can only be addressed through global agreements. In December 2011, Durban focused on climate change and in June 2012 Rio will focus on green economy. With the zero draft of the latter now public, one seriously wonders if both processes are part of the solution, or part of the problem. Could it be that both are just smokescreens, a sinister kind of multilateral propaganda trying to convince ourselves that we are doing something while in fact we’re not able to stop the disintegration of the ecosystem we base our lives on?

We have tackled the dirty Durban deal in our previous Switch issue. Unfortunately, the Rio agreement seems all set to suffer a similar fate. The zero draft is a 19 page summary of the 6000 pages input with, as our executive director Leida Rijnhout put it: ‘zero ambition’. It looks like UNDESA has made a very selective summary of all the proposals. Leida: ‘It is a total missed opportunity to have to start with such a weak text. It will be very difficult to bring the document to a higher level of ambition. A negotiation process usually means that the text is merely weakened.’ Obviously, the NGOs will do everything to increase the commitment and ambition, but at present, it looks like even the neutral body that the UN should be turns a deaf ear to all proposals for radical change.

More hopeful then is the parallel process from the official discourse, which takes shape in the People's Summit. Scientists, disgruntled with the official process trying to solve the problems with the thinking that created it, are increasingly looking to the People’s Summit as well. One example is the EJOLT project, a coalition between NGOs and universities working on environmental justice, which is sending many professors to the People’s Summit to help in formulating real solutions. If more groups and media professionals participate in this process, there’s hope that the pressure to build real solutions will build up. The last thing the world needs is yet another smokescreen agreement that merely confirms earlier commitments and adds some empty promises.
(Cartoon: © Chappatte -

Rio+20 informal in New York

By Catherine Pearce (

From 25 to 27 January, delegates from all over the world met in New York to discuss the zero draft for the Rio+20 Summit. They began negotiations on the first two sections of the draft, while most, including Bureau staff, acknowledged that the zero draft lacks vision, ambition, balance and action oriented language. Negotiating positions began to emerge as the text itself was discussed, paragraph by paragraph. Proceedings were slow. If we continue at this pace, negotiations will not be completed in time for the Rio Summit.

The SDGs took considerable attention during the negotiations, i.e. on basic themes, the process and timing for their identification, and on their juxtaposition to the MDGs. Since a formal retreat had just been held on the SDGs, Colombia spoke at length on what had been discussed there, explaining that a diversity of views remain. An informal meeting took place on Friday lunchtime to exchange views on the SDGs and we should expect to see some intense negotiations on these. The same goes up for aligning the diverging views and remaining questions over the governance aspect on the proposed Sustainable Development Council, strengthening the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) and UNEP reform. On the Green Economy, many of the G77 expressed concern that it should not be used as a protectionist tool. The fact that a clear definition is still lacking was raised many times.

A number of groups continued to support the proposal for Ombudspersons for Future Generations. India called for an informed debate on it. Brazil in their interventions emphasized strongly the need for civil society participation to be integrated into discussions and implementation, and as well at Rio itself for example during the four ‘Thematic Days’. The draft text is now online and available only to Member States in the e-room. Switzerland had called to make the negotiated text a public document, an idea supported by the NGOs. The deadline for comments and proposals on Sections 3, 4 and 5 of the document has been pushed back from 17 to 29 February. So far for the state of play in negotiations. Back to action happening on the ground now!

Ecuador: an example to follow?

On 30 December 2011 the government of Ecuador spread the news that, for the time being, the precious rainforest known as the Yasuni-ITT block has been saved from oil exploitation. According to the UN trust fund for Yasuni, the "crowdfunding" initiative had raised $116m, or just above the minimum compensation to be paid by 2011 in order for Ecuador to keep the oil underground. This is no small victory. Scientists say Yasuní has the highest biodiversity of the world. According to some, there are as many different species in one hectare of Yasuní, as there are in the whole of North America. President Rafael Correa tries to protect the area from oil exploitation but has set minimum compensations for the loss of revenue and has set up a scheme to invest these donations into renewable energy scheme’s and other ecologically and socially friendly policies. This radical, innovative and pioneering idea is Correa’s response to the grueling realities and legacy of past oil extraction in the country. On 3 January 2012, an appellate court in Ecuador confirmed an earlier lower court decision that found Chevron-Texaco guilty of a wide range of damages linked to their former oil extraction activities in Ecuador. The earlier 14 February 2011 court decision ordered Chevron to pay 18 billion US $ in compensations, or half that amount if they would apologize publicly. But after one of the longest environmental lawsuits in the world ever won by the victims, justice is still not for tomorrow. Chevron does no longer have assets in Ecuador to confiscate, it refuses to accept the ruling, and considers going to Ecuador’s Supreme Court or to other courts in the US. It is using hundreds of lawyers to not just defend itself but to attack judges, lawyers and plaintiffs in Ecuador and their allies in the United States. But in this case, David keeps on winning against Goliath. Both the court case and the Yasuni fund are examples on how the Switch to a sustainable world could be made. Will damages of the past be restored? Will we be able to prevent further damages happening? Both cases will require a long uphill battle but if they succeed, Ecuador might just turn out to show the whole world how to move forward in this age of ecological crisis.

Sustainability in the EU

Compared to other ‘Western’ countries or regions, and despite the economic crisis, the EU is also seen by many as an example giving guidance on making The Switch to a sustainable society. Adherents and opponents to this view should certainly read this report, which tries to make an objective balance of the progress the EU has made in the last twenty years on the road to sustainability. “Sustainable development in the European Union – 2011 monitoring report of the EU sustainable development strategy” combines facts and figures with analyzing trends. It draws on the EU set of sustainable development indicators maintained by Eurostat. While it contains some good news on declining energy consumption and emissions of greenhouse gases, it has bad news on many social indicators from the risk and intensity of poverty to suicides.

OECD on inequality

In most of the western world, or at least in the collection of countries gathered in the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), at least one socio-economic indicator is going the wrong way: inequality. The video that the OECD itself made on this issue makes this all too clear in less than 3 minutes. It summarizes the report ‘divided we stand’. Which is a perfect introduction as to why, at least in this part of the world, 2012 is likely to see more mass protests against the way our democracies and economies currently (do not) work.

Occupy San Fransisco & Davos

On the 20th January, thousands of activists peacefully 'occupied' San Fransisco's Financial District. One of their two main demands is a question that should never have to be asked in the first place: to no longer consider corporations as people, giving them the same rights as persons. If you're in West Coast US, stay up to date on planned actions through this website. If you're in central Europe, the place to occupy was Davos, a Swiss ski resort packed with the world's rich on their yearly get together to discuss the evils of social welfare, high taxes and debt. They might have been a bit upset when the veteran founder and Chairman of the Davos World Economic Forum, Professor Klaus Schwab, speaking on the conference, declared "Capitalism, in its current form, no longer fits the world around us." Has the occupy movement camping outdoor in self build iglo's found at least some person inside the conference speaking on behalf of the 99%? According to a Bloomberg article, at least six billionaires attending Davos said they wanted to talk about inequality, despite the fact that it is not programmed in Davos at all. Could it be that the worldwide wave of protest against rising inequality is finally making some leaders understand that something has to be done? In his State of the Union, Obama made a bog point about rich people paying their fair share of taxes, a battle he lost last year when the republicans blocked him, but a battle he seems ready to take up again. This all sounds a bit too positive when you look at the scale of the problem and the underlying factors leading to the current growth of the problem, but then again, if the occupy movement regains momentum, who knows how many leaders will actually do something to buck the trend.

Meanwhile, in transition territory

Fortunately, some people don't wait for their leaders to come up with a different plan for the economy. We predicted last year that rising oil prices would lead to a growth of the transition movement and although that probably has happened, we predicted even stronger growth this year! Already, there are over 900 transition groups in 34 countries all over the world, working towards a functioning and fair society decoupled from fossil energy that is not just running out but just getting too expensive for ordinary people to pay for. Why we think the movement will grow even faster this year? Because here's a trailer of a movie that is bound to attract more people to transition territory. For those in need of a more scientific reason for changing lifestyle: read the next article!

Beyond consumption: Pathways to responsible Living

On 19 and 20 March, PERL's 2012 International Conference with the above mentioned title will take place at the Technical University of Berlin, Germany. PERL is a partnership of educators, researchers and practitioners from more than 120 institutions in over 50 countries, and is based on six years of work of the Consumer Citizenship Network.  Key note speakers like Tim Jackson will present their scientific arguments to change lifestyle, adding details on why, how and also why it can be fun as well. All details including those for conference registration are here.

BOOK: To Cook a Continent

Instead of asking the question what can be done about or for Africa, Nnimmo Bassey asks a much more pertinent question: what is being done to Africa and how should Africans respond to it? Bassey, a human/environmental rights activist, executive Director of Environmental Rights Action (ERA) and chair of Friends of the Earth International, is well placed to answer these questions. He fluently links heaps of field experiences, from gas flare regions in Nigeria to gold mines in Mali, with a wide range of reports exposing the ways in which Africa is still exploited today. Read the full book review by clicking here (scroll down to 'Latest from the blog'). One of the issues described in the book is tax evasion, which happens in and out of Africa.

REPORT: tax evasion in Africa

According to a study from a Swedish agency, Forum Syd., tax evasions by multinational companies in Africa are so vast that one tax analyst believes that if the money were paid, most of the continent would be "developed" by now. The money taken illegally from the developing world is worth 10 times the annual global budgets for development. That does not even take into account the outstanding ecological debt that we owe them. Which is why we are a bit skeptical about 'raising money for development'. Tax evasion alone is a problem ten times bigger than what development tries to make up. More hard truths in the report Bringing the Billions back.
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