Rio summit ends with warning on corporate power

Environmental activists, one portraying Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff holding a banner symbolizing "dirty money" made from fossil fuel subsidies Those activists who had demanded action on fossil fuel subsidies will be disappointed

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The UN sustainable development summit in Brazil has ended with world leaders adopting a political declaration hammered out a few days previously.

Environment and development charities say the Rio+20 agreement is too weak to tackle social and environmental crises.

Gro Harlem Brundtland, author of a major UN sustainable development report 25 years ago, said corporate power was one reason for lack of progress.

Nations will spend three years drawing up sustainable development goals.

They will also work towards better protection for marine life on the high seas.

But moves to eliminate subsidies on fossil fuels - recommended in a number of authoritative reports as likely to boost economies and curb CO2 emissions - came to naught.

Plans to enshrine the right of poor people to have clean water, adequate food and modern forms of energy also foundered or were seriously weakened during the six days of preparatory talks.

And many governments were bitter that text enshrining women's reproductive rights was removed from the declaration over opposition from the Vatican backed by Russia and nations from the Middle East and Latin America.

'No leadership'

The UN had billed the summit as a "once in a generation chance" to turn the global economy onto a sustainable track.

"It absolutely did not do that," said Barbara Stocking, chief executive of Oxfam GB.

People gathering water at a man-made water hole, in South Sudan's Upper Nile state The rights of poor people to have access to clean water were not enshrined as hoped

"We had the leaders of the world here, but they really did not take decisions that will take us forward," she told the BBC.

"It was a real lack of action that is very worrying, because we know how difficult the situation is in much of the world in terms of environment and poverty, and they did not show the leadership we needed them to bring."

The president of the most impoverished country in the western hemisphere, Haiti's President Michel Martelly, said the summit could have delivered more.

"I feel like these poor countries, these countries that are always being hit by catastrophe - things have not changed much," he told the BBC.

"So on this summit I will say that much more effort needs to be done so we can correctly and precisely come out with resolutions that will have an impact on the lives of people being affected."

Cash concern

Developing countries had argued that they needed financial assistance in order to meet the costs of switching onto a green development path.

But with the US in an election year and the EU deep in eurozone mire, any mention of specific sums was blocked.

As a consequence, developing countries refused to let the declaration endorse green economics as the definitive sustainable development path.

Prof Jeffrey Sachs, the Columbia University economist and special adviser to UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, said support was needed.

"Those of us who look at this day in, day out know that many poor countries need that kind of help," he said.

A man rides his bicycle past the cooling tower and chimneys from a coal-burning power station in Beijing Developing countries had said they needed financial help to adopt greener forms of development

"And it does not do any good to cite large ambitious promises many years out, and then behind the scenes to say 'we're not going to talk about how they're going to be fulfilled."

But Lisa Jackson, Administrator of the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and deputy head of the US delegation here, said the US was fully behind the "green economy" - and that the summit could help deliver the vision.

"The negotiated document, which is really the first time we have a multilateral document that talks about the green economy that has broad-based support - that is a big push," she said.

"But probably more important are the connections that are being made between businesses large and small, civil society, academia and of course governments at the national and sub-national level - all those things are pushing the green economy forwards."

Norwegian would

Start Quote

People who have economic power influence political decision-makers - that's a fact”

End Quote Gro Harlem Brundtland Former head of World Commission on Environment

The need to put the world on a sustainable track, and the perils of not doing so, were outlined most influentially in a 1987 commission chaired by Gro Harlem Brundtland, then prime minister of Norway.

Speaking to BBC News in Rio, she reflected on the lack of real progress since then.

"Obviously when you look back 25 years now, less than one would have expected has happened - that's clear - but you can't think you can turn the world round in 25 years," she said.

She said there were "complex reasons" why governments had been unable to take the vision further - including the power of corporations.

"I think [the allegation] is justified - it's not the whole truth but it certainly is a big part of it," she said.

"In our political system, corporations, businesses and people who have economic power influence political decision-makers - that's a fact, and so it's part of the analysis."

The next key date on the sustainable development journey is 2015.

The sustainable development goals should be decided and declared by then; also, the UN climate convention will have what some, with trepidation, are calling its "next Copenhagen" - the summit that should in theory usher in a new global agreement with some legal force to tackle global warming.

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  • rate this

    Comment number 230.

    215.Peter Dewsnap

    Dear Pete,

    I lived for several years in Africa. They genuinely don't care about you or your ideas Pete, 'cos they're busy surviving. The Meditteranean sea has often been a desert. It has evaporated and flooded several times. The same number of water molecules exist on Planet Earth today, as existed on the day the planet was formed, apart from the water on the Space Station!

  • rate this

    Comment number 229.

    Is the future really in the hands of the conglomerates? They need comsumers[1], that's you and me. You don't have to support them. Buy what you can local, as it makes for a more sustainable society, cuts transport costs and keeps more jobs local. It's a start.

    [1] We used to be citizens, but even the BBC now calls us comsumers.

  • rate this

    Comment number 228.

    @216 LouiseMF

    I think the balloon will have well risen before then ....

    What upsets me is that there are some wonderful people who could really take us forward but perhaps haven't had the greatest advantages in life, and then you have indescribables with all that privilege brings useless as a xxxx in the wind.

  • rate this

    Comment number 227.

    223.FactHunter - "......Also, how do nuclear and fossil fuel powered stations store their energy?"

    No room for all at once, first existing storage - a reservoir. When producing above demand you pump water up a hill. When output is below demand you let the water out again through turbines - the National Grid wouldn't work now without it.......

  • rate this

    Comment number 226.

    210. BluesBerry: You're right, we don't vote for corporations. But we might as well. Many of our politicians are bought before we even get to vote for them. They've a program of policies worked out of behalf of their sponsors, and rush to implement them when they inevitably get voted in. The priorities of the actual electorate come far down the order of business. Normal voters can't afford bribes.

  • rate this

    Comment number 225.

    221. Name Number 6
    hahahahaha completely agree with you, though it looks like Auntie Beeb doesn't.

  • rate this

    Comment number 224.

    Look at what changes. Governments change, labour to tory. Corporations do not change, the same billionaire owners and multimillionaire executives. In short who controls the economy never changes. Real wages of workers go down. But democracy is about change? Conclusion Western democracies only offer the illusion of equality. Rio was going to fail because the billionaires wanted it to fail.

  • rate this

    Comment number 223.

    2 Hours ago
    Please elaborate on how you would store the huge amount of power required to fill in when the windmills aren't turning (remember, they operate at 30% of nameplate capacity). Also, how do nuclear and fossil fuel powered stations store their energy?

  • rate this

    Comment number 222.

    "This is the battle for the 21st century. Democratic will v financial influence"

    Unfortunately, many people's 'democratic will' would dictate we increase our extraction of wealth from natural capital to fund better lifestyles for us all. The concepts of sustainability and poverty alleviation are either exclusive, or we make little headway with either.

  • Comment number 221.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • rate this

    Comment number 220.

    The problem is democracy. No politician is ever going to be elected who wants to spend money now on fixing a long term problem. Basically we are screwed, environmental collapse is completely guaranteed. It may take a while but it will come.

  • rate this

    Comment number 219.

    So the wheels (or rather iron tyres) of corporatism continue to steam roller on, wonderful!

  • rate this

    Comment number 218.

    206. MeOnVenus
    my point exactly!

  • rate this

    Comment number 217.

    Another wasted opportunity - greed and corporate self-interest win again.
    Time is running out whilst our so-called leaders only look as far as the next election.
    When mass migration from the poor nations and water wars begin we'll know who to blame

  • rate this

    Comment number 216.

    The kinds of changes they are proposing must change economies and societies. Such change does not come in a decade or two but, requires work across generations. To those frustrated that an agreement cannot be reached in a few short years, understand that this will be ongoing work for our children's children's children.

  • rate this

    Comment number 215.

    193.A Realist
    18 Minutes ago
    So global warming is a fantasy and a fraud. No doubt then you are a recognised scientific authority on this subject. Would you like to furnish some of your proof?
    Peter D

  • Comment number 214.

    All this user's posts have been removed.Why?

  • rate this

    Comment number 213.

    Billy @208
    It's possible ... :)

  • rate this

    Comment number 212.

    For any country to realistically produce positive measures on these issues they would have to be brave and possibly commit political suicide or become a visionary. The measures will place them against their electorates, corporations etc. and they might disappear faster than the polar ice caps. Who knows perhaps in the next generation somebody might appear as I see nobody like this at the moment.

  • Comment number 211.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.


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