Kirsty Wright is a campaigner at the World Devleopment Movement.
The dismal outcome of the Rio+20 summit has been slammed by people across the world, yet again disappointed the reluctance of world leaders to even make a political statement about taking strong action. While justified, this criticism misses the fact that there was something a lot more dangerous than inaction going on at the Rio summit. While state negotiators battled over semantics in the Rio+20 outcome text, corporations, and their allies inside institutions like the World Bank and some governments, have been very effective in using the occasion to forward their own agendas.
The UK government can take credit for making its approach to Rio+20 a shining example of how it is possible to use an international summit to further an agenda. Rather than finding a way to move forward collectively with other nations in the spirit of the original Rio summit twenty years ago, the UK government has taken a different, ‘bottom up’ approach, by starting to make its agenda a reality, regardless of any agreement. Piece by piece it has begun pushing forward what it wants, in spite of the spirit of cooperation that the summit purports to offer.
The UK government, together with its friends in the financial industry and the World Bank, hosted a joint side event on Wednesday on ‘natural capital’. For the people who opposed the insertion of references to the corporate-backed neoliberal ‘green economy’ agenda into the Rio+20 text, this description of the event should set alarm bells ringing:
“Focusing on the role of natural capital, and building on the shared recognition that we use nature because it is valuable, but lose nature because it is free, this event will bring together a range of initiatives at different levels to demonstrate specific approaches to meeting their common goal of improving how we account for the value of nature in decisions… Governments, financiers and businesses will show why we need to go ‘beyond GDP’ and mainstream financial accounting to understand the real progress of our countries and companies.”
It was, I imagine, expected to be one of Nick Clegg’s key moments at the summit. But as Clegg began his speech, WDM campaigner Sarah Reader stood up to initiate her own Great Nature Sale:
Why the opposition? The UK’s ‘natural capital’ agenda is being sold as an attempt to make sure we protect nature, by putting a price tag on it. Whilst the idea of ‘valuing’ nature sounds positive, this approach makes the grave mistake of confusing value with price. History shows us that these kinds of approaches do not work. Take, for example, the case in Uganda where 22,000 people were evicted from their land at gunpoint in 2011 to allow UK firm New Forests Company to plant trees for carbon credits.
Clearly, the broken mechanisms that have led the world towards a global financial crisis have not succeeded in creating the conditions for environmental or social protection in the past, and they will not in the future. Nor will the government’s plan to further privatise natural resources succeed in the future.