Over the last 3 days at Rio+20, negotiators have been having fun fiddling with words, rephrasing paragraphs and copy and pasting government policies into a scattered collection of what’s meant to represent the future we want. According to Brasilia’s propaganda pushers, they were very pleased to announce that there had been ‘considerable progress’ on 119 of 318 paragraphs of the negotiated text, and they have now decided to submitt a new, streamlined text to negotiate. Forgetting the fact this leaves 199 paragraphs in potentially deadlocked contention, and that negotiations fell down over whether or not to keep the word ‘green’ in the green jobs section, this strange UN declaration of the world’s desires isn’t progressive or representative at all.
It represents the desires of 192 political palaces surrounded by insidiously insurmountable palace walls, draw bridges and secret passageways separating citizens from cited policy. The two are rarely united, and it’s even more so the case at the United Nations.
Don’t get me wrong, it is critically important that the Rio+20 process takes place. It will considerably shape policy formation over the next few years, or at least until Google or Apple release an app that shapes policy for us. But what it will do more than anything else, is shape the global debate.
Here at Rio+20, if your heads been buried inside the power suits and elegant dresses that play immortals in shaping our future, it’s easy to forget that this is simply a conversation. It’s a conversation at the highest levels of global governance. But in the end, it’s just a conversation that reflects the social trends and buzzword of the time. Interestingly, the ongoing conversations over a ‘green economy’ and ‘sustainable development goals’ are beginning to incorporate many formal recognitions of concepts made possible by global social movements. It’s a long way away from an Occupy general assembly, but the space they now occupy has only been made possibly by the ‘people’ pushing and shoving social and political notions of ‘conventionality’.
That’s why I still think Rio+20 will change the world. It might not be so visible in the negotiating rooms, but take a step into the Peoples Summit and it’s hard not to be inspired. The People’s Summit began here in Rio on Friday an includes an amazing collection of NGO’s, social movements, Indigenous peoples, religious organisations, art spaces and celebrations. There are workshops and presentations all over the place, and just walking through the space is uplifting in itself.
But this gathering also represents a critical alternative to the text being debated inside more and more closed door meetings. A significant part of the People’s Summit is the compilation of 14 People’s Sustainability Treaties that were created by open and independent social movements and processes around the world. These 14 treaties were launched today, and reflect 14 different visions for the future the ‘people’ really want. They incorporate varying focuses on equity, consumption, corporate social responsibility, education, and spirituality to name a few. A personal favourite of mine is the Peoples Sustainability Treaty on Transitioning to a Zero Fossil Fuel World. But they all represent critical visions for the future, and could well and truly play a critical role in making sustainable development a reality.
Many times before I have wondered if the vast diversity of global social movements really can unite to create positive change. While the 14 Peoples Sustainability Treaties still fail to represent the cacophony of global voices, they give it a great kick start. And they further contribute to the growing social reality that the power and responsibility of governance is shifting, slowly but significantly, towards the peoples themselves.
As I was ready to leave the Peoples Summit this afternoon, I was reminded of this power in a uniquely Brazilian way. Along the one and only passageway through the many exhibition tents, a Capoeira roda spontaneously erupted, blocking cars and people from passing by. But with its combined rhythms, smiles, singing and acrobatic exhibition this disruption was more than welcome. A crowd soon gathered, clasping cameras and cheering on the growing chorus.
It was amazing to see and feel these strangers come together, dance and celebrate. That’s what I call real sustainable development. However, just as we were immersed in the present we wanted, the police rolled up with a plan to unravel our fun. I was expecting the crowd to scatter and the Capoeristas to spread. But no-one did.
We all saw the police truck try to force its way through our mass, and force its sirens over the top of our songs, but no-one took any notice. No-one stopped. Not even for a second. And the police just gave up, and let us govern ourselves.
Some day soon the UN will have to do the same. I think the People’s Sustainability Treaties will go along way in fast-tracking that process.
About the authorChris Wright
Climate researcher, political ecologist, activist and an award-winning slam poet from Australia.