Rio 92 was first and foremost a classical deal between the South committing to some concrete sustainable development actions and the North committing to provide financial and technological support for those actions. Due to the environmental crisis the main agenda of the donor countries for Rio+20 was “how can we escape our financial obligations”. The green economy agenda was the perfect vehicle for that, as it pretended to give business and industry a lead role in generating the investments for sustainable development (even though they are in crisis as well so have little to contribute in practice). The South retaliated by being difficult about anything that was concrete in terms of commitments. That is a classical pattern we have seen for the past 20 years.
What marked the Summit was that the G77, perhaps as a result of the hard lesson learned at the climate talks, decided to close ranks and negotiate as a group. This was quite remarkable, significant attempts were made by amongst others the EU to break the ranks on the UN Environment Organization proposal. But even though they succeeded briefly, the G77 decided to close ranks again later on and sort of blindly accepted the leadership of Brazil as host country in the final hours. From a perspective of those who criticized the green economy this joint stance was a major advantage, as there were many G77 countries who would have embraced this agenda individually (to please their own industry, often). While New York based bureaucrats had accepted the Green economy agenda three years ago, the G77 clearly woke up in the course of 2011 and 2012 (also because of the criticism of the larger social movements) and succeeded to downplay the agenda into an optional one. This should be seen as a major success for women and other groups that would be impacted by this corporate-driven agenda. The remarkably strong declaration of the Peoples’ Summit, and for example the strong declarations of the Karioca 2 Indigenous summit and the Terra Viva Indigenous conference at the Peoples’ Summit also demonstrate the strong consensus amongst very large and often very grassroots social movements that only a fundamental change in the system itself will bring real sustainability and harmony with our planet, and not a greenwash of current capitalist policies.
Another significant success women should celebrate is the recognition that gender and women’s rights are an integral component of many different aspects of sustainable development. There might have been one painful debate about this, but in the end the official outcome of the conference includes numerous references to the role, rights and needs of women in sustainable development. The active and effective advocacy campaign of the women’s caucus and other women’s groups has definitely had its impact here, and I think we should recognize this success as something we should build on for the future. Being a bit of an outsider in terms of being involved in many other processes as well, I think the women definitely made a lot of NOISE in Rio!
The main defeat women suffered was the text on reproductive rights, and on a personal level I agree this is a scandal. However, I think we should realize that this defeat was mainly due to the G77 operating as a block. Many compromises had to be closed within the group to ensure they stayed together, and on a number of points this meant more progressive G77 countries decided to give in and agree with the deletion of strong texts that were opposed by a handful of conservative members. We can be rightfully angry at those few conservative countries, especially because the national situation on reproductive rights these countries is dreadful and many women suffer as a consequence. But we all know a strong statement in the Rio outcome pro reproductive rights would have helped only a little if anything in those countries. We simply need to continue the struggle, especially on the ground in countries themselves.
But similar to other issues, it also is not tactful to highlight too much that Rio did not agree on strong text here – it gives the impression the majority of countries would oppose reproductive rights, which certainly was not the case. There is no text in the document that opposes reproductive rights, we just know we lost text that would have supported them. But we won’t help women in countries where their rights are not respected by highlighting this, rather, we could focus on the reference to the Beijing document and the many other positive gains and use them to further strengthen our campaigns in the future.
So let us please celebrate our successes and use them as lessons for the future!
Once again, thanks to all the women who worked so hard to achieve all of this.
Global Forest Coalition
Women’s Major Group