Photo Essay: The people take the streets of Rio to say No! to the Greed Economy

Will Bennington reporting from the streets of Rio during the Cupula dos Povos/Alternative People’s Summit mobilization.  June 20th.

Brazilian President Dilma and Uncle Sam have gone green, and they are coming for you! Photo: Will Bennington

We don’t want more reforms to the system. We want a new civilization. Photo: Will Bennington

With the Green Economy, forests equal money. Danger in Rio+20. Photo: Will Bennington

Rio+20 in Reverse is a common theme amongst civil society, represented by this banner and the “backwards” marches that have occurred at the official summit space. Photo: Will Bennington

Stop the Belo Monte. Opposition to this mega-dam project is and the role mega-hydro plays in the green economy is abundant around the People’s Summit.  Photo: Will Bennington

Photo: Will Bennington

What’s a march in Rio without some Carnival? Photo: Will Bennington

Corporate assault on the planet at Rio+20. Photo: Keith Brunner

HIV Positive without housing. A bloc of women experiencing homelessness who are HIV positive. Photo: Will Bennington

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Press Release: Civil Society Groups Denounce Sustainable Energy for All Initiative promoted at Rio +20 Earth Summit

From: Biofuelwatch, Global Forest Coalition, Global Alliance for Incinerator Alternatives, Global Justice Ecology Project and International Rivers

As the final negotiations for the UN Conference on Sustainable Development Rio+20 conference get underway in Rio de Janeiro, almost 50 civil society groups have published an open letter denouncing the UN Secretary General’s new “Sustainable Energy For All Initiative” (SEFA). The letter states: “The SEFA process and Action Agenda are deeply flawed and threaten to further entrench destructive, polluting and unjust energy policies for corporate profit under the guise of alleviating energy poverty, while undermining community rights to energy sovereignty and self determination”.

The “Sustainable Energy for All” initiative was announced in September 2011, and a “high level panel” was established by the UN secretary general, Ban Ki Moon. The panel includes major investors in the fossil fuel economy including, Statoil, Eskom, Siemens and Riverstone Holdings. The initiative’s stated goals are to 1) double the rate of improvement in energy efficiency, 2) double the share of renewables in the global energy mix by 2030, and 3) provide access to modern energy services for all of humanity. An action agenda is being put forward for endorsement at Rio+20, along with commitments for action from countries and groups.

Groups denouncing the initiative view it as an attempt to use claims of poverty alleviation to further expand corporate control over energy policies with the aim of gaining access to new markets and investment opportunities. The letter points out that the initiative’s goals are inadequate,that it promotes dangerous and unsustainable forms of energy and that there is a deplorable lack of transparency and democratic participation in the process thus far.

Rachel Smolker from Biofuelwatch states “While the term ‘sustainable’ is used, there is absolutely no indication what this means. Large-scale biofuels, natural gas projects, large hydroelectric dams, waste incinerators, even fossil fuels and nuclear energy all appear to be acceptable under this initiative and all are referred to as ‘sustainable’.”

“We are concerned that this initiative could end up providing yet more support for toxic waste incinerators, subsidized and supported as “sustainable energy” stated Mariel Vilella, from GAIA. Similarly Zachary Hurwitz from International Rivers points out: “Large hydro dams referred to as “sustainable energy” are likely to gain considerable support under the SEFA initiative in spite of clear evidence that they are risky, less resilient to climate change impacts and exacerbate problems with water stress.”

Simone Lovera, Executive Director of the Global Forest Coalition adds: “Lip service is granted to providing services to those in poverty, including, in particular, women who are currently dependent on fuelwood for their energy needs. But small scale community based, off-grid energy projects are not likely to generate profitable returns on investments in the manner these corporate players are accustomed to, so they are very unlikely to be prioritized by this initiative.”

Further, the open letter denounces the initiative’s process as “unaccountable and undemocratic”, pointing out that there are only 5 governments and 3 NGOs represented on the high level panel. There have been virtually no opportunities to participate or provide input into the action agenda, and there are no mechanisms in place to hold participants accountable.

Anne Petermann, Executive Director of Global Justice Ecology Project states: “While many are pleased to see the issue of energy access gaining much needed attention, there is little confidence that this top down, market-driven and undemocratic process can deliver human services on the scale necessary to both meet people’s needs and protect the planet and environment.”

Tatiana Roa of CENSAT/Friends of the Earth-Colombia adds: “This initiative is emblematic of the growing ‘corporate takeover’ of the UN as ‘public private partnerships’ like SEFA are becoming ever more pervasive. The private sector is now viewed as the only possible source of sufficient finance, and hence granted undue and inappropriate control and access. What we need are rights-based, bottom-up and participatory approaches that will ensure genuinely fair and sustainable solutions within the framework of energy sovereignty.”

NOTES:

1) The Sustainable Energy For All Initiative was established by UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon. A high level panel was selected and an action agenda released. It is expected that the initiative will be formally launched and country and other commitments under the initiative will be announced at the Rio+20 Earth Summit.

For more information: http://www.sustainableenergyforall.org/

2) The UN Commission on Sustainable Development RioPlus20 Earth Summit begins in Rio this week. The first Earth Summit, held in 1992 resulted in major treaties and agreements aimed at protecting the environment while addressing the problems of poverty, globally.

For more information:http://www.uncsd2012.org/rio20/

3) A briefing “Sustainable Energy For All or Sustained Profits For A Few”, detailing concerns about the Sustainable Energy For All Initiative (English and Spanish) is available at: http://www.biofuelwatch.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/SEFA6.pdf

4) The open letter is available in English and Spanish at:

http://globalforestcoalition.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/06/SEFA-Open-Letter.pdf

http://www.globalforestcoalition.net/es/wp-content/uploads/2012/06/SEFA-Carta-Abierta.pdf

5) A statement from civil society groups opposing the “corporate capture” of the UN – of which SEFA is a prime example – is available here:

http://www.foei.org/en/get-involved/take-action/end-un-corporate-capture

Report back from the land of Mega Hydro

Red Clover Climate Justice visits proposed Hydro-Quebec dam sites, meets with Innu resisting Plan Nord and dams along the Romaine River.

This past week, members of Burlington, Vt-based Red Clover Climate Justice traveled to the northern shore of the St. Lawrence River to meet with Innu organizers and visit the dams that power Quebec’s-and much of Vermont’s-economy.

What we found didn’t fit in with the rhetoric we often hear about Hydro-Quebec.  Dead rivers, swaths of clear-cut forests giving way to the endless march of gargantuan transmission lines, aluminum smelters, and fractured indigenous communities in the middle of a bitter struggle for the survival of the Innu culture.  All of these images didn’t add up to what is often advertised to Quebecers and Vermonters as “green energy” and “sustainable development.”

Check back for more photo essays and stories from our trip north as we begin to mobilize in opposition to the New England Governor’s Conference, coming to Burlington at the end of July.

First Impressions from the Preparatory Meetings for Rio+20

Returning from the UN headquarters in New York, after attending the UN Conference on Sustainable Development, Rio+20, informal- informal consultations from 17-23 March followed by the 3rd intersessional preparatory meetings from 26-27 March.

Cross-posted from Global Forest Coalition’s PeopleForestRights Blog

by Isis Alvarez

The meetings, which focus on sustainable development and serve as the preparatory phase before to the Rio+20 Summit in Rio de Janerio in June 2012, place special attention on ‘the green economy’ and poverty eradication, and the institutional framework for sustainable development. This summit dates back to 1992 when the first ‘Earth Summit’ was carried out also in Rio de Janeiro therefore, acquiring the name ‘Rio’s Summit’. Twenty years later, the wolrd has obviously changed and negotiations are happening in completely new political, economic and social cirsumstances than those of 1992. So, I find myself involved in this ongoing process which to a new comer is evidently harder to ‘chew’… In any case, there is no need for being a ‘veteran’ in the process to quickly grasp the main dispute going on currently: turning the environment into another marketable product so that the ‘usual suspects’ can benefit from it.

The idea of a ‘green economy’ may sound to many as an environmentally friendly approach since they have sold us the idea that all that is ‘green’ is ecological. However, there is a huge lack of awareness regarding this term, and what is more worrying, the future of our environment and future generations rely on it; up until now, there is no clear definition on what the green economy is, moreover representatives to the negotiations have expressed their concern on reaching a better understanding of the social, environmental and economic implications and impacts of the ‘green economy’. Nevertheless, governments continue to negotiate based on it. In fact, there is a whole section among the many texts relevant to these negotiations.

According to policy-makers, the ‘green economy’ will provide win-win situations: the “green economy will bring green jobs”, “the green economy will facilitate trade”, “the green economy will help us erradicate poverty”, all while using resources in a sustainable way… but is this the same reality we see in the field?

Having a ‘green economy’ entails the commodification of natural resources, incorporating forests and other ecosystems into markets, and markets often entail ownership. Thus, by turning biodiversity and the environment into marketable ‘goods’ and derived ‘services’, paying for an environmental ‘service’ (PES) will only happen by putting a price to life; it will then constitute a market based mechanism which is supposed to operate under the premise of equity. Examples of such mechanisms are Carbon Trade (e.g. REDD+), Certification, Trade in Genetic resources, and Ecotourism. But what if there is no equity?

But just to give the reader an idea, experience has demonstrated that in developing countries – where most of the resources are kept- there is rarely any equity; the vulnerable often have no rights over their lands, work is underpaid, governments are corrupted, women are often in greater disadvantage, etc etc. In many cases, land grabbing issues have been raised where indigenous peoples and/or local communities have been evicted of their ancestral lands because they lack ownership over those lands, and corporations, often in complicity with governments, appropriate those lands in order to carry out their profitable business. So, the resources that for many generations were accessed providing the livelihoods for different communities and peoples are suddenly taken away from them and left without water, food, or wood. People often find no other choice but to migrate to the cities and swell the ranks of people living in poverty.

Furthermore, carbon trade schemes represent a huge threat to biodiversity as they do not deal with the root causes of climate change and may promote the destruction of primary forests for conversion into tree monocultures, as it has been the case with the expansion of soy. Soil degradation is also one of the consequences of these monocultures which have had significant health impacts in neighboring communities; projects for Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD+), for instance, provides incentives to those who have incurred in massive deforestation, but lacks any incentive to those who have actually preserved their forests, so why compensate those companies/governments who have incurred in large scale deforestation while ignoring local people’s conservation efforts? Clearly, something there must be wrong…

Thus, this Rio+20 process is paramount not just for our generation but for the rest to come. The Rio principles convened back in 1992 could be at risk as the world’s powers find themselves in the midst of a critical financial crisis; there has been some recognition that achieving sustainable development requires changes in production and consumption patterns but instead, some of the powerful member states not willing to leave their ‘business as usual’ have put at risk people’s rights and equity by proposing to delete the language related to a human rights approach to sustainable development, for example ‘deleting references to vulnerable peoples in relation to the implementation of rights, such as access to safe, sufficient and nutritious food, women and youth access to land, regulating finance to address volatility and language calling for concrete commitments and targets’ (http://iboninternational.org/page/whats_new/138).

On the other hand, between the 15th and the 23rd of June in Rio de Janeiro, civil society organizations, Indigenous Peoples Organizations, NGOs, social movements, women’s groups, and more, will be attending the People’s Summit for Social and Environmental Justice in Defence of the Commons, a parallel event aimed at proposing a new way of living on the planet, in solidarity against the commodification of nature and in defense of the commons (more info http://rio20.net/en/). Hopefully, the official negotiations will listen to the voice of millions of people around the world concerned about the lack of appropriate policies towards sound environmental protection while ensuring people’s rights, in a world that has changed substantially since 1992.

Hopefully those involved in steering the wheels of our future realize that the system that has prevailed for many years in the world didn’t work, that we need a profound change, that environmental matters should not by dealt with by the World Trade Oorganization, that natural resources and Mother Earth are not just another ‘good’, that the 99% of the people around the world disagree with the concentration of wealth in the hands of a few and that we will all unite to oppose any further threats to our air, our water, our food, our children…

Isis Alvarez
Global Forest Coalition
isis.alvarez@globalforestcoalition.org

Sustainable Energy For All: The UN’s Trojan Horse for Corporate Energy Control?

by Will Bennington

(Note: Sustainable Energy For All, or SEFA, is a UN initiative focused on “clean” energy development in the developing world.  Coincidentally, it might be a scheme to increase the role that multi-national corporations play in delivering energy services to communities, and to decrease pressure on developed countries (US, Canada, EU member-states) to implement energy efficiency and carbon-neutral projects.  Check out a BiofuelWatch report on SEFA, Sustainable Energy for All-Or Sustained Profits for a Few? for more background information.)

-Gears of Change Youth Media

As soon as Morton Wetland, Norway’s representative to the UN, opened his mouth to moderate a panel discussion on public-private relationships for the Sustainable Energy For All (SEFA) initiative, it was clear on which side of the public-private divide the panelists stood.  In a belittling tone he said, “I was informed that the G77 has deleted everything in the text which has not been proposed by the G77,” referring to the attempts of mostly southern countries to defend against the stripping away of all language in the Zero Draft document referring to human rights, social inclusion and equity.  Considering the chummy, smug chuckles this comment elicited from the room, it immediately appeared that this discussion of SEFA would be more concerned with what is good for business than with what is best for human and natural communities.

SEFA may seem to be an initiative with good intentions—to increase global access to clean, “modern” energy sources—but what ultimately plays out on the ground looks to have dire consequences.  The initiative happens to include members from some of the world’s most lovable institutions: Charles Holliday, current chair of America and former director of DuPont, also chairs SEFA.  Statoil, Bloomberg New Energy Finance, and Riverstone Holdings, represented by former BP CEO John Browne, are all there too.  Mark Moody Stuart, ex chairman of Shell, is also on the board.

What kind of projects can we expect this not-so-motley crew to promote?  According to Rachel Smolker from BiofuelWatch, “The first country commitment for the Sustainable Energy For All initiative is from Ghana, and it is a project which will construct a natural gas pipeline in the country with the assistance of a UK company that has long been seeking to do that.”  Since when is natural gas considered sustainable energy? In this case, the private sector is using the legitimate concern of improving the health of rural women to push through business-friendly mandates at the national and international levels.  Apparently that is the kind of sustainable energy you get when you put the heads of some of the largest energy and finance corporations in charge.

At first glance, it seems like the old regime has just put on new masks.  As Justin Perrettson, a panelist representing biotech giant Novozymes, said, “Business as usual doesn’t work…its all about companies doing what they do better,” and, “Sustainable energy is all about mindset.”  Indeed, so long as stopping business as usual means creating new, more attractive markets to investors and business, and the mindset with which sustainability is defined thinks primarily about profit margins, investment opportunity and increased corporate power instead human rights, environmental impact and community control.

Perrettson’s presentation focused primarily on the new market potentials for biotech (bioenergy, bioplastics, biochemicals) that SEFA can create with proper public investment and backing.  He hopes that the Rio+20 process can be used to initiate, “…a dialogue around…the bio-based economy,” which involves using more of the planets living communities in a more productive way.  What he really means is identifying things like “agricultural residues,” which are often vital to traditional forms of agriculture for maintaining soil fertility, and transforming them into synthetic fuels, plastics and chemical products.  Not to mention his apparent infatuation with corn, which he described as a, “ power plant.”

If industrial-scale biomass and biofuels are considered sustainable—which they currently are—than SEFA will serve as a mechanism to make investments in these dangerous technologies more attractive.  As no less than three panelists pointed out during the hour and a half long session, “Green [as in the Green Economy being promoted at Rio+20] is a good word because it also means the color of money.”

The 800 pound gorilla in the room, of course, was the actual financing for large scale energy projects.  Petter Norre, who has spent decades in the Norwegian oil and gas industry and is now a member of the SEFA technical advisory group, described a subset of SEFA, Energy+.  Energy+ was developed last fall by UN Seretary General Ban-Ki Moon and the Norwegian government, and is focused on creating attractive investment opportunities for renewable energy projects in the developing world.  It is inspired by the Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and forest Degradation (REDD) initiative, which is vehemently opposed by many civil society and indigenous organization throughout the world.  Energy+, like REDD, is all about climate finance and making countries, “Green Fund-ready.”

In Norre’s words, Energy+ is about, “…getting down the country risk for big international investors who live by their spreadsheets and their cost of capital….” In other words, how to get the public sector to subsidize, deregulate or structurally adjust in ways that can make otherwise risky development projects appear attractive to the big multi-nationals.  And what is the real role of the public sector here?  Unfortunately, it doesn’t seem to be providing a regulatory framework to ensure equity and rights.  Quite the contrary, according to Norre, the public sector needs to provide, “…a regulatory framework to have a state that functions that somehow encourages investment.”

Just as Energy+ was making me feel warm and fuzzy about the role the private sector would play in what was now being discussed mostly in terms of finance, decoupling risk from investment, and commercial opportunity, the World Bank reared its ugly head.  While I was surprised to hear World Bank Senior Energy Specialist Magnus Gehringer talking about geothermal (I figured they also would have been in the natural gas-as-sustainable energy camp), his presentation came to similar conclusions as Norre’s.  Speaking with a starry-eyed gaze about the potentials of geothermal energy, Gehringer explained the Bank’s new push, coming from the Energy Sector Management Assistance Program (ESMAP), to access this below ground energy source.  Drill, baby, drill.

While geothermal has a relatively high return on investment, it requires huge upfront costs.  The biggest hurdle for countries lacking access to large amounts of cash is the test drilling required prior to geothermal development.  It is prohibitively expensive and requires drilling 2-3 km below the ground.  And this is to test for geothermal potential.

But high up-front investment costs won’t stop the World Bank.  In fact, nothing short of direct community resistance will.  Magnus showed a map of geothermal hotspots, most of which are in the southern Pacific Ocean, the western coasts of North, Central and South America, and eastern Africa.  While it is true that geothermal is at the “edge of what people think about,” that might be due to the fact that most of the world is looking for solutions that are cheap, don’t require huge amounts of international finance and corporate control, and that won’t result in further ecological destruction.  As Gehringer noted, “Japan has an estimated potential…of 23,000 megawatts….And they didn’t use it because most of their geothermal fields are in national protected parks, and they didn’t want to damage their landscape.”  Well shame on you, Japan, for placing ecological protection before increased energy development.  The Bank will have to see about that.

The scariest piece of what the Bank is proposing, and about all public-private partnerships proposed for Rio+20, are the proposed private sector benefits.  Gehringer described a dream project of his, involving, “…a loan [for geothermal development] to the…east African countries for example, that they could then repay by just, for example, tendering out some of their [developed geothermal] fields to the private sector, and they would get their money back and they could repay the loans and still keep some of it.”  How much of whose fields?  When do they get them back?  And at what cost to local people and the planet?

What is so troubling about this initiative, as Ana Belén Sánchez López from Sustainlabour pointed out in a question to the panel, is that increasing access to safe, reliable, sustainable energy is a crucial issue for women, workers and many of the world’s most marginalized people.  Energy is necessary for survival.  However, it is also imperative that energy is considered in the context of human rights, not market commodities, and that the public sector­—trade unions, civil society organizations, local communities­—have a real seat at the table.

Sustianable Energy For All needs to focus on making projects that work for public utilities, and that really address the needs of local communities in healthy, sustainable ways.  It can’t be used as a Trojan Horse for the corporate world to ride into marginalized urban and rural areas to access newly developing markets.  That is not the future we want.  As the moderator made clear in his response to Sánchez López’s comments, the focus needs to be on the private sector because right now the private sector is a, “four-letter word,” at the UN.  Well, maybe it should stay that way.