William Mudford's forthcoming article in peppercorn the ANU law student magazine
While at Rio+20 it struck me how under-connected and under-cooperative the international diplomatic and legal negotiations are. However, the civil society parallel conferences made me think of the potential for something so much better. The differences between the events were so stark both physically and emotionally...
The official conference
The official conference was a two hour bus ride out of town in a place much like Exhibition Park. The negotiations occurred within pavilions with temporary rooms erected inside, with a massive diesel powered air-conditioning system and harsh fluorescent lighting. To get into the conference you had to have pre-registered with your passport and through an organisation officially accredited with the United Nations. The accreditation gave you a pass to get into the preparatory conference where the text was being negotiated prior to the plenary session with all the world leaders. There was no clear program as to where the different parts of the negotiations were occurring. The state parties spent their time locked in these rooms fighting about the details of the text, with long periods spent negotiating about whether commas should be included, or whether single words should be included. Despite the rhetoric the state parties were not genuinely discussing how to fix the three big problems that the world is facing of environmental destruction, economic crisis and extreme poverty.
The parallel civil society conferences
There were several other parallel conferences I attended. Each was in the centre of Rio or on the metro line. They were held in buildings where you could see natural light, had interesting speakers, and provided great opportunities for meeting a wide variety of people. To get in all you had to do was turn up and each provided ample opportunities for a variety of people including myself to participate. At each of the conferences we were discussing the big topics that the state officials should have been addressing at the official UN conference. For me the greatest thing that came out of each of the conferences that I attended was the genuine connections I was able to make with such a variety of people from across the world, even across language and cultural barriers.
There is a challenge for us, but one that we have so many tools to deal with. Right now the world is facing a set of human induced environmental crises including climate change, biodiversity loss and lack of access to safe water. There is currently enough food around the world to meet the needs of the world’s people. The problem for those who are starving is that the food is not distributed in a just and equitable fashion. The world’s farmers are not adequately connected to all the world’s people. However,at Rio+20 I saw that we, the people of the world, have the knowledge, the potential, the physical resources and the connections to address these sorts of issues. I say let’s make it happen.
But you say: what's stopping us?
Rio+20 revealed writ large two of the big forces that are subduing or preventing the potential international action that we need to address the multiple crises that our world is facing. These two distinct but connected classes of international actor are corporations and inactive state parties. Many corporations such as Petrobras, the Brazilian oil company and Coca Cola bottling company sponsored the official conference but contribute significantly to the multiple crises that we face. Petrobras makes money off the continuation of the destructive and exploitative fossil fuel industry. Amongst other things Coca Cola has cornered many markets in safe drinking water, a basic necessity of life that everyone should have free access to. The presence of these corporations at the conference, at best, had a pacifying influence on the state negotiators, and, at worst, had thoroughly destructive connections to them. One of the Australian government's key negotiating positions was to get ‘mining for sustainable development’ included in the text. The pretence behind such a position was that mining in Australia is safe and sustainable and that we should export such practices to our region. This, and other untruths, were peddled by destructive state parties with vested corporate interests. We can create something better.
How do we overcome this?
We as young people need to continue to go to international events, to connect with people in genuine ways. We need to cooperate and work together on the common ground that we have with so much of the world’s people. We need to be doing everything we can. We need coalitions of the world's willing people, which need not include the uncooperative governments of nation-states. It is through the connection, the sharing of knowledge and the sharing of resources that we can truly create a world that protects the environment, distributes resources and stops the high levels of inequality and poverty experienced by people across the world. This may not happen instantly, and I do not have a magic formula. However, what I have experienced is that together we can create the alternatives that we want, and divided we will lose against the inactivity caused by large corporations and the officials of state parties with vested interests. It is through the process of working together and creatively developing the alternatives as we go that we will address the issues that we face.
How can you get involved?
The students who went to Rio+20 as part of the ANU student delegation are hosting an event during October to discuss some of these issues of sustainability that the world is facing and help us to connect the global to the local. To find out more you can check out our blog for the Rio+20 project http://anurio20.blogspot.com.au/