“You can’t have a tug-of-war without a rope”

By Nathan Thanki

As CSD-19 finally drew its last breath at 8.52am on Saturday morning, the road to Rio looked not only rocky, but downright perilous. The CSD had failed to come to an agreement, the text was left, brackets and all, as delegates flew home. The possibility of a resumed session remained minimal—the likelihood that it would be an inclusive process; nil. As a result, the overwhelming feelings of the MGCY were of frustration and disillusionment. That the UN would “fail” this cycle after 2 years of hard work was not only deeply disappointing, but also insulting.

Now think: how would we feel if they had agreed on a text and perhaps included more of our lobby points—maybe even pertaining to contentious issues like acknowledging the impact armed conflict has on waste management? Would that change the UN? Would that make it more or less [UN]sustainable, [UN]fair, [UN]ethical, and… [UN]viable?

Some see the lack of an agreed text as a good thing—it means some governments refused to do a quick and dirty job, and would rather have nothing than have nothing good. It means efforts will be re-doubled at Rio, and beyond. I hope this is true. Maybe it is, maybe my grandmother was right and “god loves a trier,” but maybe we have misunderstood something very basic: that the UN system is the result of sovereign states all coming together, all willing to sacrifice a little bit (some more than others) so that the tides can be turned on poverty, biodiversity loss, climate change, desertification, deforestation, human rights abuses, and environmental degradation. On one hand we forget that in order to block action, states have to be at the table; while on the other we remind each other that to affect change we must be on the inside. But can you really use the masters’ tools to dismantle the masters’ house? This belief of internal reform makes us Major Groups as bureaucratic as the UN, whereas we are supposed to be an antidote, a breath of fresh air in a stuffy negotiating room. We have too much respect for delegates, too much preoccupation with procedure and too much fear of losing our token seat at the back of (some) rooms. What have we really got to lose, apart from this paltry offering? We have our home at stake! We have our resilience as a species on the line. We have the (not our) planet up for auction.

So the question stands: how can we be involved in this process while challenging it? Is it possible to have one foot on the inside and one on the outside? Above all, we need more diversity (in the members of MGCY, in our experiences, in our interests and in our know-how)—this is what breeds resilience. Forget a united front: imagine a million fronts. One of those fronts is our presence within the UN system; this much is certain. So I’ll see you at Rio, but till then remember: resistance demands more than this narrow approach. Let’s have a multi-pronged, trans-disciplinary assault, one that isn’t afraid to challenge the structures we are a part of. Out to the field; and practice permaculture. Out to the forest and ocean and city; and know their ecologies. In to the community; to see that your health is intrinsically linked with its wellbeing!  And then on to Rio with more grit, and two strong hands pulling on the rope.


The quick of it

By Nathan Thanki

CSD-19 is only 3 days old, but already we’re seeing significant weakening of the Chair’s Draft negotiating document. Sad to say, it’s a case of the usual suspects: JUSCANZ. The United States is relentlessly pushing forth the idea that waste is a “resource,” like oil or gold, and should be exploited for economic benefit. The sad thing is that, with many people in developing countries basing their livelihoods in the informal waste management sector, the G77 agrees. Because they have so much waste, most of it from Europe [see http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-10846395], many African countries see it as a vital resource. But all this white washes over the fact that waste is not benign “debris” (as Canada insists on calling it throughout much of the text) or “materials” (as the US prefers).

Paradoxically – because a justification of saying material is that it is a broad, inclusive word – the list of waste types has decreased rather than expanded as we would have liked, to ignore nuclear waste or waste generated by armed conflict (which the Ghanaian delegate, speaking for G77, told me “is barely anything”). In fact the impact of crisis and armed conflict on waste management is being seriously and irresponsibly overlooked by delegations, despite the MGCY seriously lobbying for at least an acknowledgement in the text. As a SustainUS member has well researched, war has serious impacts on waste management. In war, normal procedure no longer applies. It is the breakdown of waste infrastructure, as well as increased waste and dangerous waste from the destructive nature of war that deeply connects armed conflict to this thematic issue. So after the dizzying heights of yesterday (having 3 of our amendments get into the draft, in one case word for word), today was a long way down. Language relating to existing conventions (Basel, Bamako etc) was almost pushed out (the EU weighed in favourably after the US and Canada had proposed deleting, which tipped the balance).  Canada wanted to remove references to corporate waste and corporate responsibility. The US wants rid of any mention of targets (not like them to do that…) and so on and so forth. But it’s not all bad news: in BOTH SCP and Transport, the MGCY have an intervention pencilled in for the end of the session. Hopefully they can shake some sense into these negotiations, and inject some urgency…