The After Taste Of Non-Wins

By  Julian Velez 

Civil Society, represented by Major Groups (MGs) within the conference, could not come to an agreement —  in informal consultations there where two attempts to create a united MG statement that fell apart because the perspectives of what was needed and the level of ambition that was required were very varied.

The organization of the conference here at Rio increased the confusion of the already disorganized civil society. With last minute changes in schedules, a paperless conference that sometimes had text but no electronic backup (and which civil society had no access to), and the constant closed bilateral meetings and informal negotiations alongside the Sustainable Development Dialogues, it was not till the looming end of the conference that everyone began to come together under one voice given the evidently unsatisfactory state of the negotiations.

Afterwards, there was a pretty much agreed text to present to heads of state and ministers for the three day high level summit, Rio+20. It was very clear that the big battles over language on the text were over and it was now a question of whether high representatives would endorse it.  The text reflected compromises both from the developing and the developed nations but it failed to express ambition in eradicating poverty, in implementing sustainable development and in expressing true commitment to take action in the face of the environmental, social and economic crisis.

Seeing that the text was essentially locked down, a group of youth that felt the need to very clearly express that a political agreement does not necessarily mean something positive, and that in this case the outcome completely failed to meet what was needed from governments. Governments said: “we can live with this." The youth organized an action inside the convention center (Rio Centro) to say: “no, we cannot live with this, the people in the front lines of poverty, climate change and hunger cannot live with this." The youth, alongside some NGOs and other members of the major groups such as the Women and Indigenous major groups, raised their voice to say to governments, media and the rest of the world that Rio was a failure, that we cannot pat governments' backs for reaching a political agreement to continue the conversations in the multilateral process for another 20 years. To say that we need concrete commitments to actions, and that governments, especially in the developed world, have shaped their political agendas around the lobby of corporate interests and are taking steps backwards on previous commitments. Commitments that have not been met, commitments to support sustainable development in the developing world with Means Of Implementation (MOI), through public initiatives of tech transfer, capacity building and finance. It is more than clear that if the developed world does not help the developing nations and if they don’t recognize their historical responsibility and follow through with the corresponding steps, sustainable development will not happen.

The actions within Rio Centro and the people outside in the People Summit helped shift the broader discourse that is very present in these international negotiations: That a political agreement means progress or success and that blocking or rejecting it for bad or lack of content is blocking progress. The general disappointment of civil society in their governments was evidence that even when governments reach consensus, it does not necessarily reflect the ambition that is required. On one side the governments in the developing world are pushing to avoid the Green economy initiatives that threaten to tie them to a new form of neoliberal dependence and on the other, developed nations push to avoid meeting their commitments of publicly financing the shift towards sustainable development with MOI.

Civil Society is left with a sour aftertaste of constantly fighting against something instead of having victories and taking steps forward. Rio+20 was supposed to deliver ambitious solutions to the problems of the world. We were all fearfully expecting a Rio-20, but we are left with a general sentiment of a tasteless text form the multilateral process that barely achieved incremental progress: What we have a is Rio+0 non-win that wasted this unique opportunity for governments to change the course of the boat in time and allows the continuous of the ever drowning condition of those below deck.

Demand A Future

Some new friends of ours were present at the Thursday action, and made a short video about it:

Basta! Rio+20 Walk Out from Permacyclists on Vimeo.

On June 21, 2012, leaders from around the world gathered in Rio de Janeiro to discuss sustainable development and related issues. Nobody hoped for much but the results were even worse than expected. Some members of civil society who were present decided to take bold action to show their anger at a failed process and that the time has come to unite to demand a future for all. Over a hundred people walked out the conference center, symbolically returning their UN badges on the way out. Here is the story of that day.

Music: 'Polaroid' by Jahzzar:

Our Red Line: Action at Rio+20

by Lara Shirley

Earth in Brackets participated in an action today called 'Our Red Line'.

'Our Red Line' was an action aimed at drawing the essential, red line that Rio+20 should uphold for humanity, the earth and the future. It evolved from how the term was used over the past few days, as Brazil has been asking countries to remove brackets from the text and instead only state their 'red line': the aspects they will not compromise on.

We lined up along the pathway leading up to the plenary hall where negotiators were entering, and all wore red t-shirts to form a human 'red line'. We held signs stating our demands and personal 'red lines' in our own languages, as well as a large sign stating Our Red Line: Rights, Justice, Equity and the Earth's Integrity.

There was a strong focus on unity: different aspects of civil society participated, and there was also a connection to the civil society outside the Rio+20 arena. It wasn't meant to be associated with any particular group, but rather show collaboration.

There is increasing agreement amongst civil society that the future that is being negotiated for the people and the planet is not the future we REALLY want. The draft outcome’s lack of ambition and failure to address the people’s most basic demands is unacceptable.

The action was a reminder to negotiators of the people – not just those here, but the millions not present as well – and the values they must represent if this conference is to have any chance of truly succeeding.

If you want to participate! Tweet what you cannot compromise with the tag #redline and post photos of you making a red line back home at the “Our Red Line” facebook event page:

Responding to Youth Blast questions

by nathan thanki

On the second morning of the international section of the #youthblast, the organisers asked those gathered as the Major Group for Children and Youth (the official Youth constituency for this UN process) a series of "questions you were always too afraid to ask" about Rio+20. As a group we hesitantly attempted to answer the following:


  1. What do we do after Rio?
  2. How can youth influence process?
  3. Why is change so difficult to achieve?


As is usually the case, such questions actually generated more questions. Which is great. Nobody is ever done with asking questions, are we? But I'd like to here try and give some partial answers.

  • We should get away from thinking about Rio, or any conference like it, as an all or nothing sort of event. After Rio we should carry on with the same work as before. Rio isn't going to solve anything. If we have a framing that makes it seem that it will, we're going to be disappointed and disillusioned, and then disconnect from the fight for our future. That is not to say we should ignore the negotiation room discussions, just that we need to see Rio in context. One of the goals of the People's Summit is to create a road map for civil society movements post-Rio. I'd suggest that MGCY should be seeking to input into, or at least follow, the planning of that roadmap (a roadmap that, unlike any of the recent roadmaps we have seen in UN talks, will actually incorporate our points).


  • I think the question should be how can we NOT influence the process? What I mean is that we have a moral imperative to do so. The process, closed and alien though it is, does have little chinks in its armour. We should pull on those threads. The answer commonly given to this question revolves around social media. That was the answer given at the Youth Blast. But it misses a key point: that social media can be used as a means of organising, mobilizing, and disseminating information to a particular end. So how can we impact the process? By retaking it. The cynic in most of us knows that our voice is a token voice, that our presence is not really desired (as can be seen by every logistical decision made for Rio Centro) and that our thoughts will not really be considered.  Retaking the process means claiming our right to decide our own future – not bowing the power, not accepting their terms and conditions blindly. The social media element of influencing the process is only useful if our message is clear and our actions deliberate.


  • The change we want to see is difficult to achieve because too many people, perhaps many of us included, have a vested interest in NOT changing anything. Government wants power. Business wants profit. Those goals align to entrench the status quo. If our approach is bit-part and reformist, then government and business won't change. They'll just adapt their talk while doing more of the same (as with the green economy idea). The change we want seems more and more impossible precisely because the change we don't want is becoming more and more inevitable, at least in the context of Rio+20. Again, I think it comes down to us not engaging politics and the process on our own terms. If, rather than saying "what is politically possible given the economic crisis, the lack of transparency in governance, the lack of accountability in finance, the lack of respect for human rights" we said "here is our vision for a better world, and anything less is an abject failure which we do not support" then we might still have the same god-awful outcome, but we would have shifted the frame to one of indignation than one of acceptance that the world has to be this way.

Over and out.