MAC: Mines and Communities

Does Rio mark an End to the "Sustainability" Road?

Published by MAC on 2012-06-26
Source: Guardian, ENDS, Bloomberg, statement (2012-06-22)

One leading Indian environmentalist, greeting the final declaration of last week's Earth Summit, asked why it had been "about the future we do not want?"

Rio+20 protest
"No more plunderous mining" at Rio+20
Source: Kalikasan Partylist

Just as the conference opened, another environmental journalist had no doubt why this was so.

According to the Guardian's George Monbiot, the text "rip[ped] up the basic principles of environmental action".

Said Monbiot: "[T]he draft document, which seems set to become the final document, takes us precisely nowhere. 190 governments have spent 20 years bracing themselves to 'acknowledge', 'recognise' and express 'deep concern' about the world's environmental crises, but not to do anything about them."

Of particular concern to many civil society attenders at the Earth Summit were paragraphs in its draft text which sought to equate mining with "sustainability".

This text "acknowledge[s] that minerals and metals make a major contribution to the world economy and modern societies", claiming that mining "offers the opportunity to catalyze broad-based economic development, reduce poverty and assist countries in meeting internationally agreed development goals..."

Even if this were true in practice, the document neglected any mention of the rights of land-based peoples to determine how (or whether) minerals in their territories are used.

Instead, it ceded to nation-states "the sovereign right to develop their mineral resources according to their national priorities, and responsibility regarding the exploitation of resources described in the Rio Principles."

In response to such empty rhetoric, one Andean Indigenous Peoples' organisation asserted that "mining is incompatible with sustainable development. In the Andes, particularly, imposing mining on indigenous territories is a major source of social conflict.

"... In fact, it is the industrialized countries and their multinationals who enrich themselves through exploiting mineral resources and condemn poor countries to a primary-export economy, without the possibility of industrialization and growing beyond primary extraction."

An NGO representative from the Philippines, selected to take part in Rio conference dialogues  between heads of state, NGOs and civil society, was equally emphatic.

IBON International Director, Antonio Tujan Jr, said of the draft document:

"It does nothing to correct the unsustainable mode of production, consumption and distribution that profits a tiny elite while destroying millions of lives, devastates the environment and endangers humanity's future."

Rio plus 20. Not Plus or Minus

By Sunita Narain

Business Standard

25 June 2012

The United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development, or Rio+20, came to an end last week.

The conference declaration, entitled "The Future We Want", is a weak and meaningless document. It aims at the lowest common denominator consensus, to say nothing consequential about how the world will move ahead to deal with the interlinked crises of economy and ecology. The question arises: is this the future we want or the future we dread?

The final document is being touted as a victory for the developing world, particularly India, because it reiterates the principle of common but differentiated responsibilities and respected capabilities. This guiding principle, hammered out with much acrimony in 1992, establishes the differentiation of action of different parts of the world. It is, clearly, not negotiable. So, in that one respect, Rio 2012 is a move ahead. But is this enough gain?

We need to ask why things have come to such a pass that, 20 years later, all that the world is doing is reaffirm principles that cannot, and should not, be rewritten. Why does the world, confronted with real and present dangers of climate change, destruction of the high seas and the need to reinvent growth that is green and inclusive, do nothing more than mouth platitudes about change? Why is Rio+20, then, about the future we do not want?

The fact is that Rio+20 has come at a bad time. Europe, the environmental missionary, is preoccupied with domestic financial concerns. Its governments now say that austerity and no-growth may not be the way to the future. They are seeking a new term of industrialisation in the face of crippling unemployment. In the US, things are not very different. The Barack Obama government is facing an election year and the economy is its paramount issue. The US has no time for global environmental issues. Mr Obama, who was elected on the promise of change, is shy of even mentioning the word "climate".

But more importantly, the US wants to dismantle the framework that puts it under pressure to act first and contribute more to reduce global environmental burden. In America's view, the principle of equity in global negotiations is a definite albatross around its neck, which gives unfair advantage to countries like China and India. They want none of this. They want to rewrite the global agreement on this matter. They have worked hard to do this in the climate negotiations and succeeded to some extent. Rio+20 was their chance to get rid of the principle of differentiation from where it was inscribed first. The tried and, thankfully, failed.

But, as a result, every other agenda at Rio+20 was a victim of the first. The second key aim was to establish the concept of a green economy and to use sustainable development goals - not unlike Millennium Development Goals - to measure performance against green targets. But this agenda soon became lost to geopolitical tectonic shifts, where the rich world is declining and the poor world is ascending. The very idea of a green economy was viewed as a new form of green protectionism and conditionality that would hinder growth. In the final Rio+20 decision, the agenda has been tied up in convoluted wording that will make progress difficult.

But it is also important to note that the agenda for creating a green economy was floated without agreement about its definition. The fact is that industrialised countries look at environmental action from a prism divorced from development and social well-being. They see environmental measures as the icing on the cake of development already done and delivered. This icing helps improve performance through efficiency and helps clean up up toxins and pollution. On the other hand, developing and emerging countries do not have this luxury. They need growth, and if they accept that growth must be equitable and sustainable, their approach to a green economy will be different. This is the challenge that Rio+20 should have faced squarely.

In this way, Rio+20 was the opportunity to tackle what is clearly the most intractable and most obvious of all issues confronting the world - the current economic growth paradigm that is consumption-led and is gobbling its way through banks and the planet. It is now well understood that the world is staring at a financial recession on the one hand and an environmental catastrophe on the other.

It is also increasingly understood that the consumption patterns and lifestyle of the already-rich cannot be afforded by all. How can the world move towards sustainable production and sustainable consumption, but still growth for all? Rio+20 should have focused on this. In addition, it should have focused on new robust measurement tools to track progress in well-being - the "GDP-plus" economy.

Instead, in my view, Rio+20 became the battleground for what can only be considered an illegitimate fight. And if Rio+20 is a failure of non-action, then it is a failure of global leadership that allowed the US and its cronies to contemplate fiddling with the principle of equity in global action and end up deepening the distrust that destroys global cooperative action.

I returned to Rio 20 years later to better understand developments that mean so much for the future of our world. I came back saddened by the realisation that 20 years later it seems that people have grown up but the world's leadership is still in kindergarten.

Sunita Narain is Director of the Centre for Science and Environment, Delhi

sunita@cseindia.org


Statement of Coordinadora Andina de Organizaciones Indígenas (CAOI)

22 June 2012

The text that has been negotiated at Rio +20, moderated by Brazil, insists on including mining and sustainable development.

Indigenous peoples clearly propose that mining is incompatible with sustainable development. In the Andes, particularly, imposing mining on indigenous territories is a major source of social conflict.

This contradicts what the document says that "mining industries are important to all countries with mineral resources, in particular developing countries." In fact, it is the industrialized countries and their multinationals who enrich themselves through exploiting mineral resources and condemn poor countries to a primary-export economy, without the possibility of industrialization and growing beyond primary extraction.

Nor is it true that that "countries have the sovereign right to develop their mineral resources according to their national priorities, and responsibility regarding the exploitation of resources described in the Rio Principles".

The neoliberal model of development imposes conditions that favour extractive multinational corporations, where nation states facilitate low taxes and minimal labour, environmental and social standards. In this context it is totally wrong to say such states have the "capabilities to develop, manage and regulate their mining industries."

Mining leads to predation, pollution and the violation of rights.

States do not abide by the requirement for consultation and free, prior and informed consent in granting mining concessions. Centuries of territorial plunder, pollution of water sources, cultural impacts, displacement and criminalization of indigenous peoples confirms the incompatibility of mining with the right to life.

The Coordinadora Andina de Organizaciones Indígenas (CAOI) calls on the international indigenous movement, social movements and human rights organizations to mobilize in the defense of life and demand that mining activities are excluded from the term sustainable development.

We call for the paragraphs of the document relating to mining to be eliminated from the final text at Rio +20:


How "Sustainability" Became "Sustained Growth"

By George Monbiot

Guardian

22 June 2012

The Rio Declaration rips up the basic principles of environmental action.

In 1992 world leaders signed up to something called "sustainability". Few of them were clear about what it meant; I suspect that many of them had no idea. Perhaps as a result, it did not take long for this concept to mutate into something subtly different: "sustainable development". Then it made a short jump to another term: "sustainable growth". And now, in the 2012 Earth Summit text that world leaders are about to adopt, it has subtly mutated once more: into "sustained growth".

This term crops up 16 times in the document, where it is used interchangeably with sustainability and sustainable development. But if sustainability means anything, it is surely the opposite of sustained growth. Sustained growth on a finite planet is the essence of unsustainability.

As Robert Skidelsky, who comes at this issue from a different angle, observes in the Guardian today:

"Aristotle knew of insatiability only as a personal vice; he had no inkling of the collective, politically orchestrated insatiability that we call economic growth. The civilization of "always more" would have struck him as moral and political madness. And, beyond a certain point, it is also economic madness. This is not just or mainly because we will soon enough run up against the natural limits to growth. It is because we cannot go on for much longer economising on labour faster than we can find new uses for it."

Several of the more outrageous deletions proposed by the United States - such as any mention of rights or equity or of common but differentiated responsibilities - have been rebuffed. In other respects the Obama government's purge has succeeded, striking out such concepts as "unsustainable consumption and production patterns" and the proposed decoupling of economic growth from the use of natural resources.

At least the states due to sign this document haven't ripped up the declarations from the last Earth Summit, 20 years ago. But in terms of progress since then, that's as far as it goes. Reaffirming the Rio 1992 commitments is perhaps the most radical principle in the entire declaration.

As a result, the draft document, which seems set to become the final document, takes us precisely nowhere. 190 governments have spent 20 years bracing themselves to "acknowledge", "recognise" and express "deep concern" about the world's environmental crises, but not to do anything about them.

This paragraph from the declaration sums up the problem for me:

"We recognize that the planet Earth and its ecosystems are our home and that Mother Earth is a common expression in a number of countries and regions and we note that some countries recognize the rights of nature in the context of the promotion of sustainable development. We are convinced that in order to achieve a just balance among the economic, social and environment needs of present and future generations, it is necessary to promote harmony with nature."

It sounds lovely, doesn't it? It could be illustrated with rainbows and psychedelic unicorns and stuck on the door of your toilet. But without any proposed means of implementation, it might just as well be deployed for a different function in the same room.

The declaration is remarkable for its absence of figures, dates and targets. It is as stuffed with meaningless platitudes as an advertisement for payday loans, but without the necessary menace. There is nothing to work with here, no programme, no sense of urgency or call for concrete action beyond the inadequate measures already agreed in previous flaccid declarations. Its tone and contents would be better suited to a retirement homily than a response to a complex of escalating global crises.

The draft and probably final declaration is 283 paragraphs of fluff. It suggests that the 190 governments due to approve it have, in effect, given up on multilateralism, given up on the world and given up on us. So what do we do now? That is the topic I intend to address in my column next week.


Warnings Resound as World Leaders Gather at Rio+20

Environmental News Service (ENS)

20 June 2012

RIO de JANEIRO, Brazil - More than 100 heads of state and government today gathered in Rio de Janeiro for the start of the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development, Rio+20. The summit seeks to shape new policies to promote global prosperity, reduce poverty and advance social equity and environmental protection in the face of warnings that the ecological basis of life is coming undone.

"We are now in sight of a historic agreement," said UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said in his address to Rio+20's opening session this morning. "Let us not waste this opportunity. The world is watching to see if words will translate into action, as we know they must."

After intensive and protracted informal negotiations on how to accelerate the implementation of sustainable development, 191 countries reached agreement Tuesday on the conference's outcome document. The text will now be put forward for adoption by the world leaders at the conclusion of Rio+20 on Friday.

"I am pleased that negotiations have reached a successful conclusion and I commend the Presidency of Brazil for facilitating this resolution," Ban said.

More than 50,000 people - parliamentarians, mayors, UN officials, chief executive officers and civil society leaders - are attending Rio+20. The event follows the Earth Summit in 1992, also held in Rio, during which countries adopted Agenda 21, a blueprint to rethink economic growth, advance social equity and ensure environmental protection.

As world leaders gathered, UN agencies issued reports urgently warning that the global environment is deteriorating.

"The growing risks and impacts of climate change on oceans require the world to urgently invest in a green economy whereby countries achieve development targets in an environmentally sustainable way while at the same time meeting the needs of their citizens," said Yannick Glemarec, executive coordinator of UNDP-Global Environment Facility. The body released a report finding that warming ocean waters are causing major shifts in fish distribution and severe degradation of coastal habitats.

A new report from the United Nations Environment Programme released today finds that the world "urgently needs to focus on maintaining and boosting the underlying ecological foundations that support food production, which face growing threats from human activity, to help ensure food security for a growing population."

The report, "Avoiding Future Famines: Strengthening the Ecological Basis of Food Security through Sustainable Food Systems," was produced in collaboration with the International Fund for Agricultural Development, the Food and Agriculture Organization, the World Bank, the World Food Programme and the World Resources Institute. It warns that food security must embrace the environmental services nature provides if the world is to feed its seven billion inhabitants - a population predicted to climb to over nine billion by 2050.

Inefficiencies along the food delivery chain complicate the challenge, and the report warns that an estimated one-third of food produced for human consumption is lost or wasted, amounting to 1.3 billion tons per year.

Secretary-general Ban told the assembled world leaders that since the original Earth Summit 20 years ago progress has been too slow, and much more needs to be done.

"We have been given a second chance. Rio+20 is not an end but a beginning," Ban said. "It is time for all of us to think globally and locally."

The heads of state and government will consider Rio+20's outcome document, entitled "The Future We Want," which calls for a wide range of actions.

These include:

"We think the text contains a lot of action, and if this action is implemented, and if follow-up measures are taken, it will indeed make a tremendous difference in generating positive global change," said Rio+20's Secretary-General Sha Zukang after the conclusion of the outcome document negotiations on Tuesday.

"We have reached the best possible equilibrium at this point. I think we have a very good outcome," said Brazil's Foreign Minister Antonio Patriota. "We consider that the spirit of Rio has been kept alive after 20 years."

The draft outcome document was welcomed by delegations, including the Group of 77+China, the European Union, the United States and members of Arab and African groups, among others.

"Collectively, we have trusted the presidency of the conference to identify areas for possible balance and you have found this in a manner that has made the agreement possible to all stakeholders," a representative of Algeria said on behalf of the Group of 77+China.

In addition to the outcome document, there have been nearly 500 voluntary commitments on sustainable development activities by civil society groups, businesses, governments and universities.

In addition, the UN's Global Compact initiative, which concluded its Corporate Sustainability Forum yesterday, announced more than 200 commitments to sustainable development by businesses.

Peter Bakker, President of the World Business Council for Sustainable Development, told an audience at Business Day in the Rio Conventions Pavilion Monday that that business increasingly sees itself as a driver for sustainable development, providing the capital and innovation needed for change. He urged Rio+20 negotiators not to weaken language requiring businesses to report on their sustainability contributions.

Olajobi Makinwa of the UN Global Compact linked the effects of climate change to biodiversity, which in turn impacts climate change and desertification. Remarking that partnerships between all stakeholders, including science, cities, civil society, government, investors and business, are key, Makinwa emphasized that business participation in the Rio Conventions Pavilion demonstrates the willingness of business to rise to the challenge of realizing sustainable development.

But many civil society groups say the final version of "The Future We Want" does not come close to meeting the needs of the planet for sustainable development.

"The draft outcome document for Rio+20 might as well be an empty coffin in which to bury the promises of Rio from 20 years ago," said IBON International Director Antonio Tujan Jr. of the Philippines. Tujan is one of three NGO representatives selected to take part in dialogues at Rio+20 between heads of state, NGOs and civil society.

"It does nothing to correct the unsustainable mode of production, consumption and distribution that profits a tiny elite while destroying millions of lives, devastates the environment and endangers humanity's future," warned Tujan.

"While developing countries deserve credit for maintaining unity and resisting the prescriptive green economy roadmap aggressively pushed by the developed countries, this corporate-driven agenda remains a growing threat to people and nature," Tujan said. "It is now incumbent upon the heads of state who will gather in Rio in the next three days to own up to their responsibility to the people."

The Indigenous peoples of the world, assembled at the sacred site Kari-Oka Puku in Rio to participate in Rio+20, issued a statement Tuesday saying, "We see the goals of UNCSD Rio+20, the "Green Economy" and its premise that the world can only "save" nature by commodifying its life giving and life sustaining capacities as a continuation of the colonialism that Indigenous Peoples and our Mother Earth have faced and resisted for 520 years."

"The "Green Economy" promises to eradicate poverty but in fact will only favor and respond to multinational enterprises and capitalism. It is a continuation of a global economy based upon fossil fuels, the destruction of the environment by exploiting nature through extractive industries such as mining, oil exploration and production, intensive mono-culture agriculture, and other capitalist investments. All of these efforts are directed toward profit and the accumulation of capital by the few," the Indigenous declaration states.

Friends of the Earth International Tuesday warned world leaders that multinational corporations such as oil giant Shell "have an undue influence" over the Rio+20 Earth Summit. Senior company representatives are active in corporate lobbying groups at Rio+20 including: the International Chamber of Commerce, the International Petroleum Industry Environmental Conservation Association, the UN Global Compact, the World Business Council for Sustainable Development, and the International Emissions Trading Association.

"It is not acceptable that companies like Shell who cause massive pollution and human rights abuses should be in the driving seat of processes for sustainable development," said Nnimmo Bassey, who chairs Friends of the Earth International. "That is a recipe for disaster for our planet and peoples. Corporate polluters should not help making laws, they should face the law."

WWF Director General Jim Leape said Tuesday, "Despite a late night negotiating session, the revised text is a colossal failure of leadership and vision from diplomats. They should be embarrassed at their inability to find common ground on such a crucial issue."

"Now it's up to world leaders to get serious about sustainable development and save this process," said Leape. "If they approve what's on the table now without significant changes, they've doomed Rio+20 to ridicule."

"While some weak words have been removed, diplomats have swapped them with toothless language," said Leape. "They've added some positive actions around oceans protection. But, the text has lots of words that 'commit' parties to nothing - such as 'commit to promote' and 'commit to systematically consider.'"

"World leaders 'recognized' problems 20 years ago, and they've done little about them since," said the WWF leader. "How long are we going to accept 'we'll look into it' as a solution?"


End the Subsidies of Fossil Fuel

Bloomberg

21 June 2012

There may be little reason to hope the Rio+20 meeting in Brazil this week will lead to major global action against climate change. World leaders have skipped it. The draft agreement the delegates from 190 countries have written is rightly criticized as weak.

Yet it turns out that one specific climate challenge -- how to eliminate subsidies for fossil fuels such as oil, gas and coal -- is attracting extraordinary interest in Rio de Janeiro and might at least inspire countries to take small but significant steps toward reducing greenhouse-gas emissions.

These rising subsidies cost the world $409 billion in 2010, according to the International Energy Agency. If no efforts are made to curtail them, they could reach $660 billion by 2020, 0.7 percent of global gross domestic product.

What's at least as bad is that the subsidies keep the price of fossil fuels below market rates -- so low as to discourage measures to improve energy efficiency. Getting rid of them could lower total energy demand by 4.1 percent by 2020, the IEA estimates.

Simply ending the subsidies would boost the price of power, however, and leaders naturally want to avoid a popular pushback, whether at the polls or in the streets, especially at a time of financial hardship. That is not the only option.

Our corporate colleague Michael Liebreich, the chief executive of Bloomberg New Energy Finance, has devised a way to phase out fossil-fuel subsidies and, in the process, replace them with financial support for energy-efficiency efforts and renewable power. It's a strategy that could work in countries large and small -- without provoking backlash.

Here's how it would work: A government would continue providing its energy subsidies for three to 10 more years, but transform them into credits. The recipients would be free to spend these, at least in part, on renewable forms of energy. Where credits could be directed to individual consumers, they could be spent on improvements such as insulation, efficient appliances and rooftop solar panels. Because the credits would not favor one kind of power over another, many renewables would be able, for the first time, to compete strongly against fossil fuels.

Wind energy, for instance, could, on a level playing field, cost as little as 6.5 cents per kilowatt-hour, BNEF estimates. That is about the same as power from new coal plants and, outside the U.S., cheaper than natural gas. Biomass, geothermal and hydro power can also be competitive with coal. And although solar power on a large scale remains relatively expensive, rooftop systems can provide cheaper-than-retail power in many markets. In the developing world, solar lanterns cost less to operate than kerosene ones.

Governments could pay out these "sunset credits," as Liebreich calls them, in various ways. Where subsidies have been provided to consumers, they could be replaced by rebates on energy bills or by monthly or quarterly vouchers, redeemable with retailers and installers of renewable power or equipment that improves efficiency. If consumers are made aware that the credits will eventually end, they will have the incentive to invest in strategies that ultimately lower their household energy bills.

Those retailers and installers who are paid with sunset credits would in turn surrender them to a redeeming agent -- the government, perhaps, or a bank or other lending institution -- to be reimbursed the market price for their products and services.

Where subsidies are traditionally given to providers such as electric utilities, those companies would receive the credits and could either pass them along to their customers to spend on efficiency, or invest them in renewable-energy generating capacity or in their own efficiency measures.

In places where governments subsidize gasoline or diesel, credits could be spent on transportation alternatives. Delivered in the form of vouchers, debit cards or mobile-phone banking credits, they could be spent on public transportation fares, more fuel-efficient vehicles, even bicycles.

It's easy to see, too, how sunset credits could attract investment in renewable power and in technologies that increase energy efficiency, as banks and other lenders provide upfront capital in return for the promise of credits down the line. The lenders could either redeem the credits or perhaps sell them to pension funds, life-insurance companies and other long-term asset holders, and a new credit market would be formed.

Setting up such a system would take effort and money, it's true. And it would certainly be complicated; mechanisms would be needed to protect against fraud, for example. But such investments are worthwhile if they enable governments to stop spending public money to make fossil fuels unnaturally cheap. The draft agreement for the Rio+20 meeting only vaguely commits countries to phasing out the subsidies. Sunset credits offer a way for them to make it happen.


Nature and our future are not for sale

Green groups join Global Day of Action for Rio+20

Press Release

20 June 2012

Manila - Green groups led by Kalikasan Partylist today marked the first day of the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development (Rio+20) in Brazil with a protest in front of the US Embassy.

The Rio+20 is the second conference of its scale since the first Rio Earth Summit two decades ago in 1992. This rally for the Global Day of Action, which gathered advocates from different people's organizations, was capped by a program in front of the US Embassy along Roxas Boulevard, Manila.

Meanwhile, participating in the Rio+20 civil society actions in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil are Kalikasan Partylist President Clemente Bautista, Jr., Secretary-General Frances Quimpo and other Filipino advocates. There, Bautista and Quimpo helped convene a newly-formed broad working group on mining and alternatives to the current models of economic development.

Sending a message from the ongoing actions at Rio de Janeiro, Kalikasan Partylist Secretary-General Frances Quimpo expressed opposition to the "Green Economy" being proposed at the Rio+20 negotiations.

The governments of the world's largest economies and lobbyists representing transnational interests are pushing for the "Green Economy," which proposes market reforms across 11 economic sectors: agriculture, fisheries, water, forests, energy, manufacturing, waste, infrastructures, transportation, tourism and cities.

She warned of the wide-reaching implications and impacts of such reforms.

"The "Green Economy" is being used as a ruse to expand markets and profiteering by large corporate interests. In the guise of using natural capital as a driver for growth, it will put a price on ecological services, resources and knowledge-paving the road for the financialization of nature. It will further perpetuate the plunder of the world's remaining natural wealth and the privatization of critical services, technologies and products through Public-Private Partnerships and similar market-driven mechanisms," Quimpo explained.

The transition to a Green Economy requires massive amounts of capital, estimated to reach around 2 percent of the world's Gross Domestic Product. Most of this will come from funds to be managed by the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund, Quimpo said.

"It is green-washing on a global scale," Quimpo asserted, "and is not the solution to any of the interconnected problems that the world faces: the crisis of overproduction, the massive emission of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, and the unprecedented destruction of our planet."

"What we need is not the "Green Economy" but genuine development for the people: one which protects the country's rich natural resources, develops the domestic economy to be self-sufficient, and which upholds social, economic and environmental justice," Quimpo said.

"This is development which puts no price on the environment and people's lives," she ended. ###

Kalikasan Partylist

For more information, contact Lisa Ito-Tapang, Public Information Officer at 0917.8179955.
Address: # 26 Matulungin Street, Barangay Central, Diliman, Quezon City 1100
Website: www.kalikasanpartylist.org
Facebook: Kalikasan Partylist
Twitter: @KalikasanParty
Telephone: +632.434.3173


An Earth Summit Draws on Oil, Mining and Utility Largesse

By Taylor Barnes

New York Times Green Blog

21 June 2012

RIO DE JANEIRO - The cups at the water coolers here at Rio+20, the global sustainability conference taking place Wednesday through Friday, are made of rough biodegradable corn fiber rather than plastic. Vans running on second-generation ethanol made from sugar cane bagasse take conference members, free of charge, from the hotels on the Copacabana beach to the conference center an hour away.

There, speedy Wi-Fi is offered to tens of thousands of participants so they can avoid printing out Rio+20 documents, and biodiesel generators power the million square feet of conference grounds.

Some of this is financed by millions of dollars in financial support from Brazil's largest energy, extraction and petroleum corporations. Those include businesses like the mining giant Vale, voted the "worst company of the year" in the 2012 Public Eye Awards, and Eletrobras, the state electricity company, a partner with Vale in developing the Belo Monte dam project on the Xingu River.

Environmental activists oppose the project, saying that it will drive out thousands of indigenous and other people by drying up the river and causing them to lose their livelihoods. The government has emphasized that no indigenous people will be forcibly removed from their land by the project.

The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, part of the Organization of American States, asked Brazil last year to suspend dam construction until an agreement was reached with the indigenous communities; the government declined.

Belo Monte is the largest among dozens of controversial dam projects planned in Brazil's Amazon region. Although various environmental groups have protested the Belo Monte project on the sidelines of Rio+20, relatively few seem to making a big point of the conference's corporate sponsorship.

Of the quarter-billion dollars or so that Brazil plans to spend on the conference, most - some $210 million - comes from a special government fund, according to official documents cited by the Brazilian newspaper Valor Econômico. About $10 million was contributed by each of the official Rio+20 partners, corporations including Vale, Eletrobras and Petrobras, the state oil company. The conference expenses primarily involve installations, logistics, transportation, accommodations and security. Some 20,000 soldiers, police officers, municipal guards and intelligence service agents have been deployed on Rio's streets for the event.

Friday, 4:56 p.m. | Updated Asked about its choice to accept corporate sponsorship from energy and mining companies, the Brazilian Foreign Ministry said in a statement that it has specifically sought to include corporations to "bring these industries closer to environmental-friendly standards." All companies that presented themselves as "willing partners" of Rio+20 were accepted, it added.

Eletrobras, which has a 49.98 percent stake in the Belo Monte dam, said in a statement that its sponsorship role was "appropriate" because of its investment in hydroelectric power, a clean energy source. It said that Brazil needed to increase its capacity by 5,000 to 6,000 megawatts a year to meet the demands of the nation's population of nearly 200 million, and that roughly 80 percent of potential hydroelectric production is in the Amazon region.

Vale, which is investing $1.5 billion in the dam and has a 9 percent stake in the project, said it was acting as a Rio+20 sponsor so that the conference would have "a larger dimension and visibility for society over all, given the themes that are being discussed, which are of great interest to the business."

Petrobras, which routinely finances cultural events and nongovernmental organizations in Brazil, is now aggressively developing (along with foreign oil companies) deepwater "pre-salt" oil reserves about 200 miles off Brazil's shores. The government has promoted the pre-salt find as a kind of national bounty set to catapult Brazil to the level of Arab oil-producing nations and elevate Venezuela's status as an oil exporter.

But environmental groups like Greenpeace have complained that consumption of oil from the pre-salt fields could add 35 billion tons of carbon dioxide to the atmosphere over the next 40 years. Petrobras's heavy investment in extracting the deepwater oil will assure that Brazil is petroleum-dependent for decades to come, the group adds.

The company emphasizes that it has been ranked on the Dow Jones Sustainability Index for six years and is a signatory of the United Nations Global Compact, which commits businesses to aligning their operations with high principles on the environment, human rights and other causes.

Such corporate participation in Rio+20 does not sit well with Danilo Chammas, a lawyer with Justiça nos Trilhos (Justice on the Trails), the group that nominated Vale for the Public Eye Award. The group took part in a 2,000-strong protest on Tuesday in front of the company's headquarters in Rio.

"It's a shame," he said, adding: "Many people should be questioning this."

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