Protests overshadow Rio+20 summit debate

Agence France-Presse
Protests overshadow the debate on the world's environment at the Rio+20 UN summit in Brazil

RIO DE JANEIRO, Brazil – Protests by greens and indigenous groups overshadowed debate on the world’s environment at the Rio+20 UN summit here Thursday, June 21, while celebrities clamored for a sanctuary to protect the riches of the Arctic.

A brewing regional crisis also prompted South American presidents at the summit to hold emergency talks where they decided to rush foreign ministers to Paraguay in an attempt to shore up democracy in the troubled state.

On its penultimate day, UN chief Ban Ki-moon defended the first summit on sustainable development in a decade as “the beginning of a journey.”

The event “will lead to a more sustainable future for ourselves and for generations to come,” he said.

But the gathering came under fire from the leftist presidents of Bolivia and Ecuador, along with indigenous peoples, who said capitalist greed lurked beneath its promotion of the green economy.

Bolivian President Evo Morales described the green economy as “a new colonialism” that rich nations sought to impose on developing countries.

“Countries of the north are getting rich through a predatory orgy and are forcing countries of the south to be their poor rangers,” he said.

“They want to create intervention mechanisms to monitor and assess our national policies using environmental concerns as an excuse.”

Morales, Bolivia’s first indigenous president, also pressed African countries to protect their mineral wealth from transnational companies.

Looting the planet

In an interview with AFP, President Rafael Correa of Ecuador accused rich countries of “looting the planet, consuming environmental assets freely.”

Indigenous peoples gathered for a counter-summit issued a declaration describing the green economy as “a crime against humanity and the Earth” by dollarizing nature and stripping communities of their rights.

Greenpeace announced that ex-Beatle Paul McCartney, actress Penelope Cruz and director Robert Redford joined a campaign for a “global sanctuary” around the North Pole.

The celebrities are among the first 100 names on a planned million-signature scroll that Greenpeace wants to place on the seabed beneath Earth’s northernmost point.

The goal is to counter nationalist claims on the North Pole and preserve the heart of the Arctic Ocean from a carve-up for resources.

The shrinkage of Arctic ice through global warming has led to jostling over sea routes and access to the sea bed, believed to be rich in hydrocarbons and minerals.

At Friday’s close, the 190-nation summit is due to endorse a lengthy statement vowing to tackle Earth’s environmental problems and entrenched poverty.

“This is a very good document, this is the vision on which we can build our dreams, our visions and it is important that the member states are united and work together,” Ban said.

But the Elders, a group of respected former leaders, environmental activists and poverty alleviation campaigners, slammed the draft as lacking ambition.

Mary Robinson, the former Irish president and ex-UN high commissioner for human rights, described it as “a failure of leadership” while former Norwegian premier Gro Harlem Brundtland said its “omission of reproductive rights is a step backwards.”

“The failure of Rio+20 is a call for action which will give the people more energy to mobilize in the future,” said Greenpeace political director Daniel Mittler, who called the summit an “epic failure.”

“We are losing species hundreds, maybe a thousand times faster than natural evolution. We are creating a huge ecological debt. It’s payback time,” WWF International’s executive director Lasse Gustavsson said.

Separately, Paraguay’s opposition-controlled Congress voted Thursday to impeach President Fernando Lugo for his role in deadly clashes to evict landless farmers.

Brazilian Foreign Minister Antonio Patriota, speaking after an emergency meeting in Rio of the Union of South American Nations (UNASUR), said the bloc would immediately fly a team of foreign ministers to Asuncion to shore up that country’s “stability (and) democracy.” – Agence France-Presse