Friday, 27 July 2012

Thank you to our supporters!

The ANU Rio+20 Delegation would like to officially thank all that made the project possible, including;

The Prime Minister of Australia, the Hon Julia Gillard MP, for spending half an hour with the ANU delegates during Rio+20 and giving us her personal perspective on the negotiations. Thank you to Jeremy Hillman from the Office of the Prime Minister and Cabinet for his help in organising this meeting.

The Australian Government Rio+20 Taskforce for involving the ANU delegation in their many stakeholder consultations and daily briefings during Rio+20.

The Australian Centre for Environmental Law (ACEL) for assisting with the formation of the project and assisting with the interviewing of potential delegates, in particular, Professor Tim Bonyhady.

The Australian Council for International Development (ACFID) who accredited all 18 members of our delegation with the UN. In particular we would like to thank Nic Nelson from ACFID for his support of the ANU delegation project.

The ANU Students' Association (ANUSA) and Postgraduate and Research Students' Association (PARSA) for their generous financial support through the Grants and Affiliations Committee (GAC).

The ANU Student Extra Curricular Enrichment Fund (SEEF) for the generous financial support.

ACT Government Youth InterACT Grants for providing two small grants to two delegates.

ANUgreen and the Office of the Vice Chancellor for enabling ANUgreen Sustainability Officer Teifi Caron to attend Rio+20 and assist us with our IARU engagement opportunities.

The ANU College of Asia and the Pacific (CAP) for its generous financial support for those students within that College.

The ANU College of Law, and Professor Michael Coper (Dean) and Professor Fiona Wheeler, for their generous financial support and insurance support for the law students who attended.

Woroni - the ANU Student Newspaper for publishing several articles on the Rio+20 Delegation.

The ANU Media Office for publishing 2 stories on the delegation in the publication On Campus.

The ANU Food Co-op for letting us borrow their kitchen and venue for our fundraiser event.

The ANU Climate Change Institute and Professor Janette Lindsay for her contribution of ideas and advice on logistics for the delegation.

Thank you to the following individuals who provided personal briefings to the delegation before we left/while we were there:

Professor Will Steffen, ANU Climate Change Institute

Associate Professor Don Anton, ANU College of Law

Professor Tim Bonyhady, Australian Centre for Environmental Law (ACEL)

Professor Mick Dodson, National Centre for Indigenous Studies (NCIS)

Dr James Prest, ANU College of Law (Climate Law)

Gregory Andrews, Department of Climate Change and Energy Efficiency


Thursday, 19 July 2012

The Brazilian Black hole (Part I)- A BRIC through the Window

-      By Luke Kemp

The largest failure of Rio+20 was the actual process of negotiations under the Brazilian chairmanship and many of the disappointing outcomes are largely a result of this problematic process and the excessive power of the chairmanship. 
My biggest issue with the outcome of Rio+20 is not so much based upon the tangible (or often non-committal, intangible) results, but the actual process.   To be honest, I had (slightly) higher hopes for Rio+20 early on during the third preparatory committee prior to the actual conference (the high level segment that involved heads of states).  That was until the Brazilians took over the chairmanship.   One BRIC (emerging economies of Brazil, Russia, India and China) state threw itself through the window of opportunity in the lead up to the high level segment, shattering any notions of transparency, inclusivity or fairness. 
As soon as the Brazilians stepped in as chairs civil society participation suffered.  Many of the negotiating sessions became closed to ‘outside’ observers.  There was one night in which negotiations were scheduled to begin at 6pm, but didn’t actually start until 8.30pm.   This wasn’t a big deal since we were already used to ‘Brazilian Time’ (add on 1-3 hours for any schedule, it’s the opposite of German time).  The problem was that we were repeatedly told that we would likely be allowed into the session once the Brazilian chair arrived and clarified things.  Consequently we ended up sitting outside the room for two and a half hours before being informed that we were not welcome inside.  This was not a logistical concern- there was only about six or so NGOs who wanted access (institutions are unfortunately considered very unsexy and attract little attention).  However, it must be said that the disregard for civil society was nothing compared to the disrespect given to the EU.
The negotiations within IFSD under the Brazilian Chairmanship weren’t so much about dialogue- it was more like sign language, and the signs being given to Europe were not kind (they probably would have involved the use of a certain finger).  Almost all of the European proposals going into the drafting text (especially for institutional frameworks) were not seen in the end document.  They were deleted and replaced by text that looked strangely familiar- it appeared to be the position of the Group of 77 (developing countries).  When the EU attempted to complain or request for the text to be reopened the Brazilian chair would treat them as if they were a spoilt four year old.  In a world of over-the-top politeness and etiquette the Brazilian treatment of the EU was surprising to say the least.  This included telling Switzerland at one stage, after a dissenting interjection, that they could either continue to give their bitter little speech or accept the text.   There was no real choice given, Switzerland and the EU’s bluff had been called- the text was not going to be reopened.   
 The text going into the first Brazilian drafting process had a number of points of contention.  Some of these included the form of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), the possibility of a high level representative for future generations and the role of ‘Green Jobs’ within the Green Economy framework.  But almost of these issues were glossed over or absent in the end document- there is only one mention of Green Jobs (in paragraph 154), the high level representative has been scrapped and any decision or even discussion on the future form of UNEP is completely gone.  While this allowed for the text to be more easily closed and passed by the heads of state it hinders progress in the long term.  These issues are resolved and relationships built through long-term, deep dialogue on the difficult issues.  Putting these contentions aside for another day is a short-sighted strategy that is ultimately detrimental.
Interestingly, the Brazilians are known to be fantastic negotiators, and some of the best of their diplomats were the ambassadors who became the chairs of the different sessions.  It was not out of inadequacy or poor organising abilities that the text regressed in many areas and transparency was skewed.  To the contrary, this was skilfully intentional and it was successful.    The motive, I believe, was not an underhanded attempt to put in place G-77 positions that reflected interests.  Interestingly, many of the points taken off the table by Brazil were contrary to their own positions.  For example Brazil has been supportive of the notion of transforming UNEP into a World Environment Organisation for a number of years now.  Instead the intentions of Brazil were more focused upon their international image and the city of Rio de Janeiro.
 Rio is set to host both an upcoming World Cup and Olympic Games.  The city is set to be in the center of international attention over the next few years.  It will be a key representative for the emerging power of Brazil and accordingly, Brazil is determined to ensure that the image of Rio is not tarnished.  By no means can the city be related to a failed conference.  The result was a highly skilled chairmanship that was determined to get an outcome at any cost, regardless of the ambition or fairness of the end result.     Although it must be said that this is not a new phenomenon- it is history repeating itself after similar actions in climate change negotiations by the Danish at CoP15 in Copenhagen and the Mexicans at Cancun at CoP16.  The host nation and chairmanship of international environmental conferences has an incredible amount of power over the process and has recurrently distorted proceedings to ensure outcomes that often sacrifice long term progress and ambition for the opportunity to bang the gavel and declare a successful agreement.
So what is the lesson here?   We (and the UN) need to be more aware of the power of the chairmanship and the circumstances and interests of the hosting country.   Restrictions need to be placed upon the power of the host nation and progressive countries need to be willing to walk away from talks and play tough when necessary.  If this were the case then the hardball tactics of Brazil would not have been as successful.  Clearly the first lessons have not been learned considering the upcoming chairmanship of Qatar for CoP18, but hopefully the last lesson can still be of use.

Monday, 9 July 2012

The Phoenix Effect

-  By Luke Kemp

                Looking back through history and at the process and outcome of Rio+20 it becomes apparent that international society may have to face a stimulus of crisis or collapse before the necessary progress on sustainable development can be made.   

Rio+20 has drawn to a close, and has inevitably been accompanied by a chorus of media voice.  The majority (even conservative ones) have been singing of failure.   I’d say the outcome is not so clear cut- it really depends upon your criteria for success.  Based upon reasonable expectations it really isn’t all that bad.  Some good progress was made on oceans, Sustainable Development Goals and certain areas of the green economy (e.g. education).  Based upon what science suggests is necessary to avoid ecological catastrophes it was woefully inadequate.  

Although, what did we really expect- a conference that saved the world?  Hasn’t anyone learned from Copenhagen?  A single summit, regardless of how many heads of states it attracts, is unlikely to provide the silver bullet for sustainable development issues.  Any negotiator at Riocentro would be more than happy to remind us that the multilateral process is a slow and incremental one.  I agree and I think that given another a hundred years or so of this snail pace progress we probably could address many of our current problems.  Unfortunately our global environmental problems require urgent and radical action.   The nature of the solutions does not match that of multilateral negotiations currently.  The process needs a metamorphosis.

 Most of the major changes (especially institutionally) to global society have spurred on by a crisis of some form or another.  The Bretton Woods Institutions and current international financial order were catalyzed by the destruction of WWII.  The rise of the UN required the complete collapse of the League of Nations.  On a smaller scale many of the greatest steps forward in climate change negotiations have occurred after failures, like at CoP6 at The Hague.   Transformations away from the status quo often require a stimulus of crisis.    Such a crisis could take three main forms within our current world- environmental, social or political.

Environmental disasters could be effective in creating the necessary political will to move forward negotiations.  The O-zone Hole and subsequent Montreal Protocol showed nations are not pleased and will act quickly when their citizens are threatened by mass deaths.  However, the O-zone issue had immediate impacts, climate change, biodiversity and other problems lack this urgency in impacts.  Secondly, by the time any ecological disaster could occur we would already be past the point of no-return.  Social crisis such as a global (or semi-global) revolution are also unlikely to occur quickly enough.  Occupy World Street will not be the answer unless it gains traction (and unity) fast.   This leaves us with one last form of crisis- political.

What shape or form could such a political crisis take?  The failure of the multilateral process could be one.  I don’t mean perceived failure as in Copenhagen or Rio+20, but an actual complete collapse of negotiations.  The break-up of the Group of 77 of developing countries, who are playing an increasingly regressive role (as in Rio), could be another.  

Common rejections of this could be that the complete collapse of the process could disillusion the public to the extent that they move away from the multilateral process.  Another may be that such a crisis could actually set negotiations back by many years.  Both are partially true, but the progress we need will require some risk- Who Dares Wins.  As John F Kennedy once famously noted ‘crisis’ in Chinese is made up of two characters- danger and opportunity.   More importantly people are already losing faith in the multilateral system.  The sad lack of public interest and media coverage at Rio+20 is ample evidence of this.  

So if we need a political crisis to catalyze the current process we just have to wait and watch the fireworks right?  Not quite.  The problem is that any such incident will likely require some courageous action by certain parties.  It will need the short term sacrifice of the multilateral process and the image of certain states, states that will likely be the most ambitious of international actors.  Yet, the most progressive countries are also those who are least willing to see the multilateral process collapse.   It was apparent in the EU refusing to walk away from signing the Rio+20 text despite Brazil treating the bloc like a spoiled child, deleting many of its proposals and refusing to reopen the text (more on this in my next article).  The EU and others care too dearly for multilateralism to see it injured in any way.   They will need to learn that the best outcome in the long-term for the current system will involve some ‘tough love’.  

We need to take a lesson from the mythical phoenix:  an old and damaged bird may need to be burnt so that a renewed body can rise from the ashes.  We may need to be ready to watch large scale shifts in the multilateral process, it's failure or other catastrophes unfold before we can expect a positive revolution.   We need to be ready that when the crisis takes place we can seize the opportunity and are not be blinded by the flames.  Without such a spark it looks as though our future may face a death by a thousand cuts [or conferences]. 

Wednesday, 4 July 2012

The Belo Monte monster dam threatens indigenous rights and the environment in the Amazon

By Julie Melrose, in Rio de Janeiro Brazil 

3 July 2012

Imagine that your community, surrounding communities, your livelihoods, cultural practices and the habitat that sustain you are about to be destroyed. Imagine having screamed and fought for decades against the cause of this destruction, only to be met with deaf ears, and even with deafening murder of some of your most prominent activists. The largest dam under construction in the world is in the first stages of construction on the magnificent Xingu River in the heart of the Brazilian Amazon.

Still in Brazil following our attendance at the Rio+20 UN Conference on Sustainable Development in Rio de Janeiro, we have found ourselves captivated by the intense political situation continuing to unfold in the Brazilian Amazon - the indigenous indian occupation of the highly controversial Belo Monte dam site entering its 10th day. 

Up to 80% of the Xingu River will be diverted from its original course, causing a permanent drought in the river's "Big Bend" and directly affecting the Paquicamba and Arara territories of the Juruna and Arara indigenous peoples. The flooding will displace 20,000 people from their homes and destroy standing forest in the area, releasing dangerous greenhouse gases into the atmosphere.

One of the most frustrating aspects of the dam construction is that the dam will actually be one of the most inefficient in the history of Brazil - producing only 10% of its 11,233 megawatt capacity during the 3-5 month-long dry season, an average of only 4,462 MW throughout the year, or 39% of its normal capacity.

Protest on the Belo Monte dam site in the Amazon

The protest is calling attention to the failure of the dam consortium to address the impacts to the lives of the indigenous inhabitants and their environment. The dam construction will divert the majority of the flow from the Xingu River away from a large 62-mile stretch called the 'Big Bend', which will impact the indigenous peoples ability to use the river for travel, fishing, not to mention destroying sacred cultural landscapes that indigenous people have been custodians over for generations. 
Yes, dams provide hydroelectric power - but this does not mean it is a clean source of energy. Dams also divert rivers, destroy the surrounding environment and habitat of thousands of species, displace entire communities, destroy cultural practices and sacred sites of indigenous people through the flooding of large areas of land. There now exist over 7,000 large dams in the world, and Belo Monte is one of the largest 30.

Chillingly, several prominent environmental activists in the Amazon have been murdered, silenced from speaking out against the dam and other issues including illegal logging. Jose Claudio Ribeiro da Silva and Maria do Espirito Santo are two Amazon activists that were murdered less than 24 hours after Brazil's lower house of congress voted to roll back forest protections. Several other Amazonian activists have been murdered during the course of this campaign. But this violence and intimidation does not  matter to those occupying the dam site currently. It clear that the people of the Xingu are willing to die in this war between development, culture and the environment. They have got nothing left to lose. 

Environmental Action in Australia 

Last year, I protested outside of the Brazilian embassy in Canberra, Australia, on the International Day of Action for the Amazon campaign run by Amazon Watch around the world. In other cities around the world, hundreds - even thousands of people turned out to support the plight of the indigenous people in the Amazon whose cultures are threatened by this gigantic dam construction, not to mention the environmental damage that will be caused. However, in Australia, we had just a handful of people turn out to show their concern. In Australia, we sometimes tend to be very far removed, isolated and as a result, complacent about some of the very serious issues taking place abroad. We shouldn't be, because these issues also affect us in terms of the impact they have on the wellbeing of a World Heritage Area, as well as the impact on our own progress as a human race with the violation of human and indigenous rights. Being here in Brazil, meeting people involved and impacted by the dam, feeling the tension in the air over this issue and hearing it on the news and reading it in the news sites, we feel closer and more connected to the issue. With this comes a drive to let others know about it. As privileged, educated and informed young people, we feel an obligation to speak out. There should not be an 'opt-out' option, a choice not to care or listen, on issues that affect our global environment and issues that violate universal human rights. 

To pledge your support and find out more, visit Amazon Watch's website: 

International Day of Action for the Amazon 2011
 Australian Parliament House in Canberra
Links for more information: 

The Announcement of a War - a powerful documentary on the Belo Monte dam campaign
Norte Energia - consortium of companies behind the dam 
Belo Monte dam construction blog 
NY Times article 'The Dam Boom in the Amazon' June 30 2012

Tuesday, 3 July 2012

A Delegação da Universidade Nacional da Austrália para Rio +20

Entre junho 20-22, uma delegação de 17 alunos da Universidade Nacional da Austrália (UNA) participou da Conferência das Nações Unidas sobre Desenvolvimento Sustentável (Rio +20) no Rio de Janeiro, Brasil.

Os estudantes foram selecionados entre uma variação de disciplinas - de engenharia e ciência à direito e sociologia. O evento, organizado pelas Nações Unidas, juntou 50.000 pessoas de todo o mundo no maior encontro para discutir questões relacionadas ao meio ambiente internacional.

Antes da conferência, os estudantes se reuniram com autoridades governamentais e acadêmicas, e apresentaram pesquisas num simpósio sobre desenvolvimento sustentável.

Na conferência, os estudantes participaram de eventos paralelos, se reuniram com especialistas em suas disciplinas e participaram das sessões de negociações oficiais. Os alunos também participaram da Conferência dos Povos, um evento da sociedade civil em paralelo a conferência oficial, que reuniu líderes ativistas de todo o mundo.

A experiência foi única, e os alunos criaram vínculos duradouros. Enquanto os resultados da conferência foram decepcionantes para muitos, os alunos vão voltar para a Austrália com novos conhecimentos e ideias, e um compromisso fortificado para facilitar o desenvolvimento sustentável.

Monday, 2 July 2012

From Red to Green to Multicoloured

- By Karina Bontes Forward

In 1992, United Nations Conference on Environment and Development took place in Rio de Janeiro - hence the name of the current Rio+20 Conference, being its twentieth anniversary. There, the cariocas (common name for Rio’s inhabitants), marched the streets in protest, chanting "what is the use of all this ecology if our people are oppressed and massacred!".

Last Wednesday’s protest in downtown Rio was also full of cries, chants and banners, as not only the cariocas but thousands from the world’s different countries converged on the main street under a grey spitting sky. But the chants were different, and the banners had different writing, this time with things like: ‘Por um mundo verde y justo’ (For a fair and green world), ‘As mulheres dizen nao ao capitalisme verde’ (Women say no to green capitalism), ‘Desmantelemos el poder corporativo’ (Dismantle corporate power). 

Massive earth-painted balls balanced on hundreds of fingertips, flags from all over the world were waving (predominantly Latin American), men and women orated passionately and strongly to the marching masses about social and environmental justice from the tops of floats, and percussion troops and free whistles ensured the grounding vibes and beautifully invigorating noise pollution that accompany large-scale protests.

And the message was different. Instead of demanding poverty eradication over ecological action, painting it as separate to social injustice, the chants championed ecological integrity as well as equal rights and respect for all humans and poverty eradication, which is demonstrative of how different the dominant paradigm is now - people everywhere are realising that the two are not so separate.

Brazil’s government, headed by President Dilma Roussef, recently relaxed the laws dealing with deforestation in the Amazon, creating a massive backlash in not only environmental groups, but in Brazilian civil society and the wider global community. The laws on deforestation had been tightened previously, limiting the previously rampant destruction that had been happening and securing protection for large tracts of forests - but now the country is backtracking.

‘Dilma, com que cara você chega?’ (Dilma, how can you show your face?) is the line branded underneath a caricature of the president wielding a chainsaw. Stuck all over the walls in Rio, on protest banners and on postcards around the place (especially at the People’s Summit), it is clear that a good part of Brazilian society is not happy with the move, least of all the indigenous peoples, who can see that once again their right to sustainable use of their lands, and indeed their access to resources, is to be threatened. The decision to introduce this legislation in the weeks before the world’s largest environmental summit, what UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon has called ‘a once-in-a-generation opportunity’, is a bad move for a host country. 

This is obviously a relevant problem in the context of Brazil and Rio+20, but it’s also hugely important for the world. It was one of the central themes focussed on at the protest, and it is so very reflective of the practice of too many states - the actions don’t reflect the words. The world has globalised considerably since 1992, and the need for participatory decision-making is more important than ever, but the voice of civilian actors in the final process has been little heard. The final outcome document of the conference states in the first paragraph that conclusions were reached, together with the heads of state and governments, ‘with full participation of civil society,’. Such is the absurdity of this statement that its removal was requested by some of the major groups representing civilians. The input of civil society in the final document was largely excluded, paragraphs on inclusive participation were struck out, the creation of a UN High Commissioner for Future Generations was brushed aside; business-as-normal is back on the bandwagon as far as most governments and big business are concerned.

Although the outcome text, labeled ‘The Future We Want’, would probably be more accurate if it was called ‘The Future They Want’, it is not to say that the conference was a failure. The attendance of 50,000+ people to discuss the future we want included many civilians, and the ideas sharing, collaboration and inspiration that can be drawn from such global meetings is a success in itself. I personally met many people who were attending the official conference and who were discouraged by the lack of progress that comes with trying to get 190 nations agreeing on a consensus text, but who had nonetheless come away with new friends, networks, agreements, ideas and with some sense of assurance that there are others who give a damn and are doing something about it.

As I myself did. My personal yo-yo, of going to talks and workshops where a sense of apathy and unresponsiveness, and not to mention the lack of urgency, were the overriding feelings, and then going to inspirational panels of speakers where you feel it is absolutely impossible to not have hope, to not believe in the creativity, innovation and willpower of the human species in the face of destruction, sent me on a bit of an emotional rollercoaster. Marching with those 60,000 people reminded me that there are many out there who are concerned, really concerned, about the lack of action. Who are demanding a better world, now and in the future, for them and their children. 

As Kermit says, it’s not always easy being green, especially when the mainstream is not, but realising there is a worldwide movement of people screaming for change in all different shapes and forms makes you feel a little less lonely. It’s too late to not have hope, and although us humans can be destructive and dangerous, we can also be compassionate and benevolent, and I choose to believe in that, together with those multicoloured people carrying green banners.