Visit Of UNEP's Executive Director At The People's Summit

Rio de Janeiro, 16 June 2012 - A full and frank discussion between members of civil society attending the People’s Summit and Achim Steiner, the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) Executive Director took place in down-town Rio. 

The focus of the often heated and engaging debate centred around views by some of the speakers and members of the audience that a transition towards a Green Economy is a pro-capitalist and an anti-poor agenda that will lead to the ‘commodization’ of nature.

Edwin Vasquez, President of the Indigenous Organizations of the Amazon Basin, called on governments to finally and properly recognize the land and other rights of indigenous peoples.

“Every day and every year these have been infringed by states, governments and companies. Sustainable development has been disappointing and now it is called Green Economy,” he said.

Kika Bessen of the People of Colour movement urged a rejection of economic models that perpetuate racism and sexism, warned of the “commoditization of nature” and called for a “respect of human rights”.

Larissa Parker of the Belem Charter said the United Nations was failing to embrace an issue that was clear to civil society, namely the crucial role of traditional knowledge as an intellectual guide to sustainable development.

Finally Pat Mooney of the ETC Group of Canada said there were aspects of the UNEP Green Economy report he could support but much he could not.

“My first point is that the message maker (UNEP) cannot control how the message is read. What is being debated at Rio+20 is quite different,” he asserted.

Mr. Steiner, also a UN Under-Secretary General, thanked the speakers, delegates and organizers for inviting him to listen at first hand to their ideas and concerns.

He said that the UN, being an intergovernmental body, could sometimes fall behind the expectations of parts of the social movement.

“The Green Economy is actually a critique of the ability of markets on their own to deliver the kind of sustainable development we hoped for 20 years ago,” he said.

Mr. Steiner said markets were social constructs and needed to be managed and to be regulated to deliver social and environmental outcomes. He said he took a different view to those who maintain that putting a value on nature automatically leads to its commoditization.

Mr. Steiner contended that if the debate on sustainable development continued on the basis of the ‘capitalism versus anti-capitalism’ it would get nowhere risking another 20 years of too little action.

He said that he hoped that the debate at the People’s Summit had triggered not only heat but light and pledged to bring the concerns to the attention of those at Rio+20.

“Even if the Rio+20 summit and those taking part seems distant to many of you, I wanted to be here today to say that there are some of us that are listening very carefully to what you have to say even if we cannot agree on everything,” said Mr. Steiner.