Rio+20: "Our house is on fire and we’re not doing anything about it"


Civil society has voiced its anger about the failure and missed opportunities of the Rio+20 Earth Summit. The resulting document signed by representatives of governments contains hardly any concrete results and no binding resolutions. "In the future we want, there are not just promises, but commitment and action," was the declaration of civil society groups. They want to turn "anger into action".

The furious NGOs left the meeting and filled newspapers and forums with various new names for the conference such as "Rio–20", "Scorched earth summit", "Rio+20, Rio for nothing" or "Our house is on fire and we’re not doing anything about it" – an allusion to former French President Jacques Chirac’s comment, "Our house is on fire but we’re looking the other way", at the Rio+10 summit in 2002.

One of the key achievements of Rio+20 was the decision to implement "sustainability goals" with effect from 2015. These will replace the UN Millennium Development Goals set out in 2000. Their failure is already a foregone conclusion, as they seem to have stalled at a stage of empty platitudes. The outcome document also promotes a "Green Economy". However, at the summit this ‘green economy’ was heavily criticised as a scheme to privatise natural resources and public goods including land, water and even the air.

One strength of Rio+20 was certainly the high energy of participating civil society groups. More than 80,000 men and women from all over the world arrived at the Avenida Rio Branco in the heart of Rio de Janeiro. "This was the venue where civil society highlighted its causes and criticised the neo-colonialist stance of major powers which multinational companies often turn to their advantage," said Almoustapha Moumouni, SWISSAID’s coordinator in Niger, who also joined in this historic march.

He was particularly impressed with the commitment shown by the women attending the summit. On 21 June, the Global Coalition for Women hosted an interactive session for women meeting from around the world to protest against the commercialisation of our planet. Their banners read, "Africa is not for sale!" Almoustapha Moumouni notes further, "The determination of these women is encouraging environmental conservation that will secure livelihoods for current and future generations". In his opinion, the immense mobilisation of civil society groups and the strength of the organisations’ diverse proposals led to some important things happening in Rio.

Almoustapha Moumouni was also impressed by the numerous possibilities available to various stakeholders (countries, NGOs and the private sector) to take advantage of especially innovative financial schemes in support of development measures. He also sees a great opportunity for SWISSAID. The fight against tax evasion also goes hand in hand with finding new financial opportunities. This particularly affects multinational organisations in developing countries, notably companies trading in natural resources and commodities. SWISSAID is well represented in this area. Almoustapha Moumouni quotes the proposal put forward by Tanzania’s former finance minister, namely, that multinational groups should locate their commercial headquarters in developing countries where they are active and they should also pay their taxes locally.