2,000 people make a human banner on the beach in Rio. Photo credit: Amazon Watch

With over 50,000 accredited participants registered, Rio+20 was the largest gathering in the history of the UN. And yet, despite the participation of heads of state officials, experts, media, corporate titans and tens of thousands of civil society representatives, the United Nations Rio + 20 Earth Summit was a tragic, if predictable, failure. Get a recap of what was at stake in Rio here.

Predictable because the outcome document was all but written before the heads of state entered the RioCentro compound, a mere 2-hour journey by taxi or shuttle bus from the People’s Summit — itself a 2 mile stretch of bustling action, noise, confusion and speakers tents along the Flamenco beach.

Participants convene at the People’s Space

Tragic because rather than shifting course, the so-called Green Economy strategy unveiled at the 2012 United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development drives nature further into the global marketplace by defining an economic value on what the Earth “does” for humans, detachedly called “ecosystem services.” Proponents of this scheme of “commoditizing” soil, forests, and fresh water profess that by putting a price on the natural world, it can be ‘saved’. The reckless drive for unlimited growth on a finite planet is itself a legalized Ponzi scheme perpetrated on communities around the globe, future generations and Earth’s biosphere.

The future we want banner at Rio+20


The Future WHO wants?

The official negotiated outcome document was largely an uninspired retread of ideas from the original Earth Summit in 1992, with very little new, other than a commitment to  fulfill the corporate wishlist of commoditizing (pricing) nature’s processes, paving the way for the commodification (selling) of those “services.” As ETC Group’s Neth Daño noted, “Many delegations are genuinely embarrassed by the title of their outcome document, ‘The Future We Want,’ which sets sights on a future that can’t be achieved by the haplessly short-sighted initiatives proposed.”

Shannon at the People’s March

Over at the Peoples Summit, with its beautifully hectic congestion of platforms—from women’s issues, to economic solidarity, to poverty, to food sovereignty to land grabs and more were unified in protesting the Green Economy and the financialization of nature, and diverse in presenting visions for change—though far from the UN site, speaking truth to power seemed remote, and networking somewhat haphazardous.  The People’s March, though a bit drizzly, was emblematic of both the chaos and harmony of civil society present at Rio. Thousands lined the streets, signing, dancing and chanting in favor of a new world order, however colorfully defined.

At the Indigenous Kari-Oca venue


At the Indigenous Kari-Oca venue, an additional 45 minutes from the official RioCentro space, over 500 grassroots Indigenous Peoples held their own summit, ceremonies, events, press conferences and gatherings, and wrote their own The Declaration of Kari-Oca, condemning the UN agenda: “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 capacities as a continuation of the colonialism that Indigenous Peoples and our Mother Earth have faced and resisted for 520 years.” Download the entire declaration here.

Rights of Nature Presents an Alternative

Global Exchange blogged from Rio about the activities of the various members Global Alliance for Rights of Nature on the ground, including a symbolic signing ceremony of the Universal Declaration on the Rights of Mother Earth and the release of the GX report Rights of Nature: Planting Seeds of Real Change  featuring visionary thinkers such as Maude Barlow, Vandana Shiva, Thomas B.K. Goldtooth, Pablo Solon, Cormac Cullinan, Mari Margil and others who address questions like: What would it look like to truly take on the root causes of climate change and put forward a system of law that places humankind in living balance with the carrying capacity of the Earth’s systems?

  • View and download a copy of the report here.

Watch our video blog from Rio+20:

Indigenous groups sign the Universal Declaration on Rights of Mother Earth

The signature campaign gathering  over 120,000 signatures in support of the Universal Declaration on the Rights of Mother Earth was turned over to UN Secretary General Ban-Ki-moon, and there was growing synergy with rights of nature advocates and large portions of the civil society.  Strategy meetings with new allies were held, interviews were taken, and some progress was made towards introducing rights of nature language within major groups of the UN, including the Womens Major group, in which GARN member Osprey Orielle Lake and WECC held a special heartfelt and inspiring forum entitled Women Leading the Way.

Altogether our experience was mixed as activists seeking to put forward laws recognizing rights for ecosystems.

Finding Inspiration at Rio + 20

Youth respond to UN outcomes document. Photo Credit: Ben Powless

Somewhere between shuttling back and forth to the Peoples Space and the UN site, frustratingly spotty internet connections and getting my wallet swiped on a public bus, there were moments of exhaustion, exasperation and yes, doubt.  Doubt that as a civil society we will ever be bold enough to leave the comfort zone of summit hopping, critiquing the world as corporate elites designed it, and truly just dig in, work together and just create the world we want. Doubt that we will grab the reigns, and impose the laws that make our ideas real in the world, and defend our right to live within the carrying capacity of the Earth, no matter what the Monsantos, the Exxons and the Pepsi Co’s of the world dictate.

Yet at the Women Leading the Way forum, I was first introduced to a spark of light at Rio 20 —a beautiful, poised 11-year old soul named Ta’Kaiya Blaney. From the stage of the Forum, with Ted Turner in the audience and the likes of movement superstar Dr. Vandana Shiva on stage with her, Ta’Kaiya, a member of the Sliammon First Nation spoke eloquently about the need for a different path—humans recognizing their own existence depends on our growing interconnectedness with the natural world, and the idea that corporations may currently rule, but that the youth of tomorrow have different ideas in mind. Watch Ta’kaiya speak here.

Ta’Kaiya Blaney tearing up the UN outcomes document. Photo credit: Ben Powless

As the youth gathered to pronounce the failure of the Rio + 20 outcomes document, it was Ta’Kaiya, hoisted on the shoulders of her First Nations brother Clayton Thomas Muller and sister  Kandi Mosset from IEN that spoke most clearly, for me, and for thousands of others gathered in the moment of anger and seeking solace in solidarity. “Join me in Earth Revolution,” she beckoned. Indeed those five little words, if we hold true to them in our hearts and our actions, are our way forward.