Mittwoch, 2. November 2011

Green Economy or Greenwash? That´s the choice at Rio Earth Summit 2012

My favourite article on our recent 40th anniversary was about the serious, important but often invisible political work we do.

So while Brian has already told you that our new flagship Rainbow Warrior III will be heading to Rio de Janeiro “Earth Summit” in 2012 – and I really hope I will be on board then! - I wanted to tell you about how we are working to influence that anniversary of the historical Earth Summit in 1992.

Today is a good day to do so, as today is the deadline to send comments to the United Nations headquarters on what governments should do and agree when they meet in Rio from June 4th- June 6th 2012.

You can read our call for governments to deliver a green and fair economy here – and all submissions made by many different countries, NGOs and also businesses here. Until next June, there will be many weeks of UN meetings to prepare the 3 day event in Rio. (Article with all links is here at

In March, I personally was present as the world community met in New York and governments outlined their first ideas for Rio 2012. Since then, a lot of regional meetings have been and are taking place to set out what governments will do on the “green economy” and on improving the “governance for sustainable development” - the two major themes of the “summit”. Colleagues from Chile, China and the Middle East, for example, have recently made your voice heard at meetings in Santiago, Cairo and Seoul.

Sadly, these meetings have not given us hope, that governments are ready to jumpstart and speed up the solutions our planet so urgently needs. At Cairo, Saudi Arabia and other countries insisted that sustainable development was all fine and well, as long as it did not do anything about our global addiction to oil. At Seoul, many Pacific nations called for effective protection of our global oceans by calling for the green economy to be a “blue economy”, with ocean conservation as key. This call was ignored by the Chairs of the conference and the official outcome was disappointing.

It fits this disappointing tale that the Rio meeting has recently made headlines not because of an exciting Earth rescue plan to be launched there, but because of a clash with the Queen´s birthday. UK Prime Minister David Cameron has announced that the Queen´s hubilee will be more important to him than the Rio meeting. Just another nail in the coffin of his claim to lead the “greenest government ever”, though his cuts to support for solar or support for deep sea drilling are more severe and disturbing abdications of that worthy goal.

That´s why I still use quotation marks around “Earth Summit”. Because at this point, it is by no means clear that the meeting will be a Summit – defined as an event attended by your heads of states and governments. To be fair, to Greenpeace it matters less who attends the Rio event than what governments and businesses do there. What we expect is that governments need to be honest about not having delivered on the green and just development that they promised twenty years ago. We even call on them to do what you would not ask your child to do on a playground: To shift the blame. They should point to those businesses that have been holding us back and been lobbying against the laws people and planet need (and should be ashamed of putting these corporations ahead of their own people). Companies such as APP have stopped better forest protection in Indonesia; Volkswagen has stood in the way of the climate laws our planet needs in the US and the EU.

Secondly, we call on governments and businesses to not just use fine words like “green economy” while continuing business-as-usual. They need to commit to real action, especially ending deforestation, delivering sustainable energy for all by 2020 and ending the free for all exploitation of the global high seas. They should not be afraid of doing so, as unlike 20 years ago, we have prove that solutions exist. The “summit´s host, Brazil, for example, has shown that it is possible to cut deforestation rates through effective governance and good business practices: Deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon has declined year on year and in 2011 it was at its lowest ever level.

But this year, the Brazilian government's monitoring system picked up a 37% increase in deforestation compared to 2010 in Mato Grosso state as a result of a move to change the Forest Code, the main law in Brazil that protects the forests. The changes would allow an amnesty for past forest crimes, creating an incentive for illegal activity now and leading to an increase in deforestation before the law has even been changed. Brazil and President Dilma must decide whether it wants to be known as the nation leading the path to sustainable prosperity and zero deforestation, or as a nation that showed that deforestation could be halted, but failed to do so to cater to short term special interests.

The energy sector is also already changing. In Germany, for example, of all installed power capacity in the last decade, 81% was renewable. The Energy Revolution scenario Greenpeace has developed together with business partners shows that globally we can deliver energy to more people, especially the poor in developing countries, cut emissions by more than 80% by 2050 – and create more jobs doing so. Governments therefore face a choice at Rio. They can choose greenwash or they can truly go for a just and fair Green Economy.

Given my job, I do not have a choice, though. I will have to attend many more UN meetings to make that choice clear. And I will report back to all of you regularly how governments – and businesses - are doing.

One year to Rio+20 - is there hope?

19 years ago more heads of states than ever came together in Rio de Janeiro for what was termed the Earth Summit. They agreed on a few sensible things, such as that "the right to development must be fulfilled so as to equitably meet developmental and environmental needs of present and future generations" or that "states shall enact effective environmental legislation" (see here). The language is typical of bureaucrats. But the message is pretty good. (You can find this post will all links on the website)

Exactly one year from today, governments will meet in Rio again to mark the 20th anniversary of the Earth Summit. Few heads of states that were present in 1992 will attend when governments meet from June 4th to 6th 2012 for Rio+20. And many will be happy not to be there. That way, they can avoid admitting that they utterly failed to deliver what they promised. In 1992, for example, governments agreed the UN Climate Convention, which states that the: "ultimate objective of the Convention ... is to achieve ... stabilization of greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere at a level that would prevent dangerous anthropogenic interference with the climate system". If they had meant it, of course, we would have stopped the relentless rise in climate damaging emissions long ago. Instead, as you probably read, 2010 was the worst year ever in terms of humanity´s impact on the fragile climate we depend on.

There was plenty wrong with what governments agreed in detail in 1992. They endorsed nuclear power, for example. Still, 1992, for those of us old enough to remember it, often seems like the proverbial good old days. At least then, unlike in Copenhagen in 2009, governments could agree. At least then, we could be hopeful that the Earth Summit would be truly a turn around moment. Shortly after the end of the Cold War, many believed that governments would finally be ready to move the billions that they spent on arms during the Cold War on solving the real problems of the world: poverty, disease, environmental destruction. That did not happen. Today, we still spend around 1600 billions on arms every year. So will "Rio+20" be worth anything? Will it deliver for people and the planet?

So far, the official preparations do not give much ground for hope. Governments are arguing over terms like the "green economy" rather than getting on with what is needed, such as delivering an energy revolution or ending deforstation. In Brazil, the host nation, deforestation is rising and forest protections are under threat rather than being extended. President Dilma Roussef needs to act to protect the integrity of Brazil´s forst code (as my colleague Paulo Adario explains eloquently here). Otherwise, with brutal irony, the current increase in deforestation will continue, just as the world descends on Rio for another Earth Summit.

No question, there is plenty the Earth Summit 2012 could - and should - achieve. We have our demands ready (see here for a short summary and here for a longer statement). Politics being politics, though, June 2012 is, realitically, not a great moment for major advances to be made. While one significant change since 1992 is that powers such as China, Brazil, India or South Africa - to name just a few - are much more powerful, it´s still difficult to make global progress on fundamental matters such as a fair and green economy without the United States. In June 2012, however, the United States will be busy with the looming presidential election. Obama - who has failed to lead on climate change so far at the global level - will be loath to agree to anything that his Republican opponents may criticize in the election, let alone something progressive. That´s sad, wrong and should be different. But it´s likely how things will be.

But likely does not mean certain, of course. Who would have thought one year ago, that we would see a conservative government in Germany abandon nuclear power, for example? If we can learn anything from the Fukushima tragedy, it is that politics is never linear, and never entirely predictable. There are moments when real change is possible.

And there are some concrete steps that could be agreed upon at Rio. The vast high seas, for example, could finally get the legal protection they deserve (a small step in that direction was taken in New York this week). Governments could create a true global institution that can protect the environment and enforce environmental rules. Governments could commit to zero deforstation by 2020 - with the host Brazil reversing the current trends and leading the way.

May be in June 2012 the global winds of change will be such, that global steps forward for the environment and people will be possible. It´s not exactly likely. But it´s worth fighting for. We at Greenpeace will be ready to hold governments accountable for their failures, to propose sensible ways forward and to push for the best deal possible for people and the planet. As Bob Hunter, one of Greenpeace´s founders, was fond of saying: "Big change looks impossible when you start, and inevitable when you finish." Such may it soon be with the energy revolution, zero deforestation and protected high seas.

Leaders or Laggards - that is the question in Brussels today

This post is from May 18th 2011 and you can find it with all links here.

I am locked in by my own colleagues. And I like it. There were three bangs - and since then, there has been silence at the big Business Europe conference: Europe in the World: Leading or Lagging. No one is getting in. Unless they are a leader. Those of us inside have nothing to worry about. There is plenty of food - even a bar. But the question we are posing is serious: Are businesses in Europe ready to support innovation and green jobs - or will they continue to stand in the way of a green Europe?

The test is simple: Leaders support the EU cutting emissions by 30% domestically by 2020. Laggards don´t. Many laggards, worse, let business associations such as Business Europe actively stand in the way of progress. These associations claim to speak for all of business when they tell politicians, that climate action will deindustrialize Europe and destroy jobs. In truth, climate action can drive innovation and create jobs. A recent study on behalf of the German government found that committing to a 30% cut by 2020 could generate 6 million additional jobs.

Business is split on the future of Europe. Big companies such as IKEA, Unilever or Deutsche Telekom are supporting cutting emissions by 30%. But many other companies you know, don´t. Microsoft, BP, Lafarge, or Volkswagen, for example. Currently, the EU is committed to cutting it´s emissions by 20%. Sounds like a start. But a study by the European Commission itself has shown that this is worse than business as usual. Even if governments just do what they have committed to already, they will exceed this goal. In order to drive innovation, therefore, 30% domestic cuts are a minimum and a necessity. Nothing more or less.

UPDATE: By now, people are trickling in to the conference centre again. And I have just spoken at the official press conference of the organizers to explain why we are here. The message we are sending has been heard. Most reactions are positive. Some people admit that they wish their companies would be willing to speak out more openly and firmly for climate action. Many business representatives also admit to being surprised to see us also on the inside of this conference. "Really, you are with Greenpeace?" is a common response I get from people. They are surprised, I think, to find me wearing a dry suit rather than a wet suit and to hand them a business card rather than chaining myself to them. That´s my job. To make our voice heard with decision makers. To argue calmly but firmly for climate action - and jobs!

The businesses at this meeting, like all over Europe, have a choice. They can either join the leaders or continue to hold Europe back. I will be monitoring what businesses say here for the next two days. And when the bar here at the Tour and Taxis conference centre is closed again, Greenpeace will continue to chart who is a leader in coming months. Check out the current list and help us up the pressure here.

Dienstag, 8. März 2011

Rio+20 - while Rio dances, the UN talks ...

Many of you reading this are under 30. So the Earth Summit 1992 is simply history for you. If you were thinking about Rio today at all - you were probably thinking about carneval, not politics.

Pity Brazilian diplomats and bureaucrats, then, who are not dancing on the streets today. Instead, they are at the United Nations Headquarters in New York with me, Daniel, Greenpeace´s Political Director. We are attending a pretty humdrum meeting preparing to celebrate the 20th anniversary of Earth Summit 1992 in Rio de Janeiro next year.

Rio 1992 was a decisive moment. The concept of "sustainable development" was adopted by governments for the first time, making it clear that development and environmental protection must - and can - go together. Key political processes, like the global climate negotiations, that you will have heard about, got launched at Rio. Just a few years after the fall of the Berlin Wall and the end of the Cold War, there was hope in the air. Some believed that governments will now move the billions that they spent on arms during the Cold War on solving the real problems of the world: poverty, disease, environmental destruction. That did not happen.

Today, we still spend around 1600 billions on arms every year - and emissions are rising. Will "Rio+20", to be held in June 2012, be more than a footnote in history? Will it deliver for people and the planet? At meetings like this, it is often difficult to believe that the change we need will happen. Sitting in a room without windows, I remember being here at the UN exactly ten years ago.

Then, governments were making the same speeches about how concerned they are about the state of the climate, forests or oceans. But the last Rio anniversary Summit (held in Johannesburg in 2002), was a failure. Rio+10 adopted a Plan, which civil society mocked as the "Johannesburg Plan of Inaction". 9 years on, that seems no longer a critical joke, but simply reality. Even the better part of the Rio+10 plan - such as a call by governments to hold corporations accountable globally for their actions - governments have failed to act upon ... You may wonder why I am still here ... The answer is simple and two fold:

1. I strongly believe that we would have made even less progress over the last 20 years if it hadn´t been for groups like Greenpeace putting pressure on government.

2. There are many positive changes that have happened over the last 20 years. 20 years ago, for example, renewable energies were not yet taken seriously.

I remember discussing wind and solar energies with friends at university. I was considered pretty mad for thinking that wind and solar will one day be a cornerstone of the globe´s energy system.

Today, even here at this meeting, there is hardly any government that does not agree that renewable energies are a key to the energy future. And we know that the energy revolution is already underway.

So Greenpeace will work that Rio+20 will deliver real steps forward. Why should Brazil not announce at the Summit, for example, a zero deforestation law that ends deforestation in the Amazon? Why should governments not finally commit to protecting our high seas and create the legal frameworks needed to do so?

In 15 months I want to no longer be stuck in a room with no windows. I want to dance in the streets of the Rio celebrating real successes for people and the planet ... Let´s together prevent that governments get lost in Rio. There is a real danger of that - as I was reminded as I stepped out of a restaurant in Brooklyn on Saturday:

G20 makes Korea proud but fails the world

In November I was in Seoul, Korea. It´s an impressive city. In the city centre you can see as many people in designer ware as in downtown Tokyo or New York.

But Korea is the first country that isn´t part of the "rich world club" (the G8) that is hosting a G20 meeting. And it is making Koreans visibly proud. At the airport, at tube stations, in restaurants: Everywhere people are celebrating Korea´s elevation to "big power status". Flags are a must and people in the street seem to have a spring in their step.

What you will hear in the press about this meeting is all about money and trade. Korea, to their credit, wanted the Summit to also focus on green issues. They have been pushing for what they call "green growth".

We at Greenpeace are sceptical that you can deliver unlimited growth on a finite planet. But we do know for sure that we can deliver what everyone needs while saving our climate. Our Energy [R]evolution, for example, explains how we can bring electricity to all and still prevent dangerous climate change. It can be done.

And here in Seoul, governments sounded like they are starting to get it. In their final communiqué they "commit to stimulate investment in clean energy technology". Sounds good, deosn´t it.

Sadly, everything else these governments did and said in Seoul makes me think that they are not serious. Just think: in the very same document they fail to make any commitments to fight climate change.

They could´t even agree to keep global temperature rise below a catastrohic threshold. They also shamefully dragged their feet on a promise they made last year to - at least - stop throwing taxpayers money at climate destroying oil and coal companies.

So, despite some fancy green rhetoric, the G20 has in fact failed the world. (Our full reaction to the final outcome is here.) But let me end on a less sombre note.

I happen to be German. And - true to stereotype - I happen to love beer (though do make it organic please). The bar pictured here amused me therefore.

A German "Bier Halle" (pub) right in the centre of Seoul. Globalization can be a funny thing sometimes.

I, however, stuck to local food and beer myself. As a vegetarian, I have to say I enjoyed the local "kimchi".

More than the (rather weak) local beer ...

Next year, the G20 will be meeting in France. I doubt I will find a "Bier Halle" there. Will global leaders do any better in addressing the urgent problems of our world?