The city of trust (by Tatiana Sokolova)

It is now embarrassing to recall, but on the first day in Rio I was too afraid to take the underground; I thought that if I went down, I would never emerge on the surface again; I thought that the city would swallow me, and I will be buried forever in its guts. But in the morning all fears were scattered: the city was waking up, the sellers were setting up stalls in the market, the corner shops were baking croissants, and the underground from inside turned out to be like a Sunday pageant, where young women had come to show off their jewellery.

I had been told that Rio was dangerous; I had been told not to walk in the streets of Rio alone; but when I went out, I saw that I was not alone at all. The City was swelling and melting under the midday sun; its narrow streets were filled with people so tightly it was hard to move; I brushed shoulders with strangers. The noise was so loud, the smog was so dense, and the sun was so hot that I was overwhelmed.

Little by little, I learnt to let go, and to trust. Trust the city, knowing that I am safe and nothing bad can happen to me; trust that its people will help me, and that we will be able to understand each other. I had never given much value to trust, thinking that it is something flower-power; but this trip made me reconsider this. In the International Society for Ecological Economics conference that I attended in Rio, somebody said that trust is a risky endeavour. And yet, researchers presented their findings in the area of cooperation and sharing in rural communities, where trust that the community will share with you is sometimes the only means of individual risk management. In some societies, a widow goes through a year of mourning, in which she is forbidden to do any kind of work, and therefore completely depends on community for survival. Sharing in such communities is compulsory; when asked, ‘Who would you share with?’, they answer, ‘With anyone who is in need’. They know that reliance on sharing in the times of need is the question of life and death.

In a totally different world, that of crystal skyscraper towers, business and corporations, lack of trust is similarly a costly issue. In turn, business itself has in the past years become an object of mistrust and scorn, and a culprit of many misfortunes. However, I reconsidered this, too; I thought, if behind corporations are people who make ethical decisions, how does it happen that the structures they create become so abstract and inhumane? All people equally want a positive change in society, and it is perhaps unwise to reduce all business social and environmental responsibility efforts to green-washing and refuse them a chance – refuse them some credit of trust. Business, as a power structure, has great leverage, and with power comes responsibility. Trust emerges when this responsibility is adequately managed and realised.

Finally, the Rio summit can also be seen as a matter of trust relations. Global north and global south do not trust each other; EU countries do not trust the non-EU ones; major groups do not trust the negotiators; civil society as a whole does not have much trust in the process and outcomes of the negotiations. And yet, all the players played the game together, trying to cooperate and maximise their pay-off, given the strategies of others – just like in classical game theory. And just like in classical game theory, the best result for all parties would be achieved if there was cooperation, transparency and trust; and yet, economics tells us that such a result is impossible, unless the game is played repeatedly and a third party is present to keep the players accountable for their commitments.

The outcome of the summit did not satisfy everyone; what was gained between countries (trust?) was long between UNCSD and civil society. But whatever the outcome, and even if there is no hope to restore what have been undone in the world, it does not mean that each of us should not try their best. After all, it is the matter of our individual and collective responsibility, and we will not know for sure whether we can or cannot preserve what we value so much, unless we try.


So was my relationship with the City of Rio, the Marvellous; I tried, and something turned deeply, and now I know that there is that ancient enormous creature, and I owe it something, and some part of me will be never returned. I realised that I had not trusted enough, neither myself, nor strangers; and I am not saying that I have become more trusting or trustworthy, but I know that in due time I will.


Another world is possible, but we cannot expect multinational corporations or governments to do it for us! (by Gloria Gallardo Fernández)

In a meeting on the environment in Chile, organized by Universidad Central of Chile last April, 23-24, Per Gahrton, president of the Green think tank COGITO and former member of the European Parliament for the Green Party of Sweden, highlighted seven issues about Rio-92 on which Greenpeace was skeptical (“1. The Greenhouse effect will continue without control. 2. The flood of money from the South to the North will continue as before. 3. The overconsumption in the North will not diminish. 4. Transnational corporations and the World Bank have been strengthened. 5. Hazardous waste will continue to be exported. 6. There will be no restrictions on nuclear power and nuclear arms. 7. Ecosystems will continue to be destroyed”).

Can anyone be more optimistic on what Rio +20 can achieve today in view of the economic crisis affecting world economy?  Garthon also analyzed what were the main causes for such a negative development (“1. growth/industrial society/productivism, 2. economic globalization/neoliberalism, 3. big business/transnational corporations, 4. humanity as such, 5. commercialism/consumerism, 6. developed countries/colonialism, and 7. central state abuses”). Obviously, most of these causes are structural ones. Do not structural causes logically demand structural changes? If crisis is constitutive to capital development, as Jason Moore suggests, then only radical changes can offer a solution.  But what is that we are hearing as solution to the crisis just with the arrival of ‘left’ in France, the election in Greece and after the new loan given by EU to Spain?  More growth! More growth! But is not growth, one of the causes (the principal?) of the crisis?

Fortunately, there are also increasingly challenging discourses among grassroots movements and academicians that reveal the continued and renewed methods of dispossession of the poor of the world and exploitation of nature under new as old hegemonies ( 45% of pulp production take place in the South to be consumed in the North; 37 hectares of forest plantation give employment to only one person;  44% and 19% of shipbreaking occurs in India and Bangladesh respectively; Sweden has secured 100 000 hectares in Mozambique and 330 000 hectares in Russia for bio-fuel production; Petrobras in Brazil got a loan of US$ 10 billion from China and Ecuador US$ 9 billion, REDD (Reduction of Emissions avoiding Deforestation and Degradation) is another form of dispossession of the poor, just to give some examples of those mentioned in the International Society of Ecological Economics (ISEE) conference taking place in Rio, June 2012. In this conference, concepts and demands flourish as in Rio +20 side events and in The Peoples’ Summit for Social and Environmental Justice and Protection of Common Property going around Rio’s streets. Examples of these, just to mention some of those that echoed in me:  green economy cannot exist without environmental justice; science led activism; militant scientific community; mining does not paid for water or environmental damages; ecological debt; unequal ecological exchange; find and identify the ‘most wanted’ behind  environmental catastrophes, create a tribunal for environmental crimes; sacrifice economic growth, not people; sustainable development is  impossible, it is an oxymoron – if things change, how can we sustain them and what are we supposed to sustain, the world we have today, the economic  crisis? Econology (ethics, ecology and economy); green education is more important than green economics; monetarize food-print; democratize development, Sumak Kawsay (in Quechua; Buen Vivir, in Spanish): autonomy, solidarity, self-sufficiency, productive diversification, sustainable local, regional resource management; etc.   All this points towards one clear idea that can materialize: another world is possible, but we cannot expect multinational corporations or government to do it for us; we have to do it, if not for us, for our children and their children!

Gloria L. Gallardo Fernández, (, Associate Professor, Uppsala Centre for Sustainable Development (CSD), Uppsala University, Sweden

Hopes and dilemmas for Rio20 (by Rishab Khanna)

Walking in the streets of Rio takes me back home in India. The energy is affectionate and warm, and the spirit is infectious. In between the pristine Amazon and the ocean, the streets are buzzing with the anticipation of the global summit on sustainable development.

Countries from all over the world meet once again to take stock of the global economic, economics and social situation, 20 years after the Earth summit. This meeting is happening at a time when the current economic system is being questioned by most, the euro is under a crisis and most other economies are not doing too well either. Our ecological systems are also under enormous pressure, we are witnessing climate change impacts, biodiversity loss and desertification.

For the past few years countries have been trying to come up with a consensus on how to deal with these major challenges through the meetings convened by the United Nations Commission on Sustainable Development. Here at Rio, we are at the final stage of this process. Over a hundred heads of states will meet between 20 and 22 June, to come out with a final decision on the future road map of sustainable development.

The text is being worked upon at the moment in five major areas: reaffirming political commitments, green economy, sustainable development goals (SDG’s), institutional framework for sustainable development and means of implementation. The section on political commitment is majorly rhetorical, and is lacking an apology by countries on the failure of achieving their promises they made in 1992. I believe this is crucial, because even though technological progress in the last 20 years has its merits, we have to acknowledge the damage we have caused our ecological and social systems.

The section on green economy has been a major controversy and has caused a rift among the developed nations and the G77 (developing countries), leading on to debates in the coming days on the concept of inclusive green economy.

To make the decision more tangible and meaningful, countries have proposed the sustainable development goals: tangible objectives which the world should work towards in the journey to sustainable development. Some say that the SDGs would be the next phase of the Millenium development Goals. However there is not much clarity on the relationship between the SDGs and MDGs, and what will happen post 2015, when the MDGs were meant to expire.

The fourth major area in the negotiations is around the institutional framework for sustainable development. Some of the institutions which are the main contenders of reform are UNEP ( United Nations Environment programme ), ECOSOC ( Economic and social council ) and UNCSD ( United Nations commission for sustainable development). This is crucial as till now the above institutions have lacked the resources and appropriate representation to make real impact.

Last but not the least is the text on means of implementation, where the countries are struggling to put financial resources and technology on the table. The G77 group have been upset about the lack of seriousness around this area of the text. It seems that developed nations are taking note of this issue, and we might see more progress on this area in the coming days.

It is great to be here and observe these historic negotiations, and amazing to have a great team and friends who are working with me here in Rio.

Land and Life: Human Security through sustainable development (by Marit Widman)

Marit Widman

Marit Widman

Yesterday I gave a presentation in the IofC event Land and Life: Human security through sustainable development, on the issue of land grabbing (or large-scale land acquisitions if you wish..) I talked in particular about the impacts on livelihoods in the largest foreign investment ever in Madagascar, the Ambatovymining project. This case gives an illustration of many of the issues that are relevant in large-scale land deals all over the world, such as land degradation, the risk of loss of biodiversity, and the difficulties with assuring a fair and equitable process for all affected people.

This was an issue that I encountered already during my first visit to Madagascar in 2009, when I stayed in the city of Fort Dauphin where the second largest mining project in the country, Rio Tinto, is located. When talking to the local population about the project they raised complaints about people who had been evicted from their land to give room for the project, and not received proper compensation. In particular women were typically left out of the formal procedures and instead only their husbands received the compensation; money that was not always shared with their wife nor used for productive purposes.

Once back in Sweden, I started to write a research proposal for a study on gender and land rights in Madagascar within the scope of my doctoral dissertation in resource economics. Parallel to the Malagasy government’s efforts to attract foreign direct investments in land, a land reform has been implemented aimed at privatizing land rights for small-holder farmers. The formation and impact of these two important policies are the main focus of my study. I pay specific attention to gender perspectives, given a global context where women own less than 2 percent of land, yet are responsible for producing 60-80 percent of food in developing countries. There is a risk that inequalities in access to and control over land are reinforced when land rights are formalized, which I find some indications of in my study.

Last year I spent about six months in Madagascar collecting data for this project (a truly wonderful country, if you ever get the chance to go there –take it!), which included doing interviews with rural women. One of the Malagasy girls that helped me with this asked me if we didn’t have our own problems with gender inequality in Sweden. Did I really have to go all the way to Madagascar to study that? I wish I could have said “no, gender inequality is not a problem in Sweden anymore”, but instead I had to tell her that even in what is known to be the most gender equal country in the world women are discriminated against every day, and that this has been one of my motivations to start doing research in the first place. When it comes to policy reforms in the area of natural resources, I did however find it more interesting to study a country where people are immediately dependent on the resource for their daily life. I have already participated in some events here in Rio which have confirmed the importance of this kind of research, and of not forgetting the voices of people who don’t always get heard.

Building Trust in Unlikely Places

I am very grateful for the opportunity to attend COP17. It is for sure a steep learning curve being here – at times, feelings of being out of place and not sure how to approach people and at first, I was unsure of what my ‘agenda’ was. It is clear that many civil society groups have specific agendas and they know how they want to be represented in the negotiations, i.e. Mediators Without Borders want mediate in the text as an option to resolve disputes. There are so many agendas that I personally feel connected to, yet I am grateful that I am not tied to one agenda.  Continue reading

Climate Justice Day of Fasting Thursday! Please join!

My name is Marcia Lee and I have been at Copenhagen since last week Monday.   Most of the time I have been inside of the Bella Center and will be sharing more about the negotiations and the experience on ‘the inside’ shortly.

For now, I want to invite you to support one of the most important actions that we will be doing as a part of the push to create an agreement that allows us, as young people, to have a future.

Please join the CLIMATE JUSTICE DAY OF FASTING tomorrow.   The main purpose is to show the world that we are serious about wanting a legally binding solution that is protecting the most vulnerable community .  We need to challenge our leaders to take a moral stance NOW.  Please join me tomorrow:

In addition to the fast for tomorrow, there are people who have been fasting since November 6th.  Please show your solidarity!

Our call for justice:

We, the participants of Climate Justice Fast!, are undertaking our international 
hunger strike in order to call upon world leaders – and all people, everywhere – 
to act with courage and good faith for our common, global good, by implementing 
the most rapid possible transition to stabilise atmospheric greenhouse gases below 350ppm CO2-e, and by committing to deliver justice for the global poor 
and future generations – who are the least responsible for causing 
climate change, yet who suffer the most from its effects.

Climate Justice for the poor and for future generations can be delivered by 
funding climate adaptation and mitigation activities in developing nations with 
at least US$195 billion per year; by reducing and rejecting over-consumption, 
wherever it exists, and by phasing out both deforestation and fossil fuels completely – starting with the elimination of developed countries’ fossil fuel subsidies, shifting them
wholly to renewable energy and international climate finance.

We urge all people, everywhere, to make a commitment to 
join the movement for climate justice, 
and to not to give up until we succeed in these demands being met.

‘Copenhagen is out of control.’

by Francis

After being in Copenhagen for three days, I must admit I am overwhelmed!  The sheer number of people and things are incredible.  Day one involved taking stock, while day two the IofC team met-up and spoke about aims and expectations.  In the evening I attending a business forum, it asked what the business perspective is on climate change and COP15.  What was clear is that businesses see addressing climate change as not only an important social responsibility, but also a huge business opportunity.

On day three the team went there own ways to explore numerous avenues.  Marcia focussed on gaining a holistic view of the conferences on show in Copenhagen (there is much more than just COP), Jenn gained incredible insight into vulnerable small island nation perspectives, while Tom worked hard on editing footage from the World Parliament of Religions.  I took a trip to Malmo where I helped facilitate the youth section of the ‘Road to Copenhagen’ – building on a youth Copenhagen manifesto.  This was added to the Road to Copenhagen demands to the COP negotiators.

What has struck me so far is the sheer confusion of this summit.  Not to say the Danes have not done a bad job – on the contrary it seems.  However, climate change diplomacy is incredibly complex and as one speaker said on Tuesday, ‘Copenhagen is out of control.’  UN summits are often planned to the detail throughout, with conclusions written well before the start of the conference – not in Copenhagen.  As one commentator suggested, no one can claim to be in control, nor can anyone say with much commitment what will happen exactly.  Meanwhile pressure is being continually applied on the negotiators for a positive result – we shall see.