Revisiting Rio: The Earth Summit 20 Years On

July 2, 2012

The UN Rio+20 Earth Summit is underway. It has been two decades since the first Rio Summit in 1992 when the UN first began to talk about sustainable development and environmentalism. However, this time around, the commitments are political rather than legal, and the sense of momentum and ambition that’s needed to push things forward seems to have gone missing. Thirty Occupiers have just set up tents in a park in downtown Rio, and nearby the People’s Summit is bringing together activists from Brazil and around the world, many from indigenous communities, to flesh out alternative visions for our future.

The movements are still growing, conversations are still happening and ideas are still spreading. Since the UN may no longer be the forum to work out solutions to our environmental issues, perhaps Occupy will open up some space and donate some energy –  the issues of environment and corporate greed go hand in hand. One of the major topics being discussed here and at the G20 is fossil fuel subsidies. The total, global amount of fossil fuel subsidies provided in 2012 is likely to be at least ¾ of a trillion dollars annually – $775bn. In the UK, according to the OECD, gas, oil and coal prices were subsidised by £3.63bn in 2010, whereas offshore and onshore wind received £700m in the same year.

We are paying these companies to contribute to climate change, wreak havoc in developing countries, and pollute our atmosphere. Public money is going towards these goals, instead of providing us with social protection, decent jobs, and healthy communities. These issues need to be part of the global conversation too, and Occupy could be just the space for such a dialogue. The UN process is not dead, but it isn’t providing the results we need.


By Hanna Thomas