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Home > English > Alternatives International Journal > 2012 > April 2012 > Preview: The People’s Summit for Social and Environmental Justice

Preview: The People’s Summit for Social and Environmental Justice

Friday 30 March 2012, by Tamkinat Mirza

The People’s Summit for Social and Environmental Justice will be held on June 15-23 in Rio de Janeiro this year, running parallel to Rio+20, the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development.

The People’s Summit is organized by 150 organizations and social movements from various countries, who hold in common the the objective to “request governments to give political power to the Conference, in order to avoid the need for a ‘Rio+40’ and holding of conferences that have limited implementation power.”

The People’s Summit was created in January 2011 during the World Social Forum in Senegal, after the Brazilian Civil Society Facilitating committee for Rio+20 first proposed it. The committee comprises a group of networks and organizations from Brazil, which are active in areas such as environment and sustainability, human rights and social development. It is responsible for facilitating the participation of the global civil society in the Rio+20 conference.

This year, The People’s Summit aims to oppose the commodification of nature propagated by the UN through its “green economy” agenda. Organizers of the People’s Summit see this model as unsatisfactory for dealing with the global environment crisis, caused in the first place by capitalist production and consumption.

The Summit is predicated on a collective belief in the political power of mobilized people, reiterated in their call to everyone to “come reinvent the word.” It will be free of corporate presence, and is based on “the solidarity economy, agriculture in digital cultures, [and the] actions of indigenous and quilombola.”

The People’s Summit attempts to provide local and regional movements with a platform to articulate their struggles, as through its Civil Society’s Facilitator Committee, which combines self-organized discussion groups, a People’s Permanent Assembly, and a showcase space to foster dialogue regarding the experiences and issues faced by each organization. Within this structure, the People’s Permanent Assembly is the Summit’s main political forum, and aims to discuss the structural causes of universal crises, while building practical alternatives.

Dialogue within the People’s Summit aims to address the rhetoric in the text for the outcome of Rio+20, which significantly reduces state responsibility to safeguard human rights and access to water and land, implicitly encouraging increasingly privatized natural resources to encourage corporate responsibility. The organizers of the People’s Summit have criticized the UN for its avoidance of prescriptive language which would hold states and corporations directly responsible for their actions. They also state that the Rio+20 rhetoric avoids concrete targets and timelines, ultimately benefiting business.

The People’s Summit is predicated on an opposition to this, along with a recognition of the impact on corporate profits when the state is assigned clear obligations to ensure universal human rights such as access to water, to respect customary land use rights and the practices of indigenous people, and to make technology assessments based on the precautionary principle. Rio+20 aims to overturn these obligations.

The mandate of the People’s Summit, then, implies an opposition to the UN “green economy”, and it further reduces state obligation to uphold basic human rights. This model will be debated over in the days leading up to—and during—the Rio+20 conference.