Environmentalists Advance a Step in Porto Alegre
By Gustavo González*
The citizens' movement is preparing proposals and demands for the "Rio+10" summit, setting an agenda in which sustainability also encompasses social equality, according to environmental activist Sara Larraín, who spoke with Tierramérica at the second World Social Forum.
PORTO ALEGRE, Brazil - The second World Social Forum (WSF) held in this southern Brazilian city Jan 31-Feb 5, established itself as the leading anti-neoliberal globalization event, and also focused attention on the issues of the environment and sustainable development.
Were there concrete proposals, or was it pure rhetoric? Was progress made toward the Rio+10 Summit, slated for September in South Africa?
Sara Larraín, one of the leading personalities at the WSF, believes so. The meeting, she says in a Tierramérica interview, represented an enormous step forward for the global citizens' movement, which is beginning to structure its own social-environmental agenda, with alternative proposals to the neo-liberal development model that predominates today.
Larraín is a noted Chilean environmental activist, coordinator of the Sustainable Southern Cone Program, which includes local chapters in Brazil, Chile and Uruguay, and she is a member of the International Forum on Globalization.
What is your assessment of how environmental issues were handled at the second World Social Forum?
There was major progress compared to the first Forum a year ago. The matter of sustainability and environment was the focus of an entire day this year, with workshops and conferences on water, access to land and food sovereignty. The meeting halls with a capacity to hold 2,000 people were not big enough. Activists and experts expressed the urgent need to redefine development, because environment and sustainability include aspects of social equality. This socio-environmental paradigm was a key contribution to the event.
How will this paradigm, or model, be implemented?
It is very difficult for the citizens' movement at the global level to move beyond a reactive agenda against neo-liberal globalization. In order to take the political initiative, civil society requires its own project for social development. At this Forum, the first step has been made in that direction. We perhaps will advance even further next year, at the third WSF, to be held here in Porto Alegre again.
What elements arose from the WSF, with regards to Latin America, for the Rio+10 summit?
There was a preparatory meeting last October in Brazil involving Latin American civil society. There, we ratified the validity of the Agenda 21 that was adopted at the 1992 Earth Summit (in Rio de Janeiro), but highlighted the failure to implement the commitments made in 1992. Then, as well as now in Porto Alegre, we established that Agenda 21 cannot be implemented due to one fundamental obstacle: the new international institutionalism, which is under the command of the World Trade Organization (WTO). One way or another that system has contradicted all the environmental, labor, health, education and food commitments, that were agreed within the United Nations.
What do you propose should be done, given this situation?
It is very clear that as long as there is no structural reform of the international financial bodies and of the WTO, it is not going to be possible to continue advancing an international policy agenda. For Latin America, the sustainability agenda is not only environmental. It is an agenda of development, in which environmental sustainability and social equality are combined. If we do not overcome poverty, there is no sustainable development; if there is a no environmental protection, there is no sustainable development.
Did any concrete proposals arise along those lines?
Yes, there were many. For example, a treaty was proposed to protect humanity’s common wealth, saying 'no' to patents on living organisms, 'no' to the privatization of water and land.
It was suggested that we move towards agreements that establish priority for multilateral environmental treaties over those related to trade, as well as creating a chapter in the International Court of Justice for issues related to the violation of environmental and social rights. Another proposal calls for linking foreign debt with ecological debt, and the need to find instruments for the combined treatment of both.
But perhaps the fundamental achievement was the conception that democracy is a prerequisite for sustainability. We cannot advance if there is no possibility of democratic debate with participation by the communities about the direction development should take.
* Gustavo González is an IPS correspondent.