Rio +20: Civil Society Denounce Sustainable Energy Initiative
As the final negotiations for the UN Conference on Sustainable Development Rio+20 conference get underway in Rio de Janeiro, almost 50 civil society groups have published an open letter denouncing the UN Secretary General’s new “Sustainable Energy For All Initiative” (SEFA). The letter states: “The SEFA process and Action Agenda are deeply flawed and threaten to further entrench destructive, polluting and unjust energy policies for corporate profit under the guise of alleviating energy poverty, while undermining community rights to energy sovereignty and self determination”.
The “Sustainable Energy for All” initiative was announced in September 2011, and a “high level panel” was established by the UN secretary general, Ban Ki Moon. The panel includes major investors in the fossil fuel economy including, Statoil, Eskom, Siemens and Riverstone Holdings. The initiative’s stated goals are to
1) double the rate of improvement in energy efficiency
2) double the share of renewables in the global energy mix by 2030
3) provide access to modern energy services for all of humanity
An action agenda is being put forward for endorsement at Rio+20, along with commitments for action from countries and groups.
Groups denouncing the initiative view it as an attempt to use claims of poverty alleviation to further expand corporate control over energy policies with the aim of gaining access to new markets and investment opportunities. The letter points out that the initiative’s goals are inadequate,that it promotes dangerous and unsustainable forms of energy and that there is a deplorable lack of transparency and democratic participation in the process thus far.
Rachel Smolker from Biofuelwatch states:
“While the term ‘sustainable’ is used, there is absolutely no indication what this means. Large-scale biofuels, natural gas projects, large hydroelectric dams, waste incinerators, even fossil fuels and nuclear energy all appear to be acceptable under this initiative and all are referred to as ‘sustainable’.”
“We are concerned that this initiative could end up providing yet more support for toxic waste incinerators, subsidized and supported as “sustainable energy” stated Mariel Vilella, from GAIA.
Similarly Zachary Hurwitz from International Rivers points out:
“Large hydro dams referred to as “sustainable energy” are likely to gain considerable support under the SEFA initiative in spite of clear evidence that they are risky, less resilient to climate change impacts and exacerbate problems with water stress.”
Simone Lovera, Executive Director of the Global Forest Coalition adds:
“Lip service is granted to providing services to those in poverty, including, in particular, women who are currently dependent on fuelwood for their energy needs. But small scale community based, off-grid energy projects are not likely to generate profitable returns on investments in the manner these corporate players are accustomed to, so they are very unlikely to be prioritized by this initiative.”
Further, the open letter denounces the initiative’s process as “unaccountable and undemocratic”, pointing out that there are only 5 governments and 3 NGOs represented on the high level panel. There have been virtually no opportunities to participate or provide input into the action agenda, and there are no mechanisms in place to hold participants accountable.
Anne Petermann, Executive Director of Global Justice Ecology Project states:
“While many are pleased to see the issue of energy access gaining much needed attention, there is little confidence that this top down, market-driven and undemocratic process can deliver human services on the scale necessary to both meet people’s needs and protect the planet and environment.”
Tatiana Roa of CENSAT/Friends of the Earth-Colombia adds:
“This initiative is emblematic of the growing ‘corporate takeover’ of the UN as ‘public private partnerships’ like SEFA are becoming ever more pervasive. The private sector is now viewed as the only possible source of sufficient finance, and hence granted undue and inappropriate control and access. What we need are rights-based, bottom-up and participatory approaches that will ensure genuinely fair and sustainable solutions within the framework of energy sovereignty.”
A briefing “Sustainable Energy For All or Sustained Profits For A Few”, detailing concerns about the Sustainable Energy For All Initiative (English and Spanish) is available at:
Friends of the Earth International, Corporate Europe Observatory, La Via Campesina, Jubilee South/Americas, Peace and Justice in Latin America/SERPAJ-AL, Polaris Institute, The Council of Canadians, The Transnational Institute, Third World Network, World March of Women Ending corporate capture of the United Nations
Joint Civil Society Statement
We, the undersigned organisations, believe that the United Nations (UN) is currently the most democratic and appropriate global institution for international negotiations. We therefore support further strengthening of multilateral institutions and processes within the UN framework, making them more democratic and responsive to the needs of people.
However, we have strong concerns about the growing influence of major corporations and business lobby groups within the UN: over their influence on the positions of national governments in multilateral negotiations, their dominance in certain UN discussion spaces and in certain UN bodies. Increasingly we see UN policies that do not necessarily serve the public interest, but rather support the commercial interests of certain companies or business sectors. The upcoming Earth Summit in Rio in June 2012 should be seized as the opportunity to stop this trend, terminate dubious partnerships between the UN and businesses, and end the privileged access that has been granted to the corporate sector and consequently the excessive influence it is able to wield over important multilateral processes and decisions.
The preamble of the Charter of the UN starts with the words “We the peoples of the United Nations”. Today however, corporate interests are increasingly prioritised over peoples’ interests in some UN processes and institutions. As the positions of key UN member states are captured by major corporate interests, businesses have gained enormous influence over UN decisions. Business has been granted the status of a “major group” under Agenda 21, despite the fact that it should not be treated as part of civil society because of its essentially different nature.Likewise, as corporations hold far greater resources to influence negotiations than civil society, they often outnumber civil society delegations. Corporate lobbying within UN negotiations has managed to block effective solutions for problems related to climate change, food production, the violation of human rights, water supply, health issues, poverty and deforestation. The enormous influence of corporate lobbyists and the related power imbalances in some negotiation spaces – such as the UNFCCC – undermines democracy and all too frequently results in the postponement, weakening or blocking of urgently needed progress in international social and environmental justice issues.
Lobbying for market-based systems – for air, biodiversity, water, land or other common goods – as solutions to the current environmental crisis, illustrates the promotion of false solutions. Such solutions serve business interests – to profit from crises that affect millions of people – without tackling the core of the problem, while further concentrating the control of corporations over land, resources, and peoples’ lives.
Many UN agencies, including UNICEF, UNDP, WHO and UNESCO, have engaged in partnerships with major transnational companies (TNCs). UNEP has established partnerships with ExxonMobil, Rio Tinto, Anglo American and Shell, all of which are involved in human rights violations and the destruction of biodiversity. Other examples include: Coca Cola and UNDP on water resource protection, and BASF and Coca Cola with UN-HABITAT on sustainable urbanisation. Such partnerships not only damage the credibility of the UN, they also undermine its ability and willingness to respond to and regulate the business sector where it is involved in social, environmental and human rights violations. Moreover, the UN Global Compact promotes “responsible corporate citizenship” without obliging companies to adhere to internationally accepted standards. It allows notable human rights violators to participate and gives the false impression that the UN and TNCs share the same goals. Thus it allows for “bluewash” and merely helps businesses to boost their image and profits, instead of promoting binding obligations that would contribute to changing companies’ performance.
In the lead up to the “Rio+20” Earth Summit, the UN is partnering with the International Chamber of Commerce (ICC) and the World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD) in Business Action for Sustainable Development2. The Zero Draft declaration for Rio+20 reinforces the role of business as a promoter of the so-called green economy, but completely fails to address the role of business in creating the financial, climate, food and other crises. This should not come as a surprise, given the strong involvement of high profile corporate representatives, such as Deutsche Bank, in developing the concept of the “green economy”.
The undersigned groups believe that the UN should prioritise steps that serve the public interest, and address the ongoing multiple crises, over the creation of policies that result in new market opportunities and profits for the business sector.
We therefore demand the following:
– The UN and its member states should restate that their over-riding prerogative is to serve the public interest. It should overhaul its decision making processes to ensure that civil society has a more prominent role and that industry’s influence is limited.
– The UN and member states must resist corporate pressure to give business a privileged position in UN negotiations:
– Governments must stop setting up new discussion bodies and high-level groups (and dissolve existing ones) that grant businesses a privileged status within official negotiations, such as the “Mexican dialogues” set up in relation to the 2010 climate negotiations in Cancun.
– The UN and its member states should take determined action to strengthen transparency around lobbying and ensure that no business groups are given privileged access over UN policy-making. The Civil Society mechanism of the UN Committee on World Food Security could be taken as a model of how direct participation of CSOs can be improved.
– Business representatives should not be part of national delegations involved in UN negotiations.
– The role of the “business and industry” major group should be limited. As the business sector holds significantly larger resources than any other sector, there should be a cap on its participation: business should not have more representatives than any of the other major groups in multilateral negotiation processes.
– The UN must disclose all existing relations and links with the private sector.
– A code of conduct for UN officials, including a “cooling off” period during which officials cannot start working for lobby groups or lobbying advisory firms, should be introduced.
– The UN should not engage in any further partnerships with corporations and trade associations and should review all such existing partnerships.
– The UN, in serving the public interest, should monitor the impacts of corporations on people and the environment and establish a legally binding framework of obligations that can hold companies accountable to environmental, human rights and labour rights law. This should include an obligation for companies to report on their social and environmental impacts.
These are the basic requirements necessary to ensure that the UN lives up to its founding mission of being a forum for peoples’ representation and the protection of their universal rights and interests.
We call upon governments to take up these concerns as a way to build a space that responds to peoples’ needs, and one which is able to produce initiatives that favour the public interest and adequately address the multiple crises facing the world today.
For an overview of partnerships, see http://www.un.org/partnerships/Docs/Partnership_Initiatives.pdf
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