June 2012


Doctrine divides, Action unites

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Rio for People Declaration

We, 83 civil society representatives from 18 countries in the Asia-Pacific region, gathered in Hanoi 20 years after the first Earth Summit in 1992, fully aware that the world is farther than ever from reaching the goals of sustainable development.

Our world today is locked in environmental, social, political, economic and environmental crises. Resource depletion and biodiversity loss continue at very rapid rates. Air and water pollution from agro-chemical and industrial processes continue to cause serious economic, social and health problems. Greenhouse gas emissions continue to rise, causing dangerous climate change. The world’s richest 10 percent soak up more than half of the world’s income while 2.5 billion people in the South live on less than US$2 a day. People in wealthy countries consume as much as 10 times more natural resources than those in poorer countries while in the South one billion people are hungry, 1.6 billion people have no access to electricity and more than one billion people have no access to clean water.

Clearly, worst affected are the poor in the South who did little in causing these problems. This is not the world Rio envisioned in 1992.

Rio+20 should learn from the failure of the prevailing system of development and the multiple crises that our planet finds itself in. We know this system to be one where economic and natural resources are used to accumulate wealth for the few who control them rather than serve the common good of society; a system based on the unrestricted exploitation of the poor, women and the environment for corporate profits; a system where a few powerful countries write the rules of global trade, finance and environmental action in the interest of their corporations and banks, harming the environment and peoples in the South. We know it to be a failed system from which we need to break. We need system change.

We believe, however, that the Green Economy agenda will not allow us to break from this failed system as it follows primarily the profit-oriented logic of corporate and financial interests. It assumes that solutions to unsustainable development are in the hands of corporations—the main agents of unsustainable development—through their “green” investments, innovations and technologies, systems and policies and such mechanisms as the trading of carbon, forests and biodiversity and water. Numerous experiences prove that these corporate “solutions” do not solve the problems they purport to address but worsen them. They trample on people’s rights through further privatization, commodification and the financialization of nature and ecosystem functions, which lead to the further concentration of control over nature, land-grabs, bio-piracy, displacement and the marginalization of communities most dependent on access to these resources and a loss of cultural identities, languages and traditional systems, values and principles. It also gives rise to the violent oppression of people’s resistance.

The promise of green jobs in the Green Economy and corporate social responsibility are being used to deceive workers anew into accepting wage exploitation in new “green” industries, obscuring the truth that many of these so-called green businesses are neither ecologically sound nor socially just, such as the production of biofuels, nuclear plants, construction of large-scale dams, etc. The promotion of green cities takes away the emphasis of equitable development between rural and urban areas and further exacerbates urban drift.

We decry attempts by powerful States, especially in the North, to whittle down human rights obligations and equity principles in the Rio+20 outcome document in order to avoid concrete commitments to meaningful reforms in social, economic and environmental policies. On the other hand, they are pushing for corporate-led investments and initiatives to fill the gap left by government inaction. We assert that States should not backtrack but instead should uphold and build upon the original Rio principles and internationally agreed human rights norms and standards, most importantly, the principle of common but differentiated responsibility, the polluters pay principles, the precautionary principle and the principle on access to information, public participation and justice.

Agenda 21 should be raised to a binding form of agreement with strengthened institutions for implementation, monitoring and evaluation that ensure democratic ownership of the process at all levels. National reports have to be made available to the public to allow for informed multi-stakeholder decision-making. There should be a special clause on ecological-economic crimes to assure economic, social and ecological justice.

We assert that sustainable development must be based on the observance and fulfillment of human rights norms and standards, including the rights to development, to self-determination, to food, health and water, to education, the rights of women and children and the right of people to participate in decision-making. We pledge to struggle for genuine sustainable development beyond Rio+20.


Poverty Eradication

Poverty is the result of the unequal distribution of power, assets and opportunities within and between countries. Thus, poverty eradication is about the empowerment of the poor to claim their rights. They must take ownership and control of their natural resources and productive assets and use them to gear their economies to fulfill their needs and development aspirations. Decision-making for sustainable development should be a bottom-up, decentralized process owned by people. The active participation of people and communities, particularly the marginalized sector, including women and indigenous peoples, in decision-making and consultative processes should be promoted at all levels. The equal participation of women and men should be ensured through institutionalizing this principle in law and implementation mechanisms. Institutions of global governance must be radically reformed or replaced so that poor countries are equitably represented. Unequal agreements on trade and investment must be renegotiated or abrogated.

Food Sovereignty

All people have the right to safe, nutritious and adequate food. Countries and communities also have the right to access, to control and to protect the means of food production and its outcomes, the right to determine their food and agricultural policies at all levels and the right to develop and maintain systems of food production and distribution that are ecologically sustainable, socially just and culturally appropriate. Agrarian reform must be carried out in order to secure peasants and rural people’s democratic ownership and utilization of land, water resources and seeds as well as access to finance and infrastructure and environmentally sound technological support. Food production and trade policies must prioritize domestic food self-sufficiency and the livelihoods of small farmers, fisherfolk, women, peasants and indigenous people. Trade policies and commercial or business practices must be modified and designed to further such prioritization. Public institutions must also help develop and encourage the adoption of sustainable methods of agriculture which rely on local ecosystems and locally based knowledge as well as appropriate technologies. Food sovereignty will not be successful without land reform.


Water is not a commodity but a vital need to human survival. All people have the right to sufficient, safe, accessible and affordable water and sanitation services. Countries and communities are also entitled to develop and maintain water resources, management systems and facilities to satisfy human and development needs and safeguard their sustainability. The management of water resources must be in public and community control. Water use must be primarily for fulfilling human needs and food production. The right to water and sanitation further requires an explicit focus on the most disadvantaged and marginalized as well as an emphasis on participation, empowerment, accountability and transparency.

Protection of Biodiversity

Biodiversity is essential to the proper functioning of ecosystems and is thus crucial to the right of people to health, food and a safe and clean environment. The livelihoods of small farmers, fishers, indigenous people and women also directly depend on biodiversity and their access to genetic resources. They have developed local resource management systems and conserve most of the world’s biodiversity. Biodiversity protection must be based on protecting people’s access to land, water and seeds. The extent of biodiversity’s importance is, however, very poorly understood, and the adverse impacts of changes are thus not properly mitigated. The rapid loss of biodiversity is due mainly to the growing control of corporations over genetic resources as well as over land, water and forests for industrial agriculture, logging and mining. Thus, biodiversity protection must be based on protecting people’s access to land, water and seeds. Biodiversity is a vital part of human nature. It is also an integral part of the heritage of indigenous people, and thus, their right to self-determination must be recognized, including their right to free and prior informed consent and the right to develop their own social and economic systems and retain control of their ancestral lands, traditional knowledge and genetic resources. These rights must be restored equally to women and men. Natural resources and conservation should be taken care of through community knowledge-based decision-making and decentralized ecosystem-based local systems.

Climate Change

Climate change is worsening environmental damage and is exacerbating the negative effects of poor current practices. It undermines a wide range of human rights, both of present and future generations, and threatens to push people deeper into poverty and underdevelopment. The world has to transition away from the fossil fuel-based profit-driven economy and abandon unsustainable patterns of manufacturing, energy generation, agriculture and transportation that are behind ever-rising greenhouse gas emissions. There is a need, however, to expose, not just the economic, social, and environmental impacts of oil and gas exploration and extraction, but also that of alleged alternatives, such as large-scale hydropower, nuclear, agro-fuels, clean coal, geo-engineering and so on. The precautionary principle must be applied and international financing institutions, both multilateral and bilateral agencies, must remove subsidies and policy support for these projects. In the case of hydropower, Rio+20 must make a strong stipulation that dams should show full compliance to the standards set by the World Commission on Dams (WCD) and that large dams should absolutely be kept out of the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM).

The Global North has to take the lead in mitigation efforts by making rapid and drastic emissions cuts and by assisting poorer countries pay for the costs of their own transition through finance and technology transfers.

Youth and Children

Youth and children are agents of change and not simply vulnerable victims of social injustices or merely recipients of government welfare. They are the future caretakers of the Earth and the inheritors of the problems we are creating today. Despite, however, being part of the main agenda of the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development (UNCSD) 20 years ago, youth and children continue to be marginalized by the unsustainable, dominant, profit-driven economic system. A lack of access to basic needs and services, such as food, health, education and access to water and sanitation, still remain rampant.

Although successful advocacies and campaigns on youth and children are already happening in some parts of Asia, there is still a need for their voices to be heard and given greater importance, especially with regard to the climate crisis, if we are to realize genuine sustainable development. To increase the influence and impact that the world’s young people can make to the overall goal of changing the current model that the global economy is hinged on, these efforts must be consolidated and supported through continuous education and mobilization.

Indigenous People

Indigenous peoples of the Asia-Pacific region reject the corporate Green Economy and demand the protection and respect of indigenous peoples’ rights, including the affirmation and implementation of the U.N. Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, the recognition of the cultural pillar as the fourth pillar of sustainable development and the recognition of the distinct contribution of traditional knowledge and diverse local economies to eradicate poverty and promote sustainable development. Sustainable development should support the indigenous peoples’ integrated and holistic framework to sustainable development.

Labor and Social Protection

Every country should commit to foster national and local production and enterprises supporting small-scale business and producers for sustainable development. Governments should create equal employment opportunities and ensure decent work for all, gender equality and participation, particularly of marginalized groups. States must be obliged to honor and respect international human rights standards and principles to protect the rights of migrant workers and their families.

Just and Lasting Peace

Ensuring social justice is a precondition for peace. A just and lasting peace and the security of women is a precondition for sustainable development. The military-industrial complex should be dismantled. We call for a moratorium, or reduction, of military expenditure and a shift of government budgets to health and education.