Next year’s UN conference in Rio de Janeiro should mark the beginning of a new era of environmental and economic cooperation. Rio +20 is not only the 20th anniversary of the Earth Summit, it is also Stockholm+40 – marking the UN’s first major environmental conference, and, somewhat ominously, it is also the 50th anniversary of the publication of Rachel Carson’s groundbreaking Silent Spring. As we prepare for 2012, we have 50 years of environmental history to bear in mind.
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There is little faith in the reform of the UN system; nonetheless, the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development, to be held in Rio de Janeiro in 2012 – also known as Rio +20 – is not only to set the stage for a green economy, but also to provide an impetus for the institutional reform of the UN environmental sector. The ministerial-level advisory group brought together by the UN Environmental Program (UNEP) is preparing the reforms.
Here's a grim prediction to chew on. This biotech craze dubbed "synthetic biology"—where hipster geeks design quirky life-forms: That technology is going to wind up costing lives—likely a lot of them. I'm not suggesting a direct kill by rogue viruses. These will be economic deaths. The dead will not be noteworthy: farmers, pastoralists, and forest dwellers who live in poor nations that depend on plant commodities.
Syn bio is feted as the next big thing, but we should be clear-eyed about what makes syn bio such a big deal and about whom it will harm. Its advocates predict that synthetic bio will lead to the "New Bioeconomy," in which we harness biology to perform tasks now accomplished by manufacturing.
The New Bioeconomy seems innocently green. It involves yeast and bacteria being repurposed as bio-factories to churn out the plastics, chemicals, and fuels we are already addicted to. Since microbes feast on plant-stuff—whether algae, wood chips, or sugar—plants would replace petroleum as the key feedstock for industrial production. The sourcing of strategic raw materials, including medicines, rubber, and oils, will shift from the hands of farmers in the global South to fermentation vats controlled by the North.
ETC Group brings a new report – "The Big Downturn? Nanogeopolitics" to the conversation at the World Social Forum in Dakar, Senegal, 2011. ETC Group’s 68-page report provides a current snapshot of global investment, markets, governance and control of nanotechnology, including patenting.
This week (02/2011) ETC Group travels to Dakar to meet friends and partners – new, old and yet-to-be – to learn, listen and share information about corporate power and emerging technologies, including their impacts on marginalized communities. In the run-up to the Rio+20 Summit in May 2012, the international community will be confronted with a challenging list of so-called ‘green economy’ technology and policy proposals – as well as major agricultural and environmental institutional decisions.
The Presidential Commission for the Study of Bioethical Issues released its recommendations on the oversight of synthetic biology, provoking strong criticism from public interest watchdogs for its failure to respond to key environmental and public health risks.
In a letter sent to the commission, 58 environmental, public interest, and religious groups rejected the recommendations as a deeply flawed response to advances in synthetic biology, including the creation this year of the first entirely synthetic organism, that demand strong federal oversight.
The New Biomassters - Synthetic Biology and the Next Assault on Biodiversity and Livelihoods
Geopiracy: The Case Against Geoengineering
Gene Giants Stockpile Patents on “Climate-Ready” Crops in Bid to Become Biomassters
On 29 October 2010, the Tenth Conference of the Parties (COP 10) of the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) adopted a decision that amounts to a de facto moratorium on geoengineering and, almost as importantly, affirmed the UN’s leadership in addressing these issues. Since then, many commentators (both those opposed to and supportive of geoengineering) have circulated erroneous statements concerning the import of the decision.
In a landmark consensus decision, the 193-member UN Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) closed its tenth biennial meeting with a de facto moratorium on geoengineering projects and experiments. “Any private or public experimentation or adventurism intended to manipulate the planetary thermostat will be in violation of this carefully crafted UN consensus,” stated Silvia Ribeiro, Latin American Director of ETC Group.
ETC Group, an international civil society organization that monitors new technologies, explains and comments on the Convention on Biological Diversity’s COP 10 consensus decision to adopt a moratorium on geoengineering. Webcast of the press conference given by ETC Group representatives at http://webcast.cop10.go.jp. (link not active)
Mr. Pat Mooney - Executive Director, ETC Group (Canada)
Ms. Silvia Ribeiro – Director Latin America, ETC Group (Mexico)