Sustainable Development: Rio+20, CSD

In June 2012, the global political focus will be on the next big environmental summit, the UN Conference on Sustainable Development, known as Rio+20 because it comes 20 years after the high proile Earth Summit of 1992.

The Earth Summit gave us Agenda 21, the UN climate convention, the biodiversity convention, the precautionary principle, the forest principles and meaningful civil society engagement - all under the banner of "sustainable development". At Rio+20, global leaders are tasked with identifying what went wrong in hte past 20 years, re-organizing the governance that has failed to deliver any progress on diverse environmental crises and crafting a roadmap towards a global "green economy".

Rio+2- brings us to a crossroads that offers both risks and opportunities. Rio+20's centerpiece "green economy" is poorly defined and could become a cover for further commodification and monopolization of nature, the violation of human rights and the deployment of high-risk technologies. Alternatively. the Rio summit could re-set the agenda for diverse, people-centered, local green economies, with policies that protect the environmnt, strengten the commons, promote equality establishing a new participatory and transparent multilateral system for technology assessment.


Paris, 24th November 2015 - At the upcoming Climate summit in Paris, some governments and much of civil society will be pushing for an urgent transition away from the carbon-rich fossil fuels responsible for climate chaos. However, one hi-tech sector, the multi-billion dollar Synthetic Biology industry, is now actively tying its future to the very oil, coal and gas extraction it once claimed to be able to displace. That’s the conclusion of a new report released jointly today from the ETC Group and Heinrich Böll Foundation. Titled “Extreme Biotech meets Extreme Energy”, the report predicts that as the extreme biotech industry and the extreme extraction industry move towards deeper collaboration, the biosafety risks and climate threats emanating from them will become ever more entangled.

As the synthetic biology industry and the extreme extraction industry move towards deeper collaboration, the climate and biosafety risks and threats from both will become more entangled.

Las Vegas seems to be an apt place to launch a risky corporate gamble that could destroy the livelihoods of millions of small-scale farmers. Earlier this month, the international food conglomerate Cargill chose the city’s famous Strip to introduce what it hopes will be its next blockbuster product: EverSweet, a sweetener made of “the same sweet components in the stevia plant.”
And yet, despite Cargill’s heavy reliance on stevia in its promotional material, EverSweet does not contain a single leaf of the plant. Cargill’s new product is an example of synthetic biology, a form of genetic engineering that uses modified organisms to manufacture compounds that would never be produced naturally. What makes EverSweet taste sweet is not stevia; it is a compound produced by a bioengineered yeast.

Today, six corporations control global markets for industrial seeds/agrochemicals. They determine the priorities and future direction of agricultural research. What are implications of ag mega-mergers for food sovereignty and climate change? What can be done?

At a time when just three corporations – Monsanto, DuPont and Syngenta – control 55% of the world’s commercial seeds, industrial farming interests in the Brazilian Congress have introduced a bill that aims to overturn the country’s 10-year old ban on Terminator technology – seeds that have been genetically modified to render sterile seeds. The technology is designed to secure corporate profits by eliminating the age-old right of farmers to save and re-plant harvested seeds.