Conservation organisation the World Wildlife Fund has called the Rio+20 summit "a colossal failure of leadership and vision".

Ban Ki-moon, the UN chief, once again affirmed that "time is not on our side" to take decisive action. But his words have failed to translate into a renewed push to avoid environmental catastrophe.

"The delegations, the politicians who are here are playing the script of big business, and this has been so scripted over the past 20 years to ensure that real action is not taken … on climate change, that nations and industries are not held to account for their pollution."

- Nnimmo Bassey, a Nigerian environmentalist

On Friday, the 191 UN delegates, including 86 world leaders, will rubber-stamp a more than 50-page draft agreement that essentially provides no new commitments to fight climate change.

The Rio+20 conference is a follow-up to the 1992 Earth Summit in the same Brazilian city, when world leaders did discuss ambitious and legally-binding conventions. This time around, the leaders of the US, Britain and Germany have snubbed the summit.

In contrast, multinational corporations are well represented at the conference, leading some to wonder whether in the push to attract so-called corporate stakeholders to the environmental cause, the UN summit has become less about the future of the planet than about the future of corporate profits.

All this as world temperatures and pollution have risen significantly in the last 20 years; the world's rainforests have shrunk; the first effects of climate change have become clearer; and while crucial areas of habitat like the Amazon are under threat.

Kumi Naidoo, the executive director of Greenpeace, told Al Jazeera that the outcome of this conference is a declaration of war, and that the only recourse now is direct action.

"Capitalism pushes for growth and profit. Corporate power sees [climate change] as a business opportunity, a revenue stream, a profit centre .… The most vulnerable populations in the world are not necessarily of interest to the profit-making entities."

- Rick Piltz, the director of Climate Science Watch

"It's not so much the process itself that is broken but it's the political will of the most dominant nations .… What we have is a serious problem of cognitive dissonance where all the facts are there, governments know they have to act with ambition and urgency … but they prioritise national interest and national parochialism.

"Whether we like it or not big global business, including the most polluting corporations of the world, do have hegemony, do have domination and to a large extent do own our governments. Even if you look at the US, today it can be described as the best democracy money can buy. You can see the domination of political decisions therefore the policies that emerge from governments is a disproportionate level of voice and influence ...."

Inside Story Americas asks: What has been achieved at the Rio+20 conference?

To discuss this with presenter Shihab Rattansi are guests: Rick Piltz, the founder and director of Climate Science Watch, which is part of the Government Accountability Project that aims to give protection to whistleblowers, and also a former senior associate in the US Climate Change Science Programme; Nnimmo Bassey, the executive director of Environmental Rights Action in Nigeria and chair of Friends of the Earth International; and Daniel Morris, a fellow at the Washington-based think tank Resources for the Future.

"There is regulation in market systems all over the place. There is no such thing as [a] free market in existence in the world because government is an actor in our markets. Its job is to regulate .... Markets can work in concert with public policy."

Daniel Morris, a fellow at Resources for the Future


  • Friends of the Earth published a report entitled "Reclaim the UN from Corporate Capture" in which it argues that the UN has surrendered to a framework that prioritises the interests of multinational corporations.
  • It says the UN now focuses on a 'green economy' as opposed to 'sustainable development', the former being a market-based approach largely drawn up by an investment banker who was on sabbatical from Deutsche Bank at the time.
  • The underlying principle is that nature can be measured and valued according to the 'services' it provides, thus nature's services are given a price, and can be offset and traded on markets via credits - similar to the carbon trading systems already in practice that were meant to limit carbon emissions but have mainly made massive profits for some companies.
  • It says major multinationals now play a key role in drawing up UN policy and often are the main sources of funding for UN agencies; and there is a revolving door between corporations, their lobbies and the UN.

Source: Al Jazeera