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Davos Failed to Address Fundamentals -- Will the Next Earth Summit in Rio?

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At the World Economics Forum in Davos last week, no one was denying that we face serious economic, social and environmental crises. When even the Financial Times runs a series of articles on "Capitalism in crisis," it's obvious that it's not just the "Occupy WEF" protesters, who I joined in their igloos outside the meeting, that are asking fundamental questions about how we do business.

What Davos failed to do, however, is provide adequate answers. The talk was mainly about symptoms, not the core of the problem. No question, issues such as the size of the Euro firewall or bankers' bonuses are important. But if we are to deliver an economy that brings prosperity for all without destroying the planet, we need to achieve a much more fundamental change than putting together few hundred extra millions for a firewall, or a little less greed by the 1%. When I suggested fundamental changes, such as making corporations liable for their impacts on society and the environment, the reaction was often a nervous laugh.

While I was freezing in snowy Davos, the Brazilian President Dilma was at the World Social Forum in Porto Alegre calling for the fostering of "new model" of development that can be discussed at this June's Rio Earth Summit. Greenpeace has some concrete proposals on how governments could use the Rio meeting to change course and not simply acknowledge the crises we face, as is happening in Davos. The Earth Summit should, for example, agree on strong regulation of financial markets, including a Financial Transaction Tax, agree the end of environmentally and socially harmful subsidies, and commit to sustainable energy for all and zero deforestation by 2020.

But if President Dilma wants to lead the world in a great transformation, she first has to put her own house in order. Unless she vetoes it, Brazil will soon adopt changes to its the Forest Code, the main law in Brazil that protects the forests, that would allow an amnesty for past forest crimes and lead to an increase in deforestation. This is unacceptable. If Brazil wants to credibly discuss "new models" of development at the Earth Summit in June, it must urgently commit to a new model of sustainable prosperity based on zero deforestation. It can be done. Deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon has declined year on year and in 2011 reached its lowest ever level. But unless Dilma acts, Brazil will be the nation that showed that deforestation could be halted, but failed to do so, in order to cater to short-term special interests. Unless she vetos the Forest Code changes, President Dilma will have as little credibility to talk of fundamental change as the "Davos Man" come June.

The warm climate of Rio will certainly suit me better than the mountains of snow in Davos. But will I leave Rio with more hope that the fundamental changes we need can finally be implemented?

Read the Greenpeace blog "Resilient People, Resilient Planet: A Mixed Bag" that dissects the recent report by the UNSG High Level Panel on Global Sustainability.

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