Youth walk out of lackluster Rio UN Summit: Two versions

The spirit of Occupy lives on in Rio. The first story is a summary. In the second, Bill McKibben’s narrative brings the whole sorry scene, and what happened next, to vivid life.

Slamming leaders’ negotiating text as a failure for people and the environment, youth climate leaders stage civil disobedience

June 21, 2012
by Common Dreams staff

Youth climate leaders and their supporters have walked out of the UN climate summit in Rio today to protest the negotiating text that fails to protect the climate. The group staged a “people’s plenary” saying the text decided at the conference by world leaders does not represent “the future we want.”

Satirizing Rio+20’s The Future We Want slogan, members of the groups staged a sit-in and read a mock text called “The Future We Bought.” The group then tore the document to shreds saying “the future we want is not found here” and have returned their badges to UN security to make their way towards the People’s Summit.

“World leaders have delivered something that fails to move the world forward from the first Rio summit, showing up with empty promises and empty pockets at Rio+20” says Mariana Calderon, a young woman from California. “This text is a polluters plan, and unless leaders start listening to the people, history will remember it as a failure for the people and the planet.”

“The Rio text saves political face but fails at protecting people on the frontlines of climate and environmental crises,” Calderon explained. “The current text shows no ambition on the most important issues here in Rio – protecting Oceans, ensuring the right to food and water for all, ending handouts to big polluters, addressing climate change or setting goals for the creation of a just and sustainable future for people and the planet.”


Lame it on Rio: Youth stage Earth Summit walkout

By Bill McKibben

Youth walk out of the Earth Summit conference. (Photo by Youth Policy.)

The Rio+20 conference is remarkably listless; the energy of 1992 has bled into a formulaic bureaucracy-fest. The text negotiators have agreed to punts on virtually every major issue (one analysis showed that governments agreed to “encourage” and “support” actions 148 times, but only on three issues summoned the courage to say “we will” actually do something).

But it came spontaneously alive for a few hours this afternoon, when a youth-led demonstration turned into an Occupy-style sit-down that in turn agreed to a mass walkout. We’ve just marched out the front doors of this sprawling complex, 130 strong, surrounded by as many cameras and tape recorders.

The youth-led demonstration violated all the U.N. rules — security squads surrounded us at the first sound of controversy, announcing that our gathering was “unsanctioned” and if we didn’t stop immediately we’d lose our accreditation. People discussed the threat through the human mic for a few minutes, and then decided it wasn’t a threat at all — in fact, we were eager to surrender our badges, because then we wouldn’t be part of what had turned into a sham.

Almost everyone who participated was young (I can attest that there’s a certain age past which sitting on the stone floor for a few hours is less fun than you might think); as we marched we chanted “This is not the future we want.”

That meant a future filled with clouds of carbon — but it also meant a future of sitting through the U.N. process and pretending that it was getting somewhere. After Copenhagen’s failure people felt sad, disempowered. But now people seemed to feel mad — and ready to fight where it counts, out in the real world. Out where we need to change the political dynamic if international negotiations are ever going to matter.

The first Rio conference was a great jolt of energy, filled with music, art, hope. But that flash blinded us to the hollowness of the promises.

This gathering, by contrast, is dullness defined. World leaders drone on in the plenary; the bulletin boards are covered with flyers for talks with topics like “Ecovision Turkey 2050” or “A Project for Human-based Sustainability through Ontopsychological Methodology.” The once-crowded halls are half-deserted; reporters search desperately for something, anything, to report.

But against that backdrop the actual truth of this bankrupt process shone more clearly. It took, as is often the case, young people to politely point out that the U.N. has no clothes, that behind the curtain there are just small people unable to do much because of the corporate power that dominates their governments. Hillary Clinton will make a speech tomorrow — but young people really said everything worth saying this afternoon.

Bill McKibben is founder of and Schumann Distinguished Professor at Middlebury College in Vermont. He also serves on Grist’s Board of Directors.

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