Interview by Marcelo Schneider*
Apart from the Brazilian member organizations and the foreign that are active in the country, the sphere of ACT Alliance’s national articulation in Brazil and that of the Ecumenical Forum ACT Brazil (FE ACT Brazil) includes churches, church councils, ecumenical organisms and articulation networks with interface collaboration with the civil society.
FE ACT Brazil has, among its priorities, the building of articulations around the theme of climate change and environmental justice. With the upcoming Río +20, the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development, to take place June 4-6, 2012, the ecumenical forum has been developing, both internally and externally, its strategy for participation in the event. The participation of the ecumenical forum in the national articulation has become fundamental.
From October 21-23, in Porto Alegre, the meeting of the Facilitating Committee of the Civil Society for Río +20 took place. The group is involved with the preparations for the gathering of the activists for the future of the planet and the parallel activities of incidence in Río +20. The People’s Summit, as is known, points to social and environmental justice, and against all forms of commercializing nature. That gathering brought together nearly 120 participants, and was the first that had the participation of a representative of FE ACT Brazil, appointed by Koinonía and the Ecumenical Service Coordinator (CESE) to occupy that space. Through FE ACT Brazil, Rafael Soares de Oliveira represents on the Facilitating Committee, the networks that are connected to the forum. This Facilitating Committee is a group in which only networks participate.
Besides organizing the People’s Summit, the group sought to glimpse connections between the initiatives around Río +20 and the Thematic Social Forum, to be held in Porto Alegre in January, 2012, and how this event that will be debating the issue of environmental justice can unfold in the process of Río +20 and go beyond it.
Marcelo Schneider: The national articulation looks for global connections.
Rafael Soares de Oliveira: We had people present from Egypt, South Africa, for example, to see what international links the existing struggles around the world can have with Río +20.
MS: How is the ecumenical articulation being organized around Río +20?
RSO: The ecumenical mobilization around Río +20 has two fronts. One is national and the other is international.
The local front is already pre-defined and has several interfaces, in which organizations and churches in Brazil are present in the environmental theme, depending on the place where they are. In the Amazon, for example, the themes most emphasized are those having to do with the Pan-Amazon. In other parts of the country the emphasis is laid more on the facing of the national development.
There is also a deep concern with an ethics of responsibility with the planet. This is present and accumulated, politically and theologically, for some years now, by the ecumenical movement in Brazil – even up until Echo '92.
MS: What is it lacking in this mobilization?
RSO: Something more solid is lacking, a massive mobilization and a clearer process. It is the same from the point of view of the civil society; the process is still not completely massive. There is an initial attempt to link the local movement to global processes already existent around the theme of climatic change and COP17.
We hope that one thing be linked to and have continuity with the other, that they not be isolated mechanisms, more so when Río +20 represents a convergence of the existing processes of global struggles that intend to face the current model of capitalism, with its aspects of degradation of nature and its own weakness.
What is being said, in terms of content, is: 20 years have already passed in the hands of those who are in power. There have been initial attempts to take some steps with regard to sustainable development, yet the planet continues to take backward steps. There are no agreements on the climate, on the protection of green areas. What there has been is a process of commercializing nature, creating new ways to maintain capital within the environmentalist logic, such as, for example, carbon credits. It is not possible to continue degrading the environment and to offer carbon credits to those who maintain the flora.
What is happening now is that we are discussing how it is that all this will converge. Río +20 has to be a place of visibility and confrontation of the current model of development and the capitalist model, including all its facets, such as the development programs that do not respect nature nor the life of the people, and also the financial facet that has gone bankrupt and, as a consequence, has squeezed the people to pay the bill. For that reason, to bring to Río +20 this whole movement of the indignant, of those who occupy Wall Street, those that protest against the problems in Europe, has now also become a demanding guideline. The theme of Río +20 is development and the environment, but it is, also, the society expressing itself confronting a system that is doing away with the planet.
What we want for the future of the planet is not only to denounce all that, but also to speak of alternatives that we have built for the future. From a small experience of an economy of solidarity to the agro-ecological experiences, we pass through new visions of the world that cohabit critically with the society of consumption, with the idolatry of the market in relation to the freedom of human beings, so that we can also cohabit with traditional expressions of coexistence with the planet, such as the perspective of good living in the Andean region, and the perspectives of the traditional communities in Brazil, of other regions (indigenous, black).
Because of that, we, of the Brazilian ecumenical family, see, in a still clearer way, the challenge of finding, internationally, already existing common points of ecumenical incidence. It is easy to find global examples of ecumenical involvement in matters having to do with climate change. Our question is how these global initiatives and movements will bring the results of the post-COP17 discussions to Río +20, alongside other actors of the society. Strategically, it would be interesting to see the global actors working together with the local sectors that are already mobilized.
Today we have to identify clearly which are the global ecumenical flags, but also, the local under which the ecumenical family is found. For example, the theme of peace, very much present today on the global ecumenical agenda, is intrinsically bound to the theme of the future of the planet. The non-investment in wars means an economy that can be directed to humanitarian ends. With Río +20 we have the opportunity of giving visibility to a broad process of struggle for social and environmental justice.
MS: What does the national ecumenical articulation expect from the international ecumenical associates?
RSO: At the moment, the international ecumenical agenda still has a low mobilization profile for Río +20, on account of the preparations for COP17. What we expect is that, following COP17, the international connections that we already have be intensified around the 2012 event in Río de Janeiro. As FE ACT Brazil, after this gathering of the committee in Porto Alegre, we will have a great local responsibility, because there will not be an international committee for the defining of the different participations in Río +20. It is the Facilitating Committee of the Civil Society itself that, today, functions basically in Brazil, that will have representatives of international networks and will wait for these representatives, in turn, to mobilize their global networks. The responsibility for being able to establish good bonds with the World Council of Churches (WCC), APRODEV (the network of Protestant organisations influencing EU policy with respect to development and humanitarian issues), and ACT Alliance, our immediate partners, falls, in this way, on our ecumenical forum.
We also expect a willingness to set a common agenda, not the imposition of either a local or a global one. We are aware that there are processes already in course having to do with Río +20, but we hope that we do not end up with a multiplication of initiatives, because Río +20 seeks to be different from we do in the World Social Forums. Many international associates are directly involved in the official agenda of Río +20, such as is the case of the WCC, for example. We need to strengthen our connections with these partners. Secondly, we hope that they listen to the convening that is being done by the civil society, not only locally but also globally. Our call should be formally done, in the form of an open letter, within about a month. We need, by common agreement, to speak a single voice in Río +20. We cannot arrive isolated.
* Marcelo Schneider is Communications Correspondent for Latin America of the World Council of Churches (WCC).
Photo: Rafael Soares of Oliveira (Marcelo Schneider WCC)