This is a summit of curious contrasts. On day one it feels as if the main event
is almost dead in the water, and yet the conference fringe is alive with ideas and
opportunities for learning and information exchange.
The problems with the main conference began with the draft declaration that the
assembled heads of state will eventually sign, released by our Brazilian hosts on
the eve of the summit. In the very first line it put forward that it had been developed
“with the full participation of civil society” – a claim that so incensed civil
society organisations that they insisted on its deletion.
It feels as if we are fighting to defend modest gains made as a result of the original
Earth Summit, instead of building on the platform that event created to take further
What the Earth Summit promised was a kind of contract that would enable rich and
poor countries to work together in the common cause of sustainable development.
Unfortunately the terms of that contract have never been properly honoured, and
the draft declaration suggest that those terms are showing signs of unravelling.
That is why the start of proceedings on day one inside the chamber was accompanied
by two big demonstrations on the streets outside.
What Islamic Relief and other aid agencies would like to see is real commitment
to change and real political will at the highest level, not heads of state at best
reaffirming or at worst simply noting or rehashing what has gone before.
I’ve been encouraged by the presence of various faith-based organisations, although
I wish were more influential. There is some talk of the need for a change in values,
a shift away from money and profit and towards greater social justice and environmental
sustainability – in a sense the kind of things that make human beings truly human.
We have much to contribute to this part of the debate, but our voices are being
heard relatively little except on the sidelines.
At least in the fringe events I am finding plenty of ideas and inspiration, and
opportunities to strengthen partnerships with others who share our perspective.
The issues under discussion have big implications for Islamic Relief’s work, and
it is a positive opportunity to be here to learn and to contribute.