Journal of Human Rights and the Environment

Rio+20: sustainable injustice in a time of crises

Sam Adelman *

Keywords: sustainable development, green economy, neoliberalism, coloniality, ecology of knowledges, indigenous knowledge, climate justice


This article argues that Rio+20 failed because it replicated the failings of sustainable development in the form of green economy. Against a backdrop of discrete but overlapping crises, including the global economic crisis, climate change and a growing crisis of food insecurity, the final text seemed oblivious to the slow wearing out of neoliberalism, dogmatically insisting on the panacea of market-based solutions to climate change and environmental destruction. 1 As such, the text symbolizes the epistemological crisis of technoscientific Eurocentric rationality. Using Walter Mignolo's concept of coloniality and Boaventura de Sousa Santos's call for the cultivation of an ecology of knowledges, this article examines the transformative potential of subaltern forms of jurisprudence, such as the People's Agreement on Climate Change and the Rights of Mother Earth. It argues that a significant epistemological shift is required to enable humanity to confront the injustices perpetuated by the vision embodied in the Rio+20 final document.

Author Notes

I would like to thank the editors and anonymous reviewers of the Journal for their critique and comments on this work. In particular, I would like to thank Evadne Grant, Karen Morrow and Anna Grear for their extensive editorial engagement with this article. Any errors remain mine alone.

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