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Bond, Patrick (2012) Water rights, climate, ‘environmental services’ and post-neoliberal strategy from Johannesburg to Rio+20: A critique of liberal NGO and neoliberal Green Economy narratives. Paper presented to the Workshop on Climate Change Discourses, Rights and the Poor, Christian Michelsen Institute, Norway : 1-20.

A rights-based climate agenda can potentially challenge the dominant market narrative with respect to climate change reparations, adaptation and mitigation in the countries least responsible for the crisis. But learning from the case of water in the most advanced court challenge to neoliberal state power that has yet been adjudicated, in Johannesburg in 2009, it is just as likely that rights-talk can be coopted by neoliberalism. If that happens more systematically within the climate justice struggle in which court cases will emerge more frequently, momentum towards a genuine breakthrough against ‘Green Economy’ corporate control of global environmental governance could well be distracted. The classical problems associated with rights-based narratives – liberal individualism and disconnection from broader socio-economic and ecological processes – may continue to be crippling, as witnessed in the example of South African water policy, law and activism. And like the threat from a Paris-based water privatization company (Suez) to Soweto women who sued the city to change policies, the Rio+20 Earth Summit made these ideological arguments yet more critical. There, endorsement of market determinations of nature required a stronger countervailing ‘decommodification’ narrative. But the question posed here, is whether using human rights considerations will make this task any easier, and the answer arrived at is negative.

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