Rio+20 comes to town

17 Jun

Everywhere around Rio there are little reminders of the arrival of Rio+20 in town. Although the main summit is happening far out to the West of the main city there are activities at the museums, art galleries, ‘the world from above’ exhibition in the centre with a huge map of the globe to walk and dance on as well as the increased presence of soldiers and the military police. I’ve really wanted to make it to the people’s summit, a gathering of groups from all over the world to explore and discuss ideas. I feel ashamed that I haven’t followed all the politics and the build-up to the Rio+20 conference so I want to immerse myself and learn as much as possible whilst it is going on.

The world from above

The world from above

We wandered through the people’s summit yesterday. It’s quite an amazing spectacle. Huge marquees, tents and stalls spread along the Parque do Flamengo along the beachfront near the centre of the city with hundreds of people milling around. There are several different sections based around different areas of struggles – Social Justice and Environmental Rights, Defense of the Commons Against the Market, Food Sovereignty, Energy and Extraction Industries, Work towards an alternative economy and a new paradigm for Society. Each theme seems to be organised by a different group and so has quite a different atmosphere. The area around Energy and Extraction Industries is organised by a few companies and has little enclosed meeting rooms set-up with touch-screens to sign-up to the discussions, whilst elsewhere the marquees are open-sided with handed painted banners and scrawled paper signs, or groups of people meeting under the trees. There is a huge diverse range of groups, from local Rio environmental groups working on reforestation, to international organisations such as Greenpeace, lots of indigenous groups from across South America , small companies and everyone inbetween! I hope I will manage to make it to one of the big plenary sessions in the next few days, I’m really interested to see how common decisions are made across such diverse groups.

Enter the People's Summit!

Enter the People’s Summit!

Discussion under the trees

Discussion under the trees

I find the the economic activity that goes alongside these events fascinating as well – they have there own specific consumerism that seems to be similar here in Rio to events I’ve been to in the UK or elsewhere. You’ll find tie-dyed clothes, woven bags, Marxist books, posters and T-shirts, beaded jewellery and organic food, with the areas with stalls selling handicrafts and produce busier than the workshops!

I’ve also been lucky to chat to some of the negotiators from the Ugandan and DRC groups, taking a little time out to enjoy the atmosphere in Rio at a beautiful bar just below Sugarloaf mountain. Although they told us that they are still so many sticking points and only a third of the final document is agreed they still seem optimistic about the negotiations. I suppose they have to remain so and it seems there is always a way to reach a decision you just have to know what each side wants and what you are prepared to give. For these countries their main issue appears to be funding for moving towards a ‘green economy’ (the buzzword for this event) whilst the developed nations refuse to contemplate fixing a specific figure in the final document. From my perspective it seems crazy not to invest what is a paltry figure in global economic terms (they are discussing $30bn – $100bn) to support countries to leapfrog to a more sustainable economy. It seems crazy as well that  all the money spent by governments during the economic crises has not been focused on taking us towards a more sustainable path. I really hope that technology and science can in the future develop a more open-source approach, enabling everybody to benefit from the best research into renewable energy. However, countries seem to be becoming more fixated on national sovereignty and the protection of their specific interests. But perhaps that has always been the case and in my naivety I hoped there might be a stronger global spirit driving international negotiations. I also hope that the paradigm of ever-continuing economic growth may change…but that’s another discussion!

Discussing Rio+20 with an amazing view

Discussing Rio+20 with an amazing view

If you want to read more about the negotiations happening inside the conference there is an excellent daily news bulletin from the IISD – you just need to get through the acronyms!

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