Tag Archives: Rio +20

What a disappointment..but there’s hope

23 Jun

Well what a disappointment Rio+20 was, or at least the official UN conference. Once again, like previous environmental conferences politicians keep kicking the real decisions to be made into the long-grass. In the final text there are vague assertions about the direction to be taken, but if any organisation had spent a year and huge amounts of resources developing a plan such as this they’d think it had all been a waste of time if there were no specific targets, no deadlines and no resources committed. I’m particularly concerned about how sustainability appears to be defined in the document (see also George Monbiot’s discussion). The three traditional pillars are highlighted – economic, environmental and social – but the economic aspect has mutated into the requirement of sustained economic growth. Some areas of the world definitely do need economic growth to lift their populations out of poverty but sustained economic growth for the whole world is not a recipe for solving the major environmental challenges we face but to accentuate them. One paragraph is truly troubling:

“We recognize that urgent action on unsustainable patterns of production and consumption where they occur remains fundamental in addressing environmental sustainability and promoting conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity and ecosystems, regeneration of natural resources and the promotion of sustained, inclusive and equitable global growth.”

If anyone can explain to me how sustainable patterns of consumption and production are compatible with sustained global growth please let me know. Unless they mean they aim to promote the continued expansion of the globe itself?

And what were the leaders doing for 3 days in Rio? With the text agreed before they arrived and the Brazilians trying to prevent chaos by refusing to reopen the text they made set speeches (how dull and fruitless, couldn’t they have just emailed them to each other), had pretty pictures taken and visited the sights (I definitely spotted the Venezulans heading up to the statue of Christ the Redeemer).

Venezuala's ministers enjoy a trip up Corcovado

Venezuala’s ministers enjoy a trip up Corcovado

But elsewhere in the city there was a little bit more hope. At the people’s summit there were some excellent workshops, talks, theatre, music and so much passion and warmth and lots of connections being made between groups from across the world. I went to a fantastic talk about ecovillages and the challenges and benefits of living in communities from Macaco Tamerice from Damanhur in Italy. I was particularly interested in the new currency that they are planning on setting up between ecovillages in Europe with the potential to open it up to other people with similar interests as a means to create a more localised economy separate from the current system.

The Rural Women’s Assembly was full of inspiring, strong women standing up for their communities and livelihoods. Particularly striking was a young woman from South Africa who talked about how they had challenged a pharmaceutical company that had patented their traditional medicinal knowledge as a weight loss solution, claiming that the community had died out. A woman form Lesotho described how they had formed co-operatives in order to have a stronger voice and that the government is now meeting and listening to them and how they were sharing and multiplying their seeds to have more resilience. A women from Paraguay also told how the different indigenous groups were meeting to share their experiences to make their opposition stronger.

The Rural Women's Assembly

The Rural Women’s Assembly

Another discussion focused on the campaign for climate jobs (jobs that help reduce CO2 emissions)  in the current economic climate around the world with so many people are unemployed. Issues were raised about the challenge of linking the environmentalists and people focused on poverty or jobs whilst a guy from Zimbabwe raised concerns about becoming dependent on technology from developed countries without the technical skills to maintain it. He told how Zimbabwe had had solar energy since the 1990s, but that the loss of scientists and engineers meant that when anything broke it could not be fixed.

The final workshop I went to was about biomimicry – taking inspiration from nature. There were some fascinating examples, including adding bobbles on the edges of wind turbines based on hump-backed whales which improves they efficiency by 30%, basing the shape of cars on the boxfish which actually makes them more aerodynamic and uses less material, harvesting dew in the desert based on a beatle’s shell with the aim to create a forest in the Sahara. On a larger scale people are also working to create production systems that work like an ecosystem. Its all really interesting work but we also need to make sure that these systems are definitely beneficial and more sustainable products and systems.

So the people’s summit was great. I met some people who are working on environmental projects here in Rio so I hope I can get more involved in those. However, I was disappointed with a few things, the lack of information about what was going on and where, the lack of real examples at the summit about how we can live more sustainably (there was virtually no renewable energy generated onsite despite the sunshine!) and the masses of consumerism. Not corporate consumerism but half the people present seemed to be selling something, in particular from the indigenous groups. Their way of life has been trampled, they often have little space to grow food and survive, this was a great opportunity to sell a few things, but I felt sad to see so many feathered ornaments, belts and necklaces set out for sale and people spending time selling things instead of building campaigns and connections.

So Rio+20 is over. Once again there were many disappointments, it has not been a transformative moment, and it seems that we do not have the leaders with the vision and courage to truly face up to the challenge. So instead it is up to us as individuals and communities to build the future we want.


The people march

21 Jun Greenpeace calling for a green and fairer world

Wow! Today was the global mobilisation connected to Rio+20 and I joined the march in the centre of Rio. The march was deafening, the sound of whistles and singing is still ringing in my ears, with trucks passing through the crowds with enormous loudspeakers getting the crowds chanting and singing songs that everybody seemed to know. There was a great atmosphere. As would be expected in the home of samba there were lots of bands and people dancing. Lots of imaginative protest on display as well with large trade union groups (the universities are currently on strike), environmental groups from across the world and peasant and indigenous rights groups. There was a huge diversity of civil society from Brazil present and a surprisingly low police presence. They didn’t really seem to know what was going on with traffic chaos caused when the march was too long for one of the main streets and end up blocking a square that I don’t think it was supposed to – the police just stood around looking on. Whether the leaders that assembled at the main conference took any notice I don’t know – the office staff definitely knew we were there. Check the photos out below.

A little bit of Rio (+20) here I come

18 Jun Any costume goes

Everywhere in Rio seems to be getting in on the action of Rio+20. Here’s just a taster….

You feel that a bit of exercise to some crazy disco beats is going to get you in the mood to take action for sustainability come to the massive, weirdly empty arena at Copacabana beach…

Exercise for Rio+20!

Exercise for Rio+20!

Want to be a tourist and ride the train to the top of Corcovado mountain for a spectacular view, no problem, your helping create a better world….

Ride the tram for Rio+20

Ride the tram for Rio+20

Even Christ the Redeemer has turned green in the name of sustainability…

Christ the Redeemer turns green

And then there are the fantastic costumes and dancing to be found across the People’s Summit. My particular favourite and the women in something like shaggy cow costumes with enormous paper breasts. I think they were a group campaigning for women’s rights in Brazil.

Any costume goes

Any costume goes

I apologise if some of the above sounds too skeptical. However, the cariocas (people from Rio) definitely seem to be embracing Rio+20. There’s an exhibition at the fort on Copacobana beach about humanity including video and art installations, interactive activities, exhibitions on biodiversity, workshops and examples of sustainability in action. The focus like much of Rio+20 seems to be on how to combine economic growth with beneficial social impacts and respect for the environment. This event has been hugely popular completely exceeding the organisers expectations – 45,000 people visited it on Saturday and when we tried to go yesterday there was a two hour queue stretching about 500 metres down the road. We’re hoping to see inside later on in the week. As a worker at a public organisation I will get a special Rio holiday from Wednesday – Friday! The main aim is to reduce traffic on the road when all the Ministers arrive for the main UN Conference…we’ll see how well it works, but I’m happy that I’m free to spend time at the various events.

The queue for Humanity 2012

the queue continues

Rio+20 comes to town

17 Jun The world from above

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!