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There's Still Time to Make Rio +20 Memorable for More Than Rio's Picture-Perfect Scenery PDF Print E-mail
2012 - June 2012
Written by Michael Oko   
Monday, 18 June 2012 22:38

Rio's Environment Conference Rio +20 I've been to many great cities around the world, but none surpass Rio's stunning setting. The city sits along the coast, where ocean waves splash up on wide, white sand beaches. Across the way, mountain peaks line Rio's winding roads. It's winter here, though it sure doesn't feel like it. Temperatures are in the mid-70s, with a cool breeze in the evenings. Not a bad place to spend a few days. In some ways, this beautiful setting could make you forget about the environmental challenges

we face, which is, after all, the reason I'm here. This week, some 50,000 people are expected to gather in Rio to advance solutions around sustainability. That sounds like a good idea, but, like many others, I'm struggling to figure out what exactly it means.
To a large extent, the conference is split into two parts: negotiations around the formal text, which will become the official outcome document for the summit, and the informal sessions.

In the former, negotiators are wrangling over the words that will hopefully culminate in a meaningful global agreement on sustainability.

In the informal sessions, groups and individuals are meeting to discuss the issues of the day and will hopefully come up with ideas that will help us make headway on the big environmental challenges, like climate change, water scarcity, and deforestation, among many others.
The World Resources Institute (WRI) is quite active on both fronts. Many of my colleagues are pushing to strengthen the language in the official outcome document.

Others are leading or participating in events, working with leaders in business, government, and civil society to identify opportunities or come up with new strategies. In total, WRI experts are organizing or presenting in more than 25 events.
On Saturday, we participated in the Sustainable Development Dialogue on Fighting Poverty. Manish Bapna, WRI's interim president, participated, along with representatives from nine other organizations.

It was a diverse panel ranging from elite academics to indigenous advocates. Perhaps not surprisingly, the dialogue itself was equally broad: the speakers discussed 10 ideas about how to advance sustainability efforts to fight poverty and promote economic development.
After three hours, the picture was becoming pretty blurry. Everyone had good intentions, but it was hard to coalesce around a unified vision.
Toward the end, Manish raised his hand to provide some closing thoughts. He spoke eloquently about the challenge before us. As he explained, the Rio negotiations are not headed in a positive direction.

Despite the scale of the issues, the emerging text appears to be weakened in key areas, potentially even moving backward from previous conferences, such as Johannesburg in 2002 and the Rio Earth Summit in 1992.
My ears really perked up as Manish described how the blame rests partly within the mainstream environmental movement. It's clear that in recent years, environmental groups and their supporters have bolstered their case based on scientific understanding and economics.

However, we've recently fallen short when it comes to pushing for action based on rights, fairness, and equity. Looking at other recent popular movements - like the Arab Spring and Occupy Wall St. - it's clear that the environmental movement could do more to tap into people's underlying passion that can, in turn, garner the attention of public officials.

Without such pressure, it's hard to imagine political leaders taking the urgent action on sustainability that we need today.
This perspective resonates here at Rio+20. Despite the impressive set-up, there continues to be a yawning disconnect between the urgency of the challenges we face and the urgency for action.
As we enter the second - and final - week at Rio, we will need world leaders to step up with more ambitious commitments along with concrete solutions. I'm hopeful that the side events, informal meetings, and networking together can produce some positive results, along with fresh thinking and a renewed energy.
As heads of state prepare to arrive in Rio, they need to realize that the battles should not be focused inside the negotiating rooms.

The battles should address how to shake off the clutches of the vested interests as we enhance environment protection and find a path forward for sustainable economic development.

They should come here to make sure that people and the planet can live together. That's what they should be fighting for.
There's no doubt that this summit won't solve everything. But there's still a real opportunity to make sure Rio+20 will be remembered for more than just the pretty scenery.

Michael Oko is media director of the World Resources Institute, in Washington, DC

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Comments (6)Add Comment
Dumb Article
written by Diogo, June 18, 2012

Despite the impressive set-up, there continues to be a yawning disconnect between the urgency of the challenges we face and the urgency for action.

Hopefully the 50,000 people coming to advance solutions will not be swimming in Copacabana or Leblon on a really bad pollution day. All the strides made since Rio Earth Summit 20 years ago.smilies/cheesy.gif

written by wisemann, June 18, 2012
they should come to ipanema between posto 8 and posto 9
Good point embarrassing
written by A Brazilian, June 20, 2012

Hopefully the 50,000 people coming to advance solutions will not be swimming in Copacabana or Leblon on a really bad pollution day. All the strides made since Rio Earth Summit 20 years ago.

Back to reality: Dilma stays the course - agreed on by both the Left and the Right in Brazil.
written by jan z. volens, June 25, 2012
Two weeks before Rio+20 , Dilma before a definite assembly of Brazil's environmentalists: "Anybody who thinks that Brazil will stop building hydroelectric-dams in the Amazon region, lives in a fantasy-world!" A couple days ago, Simon Romero, the NYT's Brazil correspondent titled his "post-Rio+20" report: "As growth ebbs, Brazil powers up its bulldozers." Followed by a detailed analysis of the broad strategic government participation togeter with the private business sector - towards an expanding econonmy that can lift the socio-economic level of the average family in Brazil. It is not a "winner gets all" and "cut entitlements" policy as in the USA. Both the Left and the Right have agreed on that: The "foreign" NGOs of the U.S. and NATO-Europe (Greenpeace, WWF of Prince Charles, Survival International, International River, etc.) ARE NOT GOING TO PARALYZE THE INDEPENDENT DEVELOPMENT IN BRAZIL.
Picture perfect?
written by gringodingo, July 05, 2012
Rio is an open sewer. It stinks everywhere you go, and what is this picture perfect crap? You see oil platforns and refineries from the polluted beaches. What a PERFECT city for the leaders of the world to say "phuck the environment" Because RIO already has.

I couldn't wait to get out of that hole, I gagged every day because of the putrid smell.
written by gringodingo, July 05, 2012
No need to worry jan z. volens, Brazilians are taking over the main executive roles of those "conspiring NGOs" (lol) in Brazil, which means they'll be run like crap, become ineffective, lazy and well, in a word, Brazilan.

So, the bulldozers, human rights abuses, pistoleiros and corrupt projects under PAC (Programa de Aceleração da Corrupção) will continue. Don't you worry, Brazil will never change.

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