6 Things to Expect from Rio+20


Written by Paula Alvarado

There’s a mixture of excitement and lack of actual expectations around the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development, Rio+20, which will officially be held from June 20 to 22 in Rio de Janeiro, but which will be surrounded by a series of events around the city that kicked off the first days of this month with the World Environmental Day celebrations.

Such events and active participation from civil society are part of the “excitement” part: unlike the first Earth Summit in 1992, Rio+20 has actively encouraged the participation of city governments, NGOs, the private sector and everyone who wanted in on the discussion. A step bound to have the many people that are flooding Rio talking about the event, regardless if there are any results or not.

Which brings us to the “lack of expectations” part: negotiations are seriously slow and organizers have not been shy in saying they won’t be “idealistic.” There are reasons to agree with that posture and reasons to fight it. I happen to have little faith in the global negotiations process and more hope for cities and governments’ actions, and so I think the event will be successful in connecting and amplifying individual efforts more than coordinate global ones (a question to be asked is how we could measure those individual efforts to understand what we are achieving).

This writer will be heading north-east to Rio de Janeiro to cover the event for TreeHugger, so in advance to that here are some thoughts on what we’re expecting:

1. Negotiations not to be groundbreaking

Brazil’s head of environment at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and chief negotiator on climate change, Andre Correa do Lago, was very clear in his words at a press conference last February: “It is not an idealistic conference, we are not going to say we are saving the planet through goals and measures that we know are not going to be taken seriously.”

What’s being discussed here is a definition of what sustainable development means, a framework in which to draw long term policies. Even if that’s easy to understand on a general level, negotiators are going through every single word: “extreme” poverty is not the same than poverty, “safe and clean” water is not the same than just safe water. So it doesn’t seem like great announcements are going to come from the event, but more of a common view of the path forward.

2. Action to concentrate outside the offices

This goes in line with the previous remarks, and was suggested by Rodrigo Rosa, Rio+20 coordinator at Rio de Janeiro’s Mayor’s Office, in an interview with TreeHugger: “Rio+20’s strength will not be inside the offices, but in the movement. This year we’ll have a great amount of parallel events that didn’t happen in 1992. Politicians are reactive, they take decisions after there’s will in civil society. I think Rio+20 will contribute to that.”

Hardcore environmentalists will say momentum has already been built, and that might be true. I can say, however, that this event is generating more ‘green’ discussion in South America than the climate negotiations (COP) have in the past.

3. Cities to be protagonists

It’s no news that mayors around the world are stepping ahead of national governments in terms of environmental action, and this fact is a hopeful one: applying new policies in cities is politically easier than changing programs on a national level, and considering more than half the world population lives in cities, the impact of these actions is not small.

Within the conference Humanidade 2012, the Cities Climate Leadership Group (C40) will have a Mayors’ Summit, in which the group’s chairman New York City Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg and Rio de Janeiro Mayor Eduardo Paes will host mayors and officials from 26 urban centers.

“Discussions about sustainability are necessarily discussions about sustainability in cities,” said Rosa. “The mayor of London said, ‘There’s no copyright in public policy,’ and thank God for that. Because if we start copying what other cities are doing right, the change is going to be faster.”

4. Alternative growth measurement talk

We’ve said it before and we’ll say it again: coming up with alternative ways to measure the health of our economies besides GDP is essential to ensure we don’t commodify nature and therefore create a sustainable future.

In the before mentioned press conference, negotiator Correa do Lago agreed that this is “key” at Rio+20: “The idea of new indicators is very much in the agenda of the conference. Obviously some countries are worried about that, because they believe that if we create new indicators, maybe they will be used against them. But I think we can do a good job in that area, this is a key issue on the conference.”

5. High profile speakers, tons of ideas

The diversity and quality of events everywhere will flood the city with ideas and case studies. The Rio Plus Social event alone will have among its speakers media magnate Ted Turner, former presidents of Brazil and Chile Fernando Henrique Cardoso and Michelle Bachelet, Virgin founder Richard Branson, and Mashable’s Pete Cashmore, among many others. The Peoples Summit’s program is so vast, it seems there are going to be more events than people.

6. Involvement from Civil society

Environmental negotiations have long been a place for diplomats and a few very specialized press correspondents, but the change that began with the COP15 in Copenhagen will deepen in Rio+20. The main purpose of campaigns such as Rio Plus Social and Rio Plus You has been to make people understand how the event connects to their lives and why they should care about it.

So, What do you think? Are you paying attention to Rio+20? What are your expectations?

This post was originally published by TreeHugger.


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Photo from PedroKirilos via flickr


Cheryl B.
Cheryl B5 years ago

thanks for telling the world

Terry Vanderbush
Terry V5 years ago


Ela V.
Ela V5 years ago

i have a lot of expectations from point 3

Loo Samantha
Loo sam5 years ago


Ruhee B.
Ruhee B5 years ago

I agree with Cecily! I couldn't see the issue of over population mentioned at all in their list for discussion!!

Liz Edwards
Joan Edwards5 years ago

Just another snore fest! Nothing will come out of it.
The word "sustainability" is fast becoming archaic.
Our planet was once colourful. Blue oceans, green trees, flowers and birds of all colours of the spectrum. Lush with life.
In a few short 50 years we have turned the healthy, living planet into a chemical waste dump.

Is this our "Armageddon"?

Alki N.
Alki N.5 years ago

Our cities were not built with the environment in mind, especially those that have grown out of control since cars became a commodity. We should be able to do most of our daily activities by walking from home, especially for shopping.
It's all our society that needs to be rethink, and I think it can come only from the younger generations. They were the ones who brought deep changes in the past.

Herbert E.
Herbert E5 years ago

Lots of hot air will come out of Rio 20, adding further to climate warming. Remember Copenhagen ?

Margaret Paddock
M A Paddock5 years ago

Oh I am watching this event to see how much control the governments want over all the countries because that is what this is about - not the environment.
City and county governments here are doing well implementing the "green" programs and could do much more without federal interference. They could also do more if the federal government would cease taking funds away and let the cities and counties control it. True when it comes to roadways and huge projects that impact intrastate commerce states do need help, but for the most part they do best on their own.

Right now Colorado would be doing a lot better if the water rights had not been established through government "help" and the farmers could be watering their crops. The same is true in California and I am sure in other states. Look at the farmland that dried up under Johnson because of the idiotic plan to pay farmers not to grow crops.

It is very evident that we do not need more government control. Look at the European countries that have a socialist government - the senseless Euro dollar has caused financial ruin. Now all these countries are very vulnerable to being put under one controlling government or financial institution. They will loose even more control of their own country.

Mankind never looks to history as a great lesson of its' failures but listens instead to empty promises of control freaks who only want money and power for themselves. We are not advanced enough to have a central power yet - t

eusebio vestias
Eusebio vestias5 years ago

Com o aumento global da temperatura O mundo vai ter de enfrentar vários problemas O futuro não será maravilhoso mas não podemos baixar os braços A conferência do Rio 20 eos lideres mundias Que tenham suloções para o Meio Ambiente uma economia sustentavel e a erradicação da pobresa