Excited to Wake Up!
The wonderful thing about a first day is the inherent enthusiasm and curiosity you feel when you wake up in the morning. You know that something good will come from it, but what? Excitement! In this spirit, Anna, Sunserae, Nikolaj, Johannes, Ilke, Laura, Maciej and I woke up at 6.30am on June 15th, ready for our first day as student reporters at the 3rd Preparatory Committee Meeting of the UN Conference on Sustainable Development. None of us had attended a conference as large as this one before: 500 side events were scheduled to take place for a total of 30,000 pre-registered attendees. On the bus ride to the Centro de Convenções do Riocentro, the main conference venue, we could only imagine all the interesting and important people we were about to meet: official UN delegates, business leaders, NGO directors, activists, social innovators and representatives of the civil society.
The aim of this 3rd Preparatory Meeting is to draft the agenda for the high-level Rio+20 gathering taking place June 20th to 22nd, at which delegates from around the world are supposed to negotiate “The Future We Want.”
Here we are!
At 8.40 am we finally arrived on site. A security process followed. Within 20 minutes each one of us had obtained the conference badge. Before stepping through the main entrance into the Rio+20 frenzy, a brief photo session ensued: we took pictures of single team members, a team photo and a photo of our photographer to return the favor.
Then, Anna and Nikolaj went off to meet with some members of the youth delegation who they had met previously at the “Youth Blast.” Others, like myself, wandered to the registration desk where we were handed a gift bag. The content consisted of a ballpoint pen and pencil made of FSC certified wood, a notepad of which its carbon emissions, according to the fine print, had already been offset, a small beauty kit by EKOS and a reusable plastic water bottle. After crossing through the second conference hall (there are five in total), we headed over to the food court for coffee and breakfast, in order to discuss our game plan for the day.
A Front Row Seat in the Negotiations
I joined Ilke and Sunserae for a working group meeting in which a subset of the delegates were arguing over a particular phrase noted in one of the paragraphs of the zero draft. The negotiations went back and forth, the English accents were often difficult to understand, some of the delegates did not speak up loud enough, the room was too packed, people kept on going in and out and every now and then, the delegates would get up from their seat and huddle together to whisper something to one another about some details of linguistic finesse (or so I assumed).
Frankly, the whole affair bored me after 15 minutes. From a practical point of view, it seemed impossible that the 50 delegates in the room, each with a slightly different understanding and set of interests, could reach anything more than a vague conclusion. Call me young and impatient, but the radical changes necessary for “The Future We Want,” would happen elsewhere. I got up from my seat, and left the room.
In Pursuit of Change Agents
I consulted the information desk for a program of the side events and two of them stuck out to me: “Sustainable Lifestyles 2050” and “Implementation of the SEEA: The International Statistical Standard for Environmental-Economic Accounting.” I will write in greater detail about both events in two separate blog posts.
For now, just so much: One of the panelists at “Sustainable Lifestyles 2050” was William S. Becker, the founder and principal of Rio+20’s “The Future We Want“ campaign. In his talk, he explained the importance of unleashing the power of positive vision and highlighted some of the change agents he had met through his campaign. Boom! My curiosity was sparked.
After the panel, I went up to him, introduced myself and asked him for an interview. Two hours later we were chatting in front of the “Future We Want” exhibition. A meeting of minds followed, inspiration filled the exhibition space, and an amazing one-hour conversation unfolded. Of course, a post including his interview is currently in the making!
Finding Inspiration with the Number Crunchers
At 5.30 pm I stepped into room T-9. Panelists included Verte Vanderweerd from the Human Development Index, Glenn-Marie Lange from the World Bank and head of the WAVES partnership, Aldo Rawazzi from the Italian Ministry of the Environment, Peter Harper from the Bureau of Statistics in Australia, Steven Stone from the Energy and Trade Department of the UNEP, Pedro Muñoz Diaz from EuroSTAT and panel moderator Ivo Havinga from the United Nations Statistics Department.
The event’s main objective was to inform the public about the Statistical Standard for Environmental-Economic Accounting (SEEA), a relatively new central framework which should complement GDP and help nations account for the environment. I didn’t see it coming, but behind the gray suits and the serious critical look which is so typical for statisticians, I sensed a happy, almost ecstatic mood. Soon I found out why: The SEEA was created at the Rio Earth Summit in 1992 and now, at last, their twenty years of work paid out and could be presented. The SEEA, a set of internationally agreed standard concepts, definitions, accounting rules for producing internationally comparable statistics on the environment and its relationship with the economy, was finally ready!
So, much to my surprise and thanks to the statisticians, my first day at Rio+ 20 ended on a positive note! Results and change agents dominated my day in spite of the initial political inertia I encountered. Of course, this is only my personal experience, and certainly those reporters who followed the main negotiation process such as Nikolaj and Anna, saw fewer achievements in the political arena. But then, nobody said it would be easy to create “The Future We Want.” We must try relentlessly, anyways.