I had the opportunity to attend “Taste of Change,” a well orchestrated dinner that engaged farmers, NGOs, UN Officials, intellectuals and Swiss government officials. The dinner commemorated the partnership between the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation SDC, Biovision and the Millennium Institute, which exists in order to bring about sustainable agricultural and development practices. The dinner was co-hosted by the International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movements (IFOAM), Shumei, the Sustainable Food Trust and the World Society for the Protection of Animals (WSPA). In order to showcase the collaboration of the organizations, the hosting organizations brought together a celebrity chef and a local farmer to develop the menu. One of the best organic food chefs, Chef Domencia Catelli, a Northern Californian who has cooked for celebrities like Julia Roberts and Lady Gaga, worked with fifth generation Japanese-Brazilian farmer, Flavio Fujita, who farms only organic produce. Together they developed a menu that was strictly vegetarian and with explicit local produce.
Article is co-written by Tim Lehmann. In the face of global catastrophic climate change, emptying natural resources and worldwide scarcity, the United Nations Environmental Programme needs an upgrade, or so argued Nick Nuttall, United Nations Development Programme (UNEP) spokesperson at Rio+20 (see interview at the bottom). For too long, the environmental and social pillars of sustainable development have tip -toed along behind the economic pillar. The ambition to deliver full sustainable development is still a long way behind reality. One problem is that UNEP lacks universal membership, with only about 30 percent of UN countries involved, which seems to be inappropriate in an era in which we have acknowledged the international scope of environmental problems. Nutall argues that a stronger UNEP will increase capacity to deliver services to the world’s environmental ministers, with a resultant influence on national economic policy and international trade.
Protesters at Rio Centro during the UN Summit
The call for the end of fossil fuel subsidies echoed in all venues of Rio+20. The OECD identified more than 250 individual subsidies supporting fossil-fuel production or consumption valued at US $45-75 billion per year, similar to the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) of a country like Croatia or Ecuador. Greenpeace estimates are even higher; the NGO evaluated fossil fuel subsidies in 2012 at $775bn, which is equivalent to the GDP of the Netherlands or Turkey. Stretching over 40 kilometers, from the People’s Summit in Aterro do Flamengo, crossing to the Copacabana Fort all the way to Rio Centro and Parque dos Atletas in Barra da Tijuca, academics and specialists are unanimous in their opinion: fossil fuel subsidies must be extinguished because they are inefficient and prevent the economy from transitioning from the brown to green economy. Oil & Gas Corporations
Who needs the subsidies? Not the Oil & Gas (O&G) corporations. Half of the top ten largest publicly traded companies in the world by market cap are oil and gas producers. Their annual revenues are higher than most mid-size countries.
I spent two weeks tracking Rio+20 as a student reporter seeking to make sense of the sustainable development talks, listening to ministers, CEOs and scientists who opened up trail-blazing perspectives on changing economic and societal paradigms.
Most media judged it as meaningless, mainly due to its lack of political commitment, but to only focus on this would be wrong. As important was the momentum and narratives it created, which are seeding ideas among the younger generation that may actually change the way they will lead society and the economy in years to come. Rio+20 was a great platform for networking, conversations and knowledge exchange, bringing together experts from all over world to discuss specific topics such as climate change mitigation, social inclusion and ethical finance. The major ongoing impact from the conference will probably come from the world of business. There appears to have been a shift of thinking among corporates towards inclusive growth.
After two weeks of Rio+20, I have met many people who feel very uncertain about our environmental future. They throw their hands up in the air and ask: Why aren’t environmental issues getting the traction they deserve? In fact, I was one of them during the “Four Days of Dialogue.” When the panel for “Sustainable Energy for All” solicited questions from the floor, I stood and asked, “What took you so long? And what will you do, to ensure that it won’t take us so long again? Because if we don’t know what is preventing us from acting now, how will we be able to act faster in the future?” Five hundred fellow members of civil society heard me and applauded.
Located in the main conference venue for the Rio+20 UN Conference on Sustainable Development, the “Tree of Rio+20 Visions” wall displays a collective art initiative organized by WeCanada. Conference attendees were invited to add their own vision throughout the three-day event for “the future we want.” You can see the tree in the slideshow below.
Suppose you are an environmentally conscious consumer living in, say, Scotland. You walk into the supermarket and feel like buying, say, strawberries. You are offered a choice between strawberries that are locally grown and strawberries imported from Spain. Everything else being equal, which one would you go for? Most “conscious consumers” would arguably go for the local type, thinking that it would be better for the environment.
RIO DE JANEIRO, Brasil – Rarely does it happen in the world’s metropolises that the most valuable parcels of real estate are given to shanty towns. Slums are usually relegated to the suburbs, along the fringes of the city, far away from “normal” citizens and tourists. In Rio, the opposite is true. Few premier hotels and upper class condominiums offer such breath-taking views of the city and its coastline as do the favelas. And more and more of the city’s poor are “taking advantage of them.” Images: Visit of Favela Morro da Providencia (Source: Student Reporter).
I’ll be honest. I was one of those that didn’t have high expectations for Rio+20. If trying to agree with your partner can sometimes be challenging and requires good negotiation skills and patience, I can’t even imagine which kind of super-powers decision-makers and negotiators would need to reach a satisfactory outcome. How can people from all over the world, with completely different backgrounds and capabilities, needs and interests, ideals and understanding of reality agree upon something that might go against their countries’ short-term development and interests? I don’t think there are too many brave leaders that would be willing to sacrifice their political lives for long-term development and progress, whatever that really means.
What is the value of Rio+20 beyond the negotiations? The true value of the Rio+20 conference does not consist of its political outcome. Discussing the political relevance of the outcome document only distracts from the true value of this conference. Conversations and Networking: Connecting the World
We all know Forest Gump. The great and extraordinary man sitting on the bench – alone. I felt reminded of that situation when taking a break from the negotiations of the Rio+20 conference to have lunch at the park. Not far from me on a wooden bench was sitting a man, eating his sandwich – alone.