Posts Tagged ‘united nations conference on sustainable development’

Roundtable Reflections on Rio+20

July 30th, 2012

rio_paul_post_roundtableThe global Earth Summit, officially called the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development (UNCSD), took place in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, June 20-22, 2012. Although only three days long, the summit was preceded by a week or more of hundreds of related side meetings organized by environmental non-governmental organizations from across the globe, as well as an alternative People’s Summit.

Global Green USA, Green Cross International, and the District of Columbia Environmental Network (DCEN) organized a roundtable discussion in Washington, D.C. on July 26, 2012, one month after the Rio+20 Summit, with four NGO representatives who had attended the conference. I was joined by: Carl Bruch, Senior Attorney and Co-Director of International Programs with the Environmental Law Institute; Andrew Deutz, Director of International Government Relations with The Nature Conservancy; Jacob Scherr, Director of Global Strategy and Advocacy with the Natural Resources Defense Council. The roundtable was chaired by Chris Weiss, DCEN director.

The Rio+20 Summit was organized twenty years after the initial 1992 Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro, during which many countries, groups, and individuals cited serious warning signs that Planet Earth was being abused and potentially destroyed by the lack of sound environmental and public health practices in both developed and less developed countries and regions. Many of these same warning signs — global warming and climate change, widespread pollution, violence and war, poverty, lack of sanitation, overpopulation, consumerism and overuse of limited natural resources, infant and maternal mortality rates — continue to threaten human existence today and must be addressed.

The speakers all agreed that the Rio conference was successful in some ways, especially as a global clarion call to governments, corporations, and people to accelerate their planning, commitments, and action to address these growing threats to human existence. Written in the long, 53-page final document from the conference, “The Future We Want” is the following: “We… renew our commitment to sustainable development and to ensuring the promotion of an economically, socially, and environmentally sustainable future for our planet and for present and future generations.”

Rio +20, what some called a mega-conference, brought together thousands of participants — estimates include some 10,000+ government representatives, 10,000+ NGO representatives, more than 4,000 media representatives, and possibly as many as another 50,000 individuals who joined the hundreds of meetings. This was the first such massive global gathering of the internet age, and was a major challenge for the Brazilian hosts to organize and manage; the speakers agreed, however, that the conference organizers did a very impressive and efficient job of moving the tens of thousands of delegates around the mega-city and providing good security, support services, and transportation.

The primary focus of Rio+20 was poverty eradication, noted many times in the final official document and no doubt indicative of the growing importance of the BRIC countries — Brazil, Russia, India, and China. The speakers noted that Rio+20 was much more global in scope that the 1992 Earth Summit, with much more active participation from developing countries and the non-aligned movement (NAM); the shift over the last two decades has clearly been made from the Group of Seven (G-7) to the Group of Twenty (G-20) and beyond, making for a much more multipolar world.

The Earth Summit also emphasized the growing importance of cities and urban regions, given that they will house most of the world’s population and contribute to most of the earth’s environmental problems. The final conference document underlined the need for sustainable cities, which focus on a “holistic approach to urban development,” including affordable housing, conservation, affordable and sustainable transport and energy, reduce, recycle, reuse practices, and increased public awareness and “enhanced public participation in decision-making.”

The roundtable speakers emphasized that some 700 pledges totaling over $500 billion were made by many governments and corporations at the conference to address a wide range of challenges, such as energy efficiency, reforestation, and pollution remediation. The speakers underlined the importance now of civil society to hold the governments and corporations accountable, and to help track these pledges. The United Nations has pledged to also track these pledges, and the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), has developed a website, “Cloud of Commitments,” which has listed more than 200 significant commitments to date. The majority of these are in the energy field, while cities appear to have accrued the largest financial commitments to date.

Also noted in the discussion was that there were very few, if any, binding national commitments in the final document, leading some critics to criticize the lack of leadership and pro-active steps by governments at the summit to address sustainable development in a timely and urgent way. Some participants also noted that some of the governments (and non-governmental groups) really did not focus on the historic gathering until just a few months prior, also leading to a lack of substantial progress at Rio. One speaker called the summit a “stepping stone, not a turning point,” towards saving the planet, and another criticized the summit for not addressing the failure to meet many of the 2015 Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).

However, all the speakers still spoke positively of the Rio+20 Summit, and felt that it has set the stage for potential progress towards new Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to replace the MDGs in 2015. But they all agreed that it will now be crucially important for civil society, including NGOs and subnational groups such as cities and states, to hold governments and multilateral organizations, including the United Nations Environmental Program (UNEP), accountable for pressing forward to help save our increasingly fragile planet.

Student Spotlight: Claire Goldberg

July 18th, 2012
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Claire (left), with Severn Cullis-Suzuki

Claire Goldberg is a student at Santa Monica High School, just down the road from the Global Green office, and she is active in The Samohi Solar Alliance, a student environmental group. For her work to green her school and local environment, she was among the student leaders we invited to join the Green Cross International/Global Green delegation to the Rio+20 Earth Summit in June.

“I went to Rio+20 with Global Green because I wanted to show people what my club was doing to try to help educate people, lessen our school and our community’s carbon footprint, and make Santa Monica a more environmentally friendly place,” she says. “I wanted to show that if we can do it, then almost everybody can. Although funding is a big problem, I think being environmentally friendly starts with being educated of all the problems and how easy it is to solve them.” Below, she shares with us some observations about the experience.

I learned…. that it is much harder to change than one would expect. When I went to a favela to experience how life is in an impoverished area, I realized that these people couldn’t simply just take shorter showers or change a light bulb. Due to the lack of a sewage system within the little town, people were forced to dump their trash into the local river, causing the water to be polluted and giving off gasses like sulfur and methane. When we were walking, we saw a man burning a piece of plastic trash, which gave off poisonous fumes. These people do not have the luxuries that we do, and do not even have the chance to learn how to change their lifestyles. These people would have a very hard time changing the way they live because of the poverty, lack of a sewage system, and especially lack of governmental help.

I was inspired by… the sheer amount of people that were there to make a difference. Seeing all the people that had come from all over the world to work together was amazing to me, and made me realize that if we all work hard to change our lifestyles, we can make a big impact of the environment.

I was excited to…. meet and hear Severn Suzuki during a Green Cross event. She is one of my idols, and hearing her advice and ideas was really wonderful. She told me that I need to be simple when confronting people about environmental issues. This really made an impact of me, because I had always focused on trying to get the most facts to put into a letter or trying to impress people with numbers and statistics. Now that I know to be simple and straightforward, it will help me really make an impact.

I learned from the another student…. about hydroponic farming. Meeting Pierre Beauchamp, who works with hydroponic and aquaponic farming was really interesting to me. It seemed like a really good idea that would potentially change the ideas of agriculture. We also got to talk about how important the ideas of local people are, because if politicians put funding into the ideas that everyday people have, then together we can create multiple solutions. I can bring back these ideas to my school club, The Samohi Solar Alliance, and we can work on talking to local politicians or groups about bringing in these solutions to our community.

I was surprised by… how I had never realized how much consumption and production has to go into everything we do. When I was there, seeing all the people that were a part of the conference, I started to grasp how overpopulated we are and how much we unnecessarily consume everyday. I felt like one of the biggest problems we face right now is that our environment can’t handle the amount of people in the world and all of the products they consume daily. Although there are no obvious solutions to the high population, it is definitely a huge problem that we need to either fix or work around.

Student Spotlight: Pierre Beauchamp

July 11th, 2012
Photo by Elizabeth Crowe

Photo by Elizabeth Crowe

Pierre Beauchamp is one of the winners of our Citizen Entrepreneur Contest and was also among the student leaders we invited to join the Green Cross International/Global Green delegation to the Rio+20 Earth Summit in June. Below, he shares with us some observations about the experience.

I learned… that there are many people wanting change and not many people willing to change. Many of us are very aware of the troubles ahead. However, many of us are not willing to change or simply do not know how to implement change. I also learned that there is a growing number of people interested in sustainable living and ready to take the necessary steps to achieve that for themselves.

I was inspired by… the speakers at the Green Cross room, where our letter was presented. I think that they had a firm understanding of the risks and consequences that we face if we continue living at the rate in which we are today.

What surprised me… was the amount of people with concern and the lack of people with viable solutions.

Weekly Rewind: Green News June 18-24

June 25th, 2012
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Students at Rio+20

Rio Reports: CEO Matt Petersen gave a presentation on our work on energy efficiency in California. Also reporting from Rio: Paul Walker, director of our Environmental Security & Sustainability department….

The Kids Are Alright: We brought along student leaders to Rio+20 to join the Global Green/Green Cross delegation and also caught the amazing speech by Brittany Trilford, the 17-year-old winner of the Tck Tck Tck “Date with History” speech contest.

Sea This: A new report predicts that sea level rise in California could reach more than 5 feet by the end of the century.

Video of the Week: Claire Goldberg, one of the students we sent to the Rio+20 Earth Summit, had the opportunity to ask a question of Severn Cullis-Suzuki, who returned to Rio 20 years making a rousing speech.

Quote of the Week: “Lots of blah, blah, blah, but no action, action, action” — Jean-Michel Cousteau, expressing disappointment with the Rio+20 Earth Summit.

Rio+20: Claire Goldberg Video

June 24th, 2012

Claire Goldberg is one of the student leaders we brought to the Rio+20 United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development. In this clip, she asks a question of Severn Cullis-Suzuki — who first wowed the crowd when she was a student at the Rio Earth Summit 20 years ago.

Rio+20: Youth Delegation Statement

June 22nd, 2012
Photo by Elizabeth Crowe

Photo by Elizabeth Crowe

Green Cross International (GCI) and Global Green brought youth delegates from around the world to the Rio+20 United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development for its “Youth In Action” program. We selected seven students from America, who joined other GCI student representatives from Ghana, Brazil, Bolivia, and other nations.

All wanted strong results from Rio+20 Environmental Summit, leaving many of them disappointed but driven to continue to strive for change. Below is the statement they released.

No great change comes from government alone. We are the youth and we are the future. We are the Green Cross International Youth for a Green Future delegation to the Rio +20 United Nations Summit. We come from communities around the world: Brazil, the USA, and Ghana. While we are from different cultures and have different languages, we have the common goal to work for a sustainable green future. The problems that we face in our communities should be on the forefront of every human being on this earth: disposal of lethal chemical weapons, climate change, toxic pesticides, water contamination, lack of healthy food and the basic need to protect the earth so that we and future generations will have a place to live.

Here in Rio+20, it is exciting to be a part of a global community that is concerned with protecting our environment and taking action to reduce the impacts of climate change. We all come from communities where citizen involvement and pressure to implement solutions are already making a difference. But there are still too many people who are unaware of, or who are denying the fact that our ecosystems and people are dying. Some of us are suffering now from horrible toxic chemicals that cause cancer, defects and reproductive disorders. Every child has the right to live in a clean and healthy environment. For this reason, we want to urge the media and people in our communities to report on the Rio+20 Summit and stay informed about the important decisions occurring here. Awareness is an important step toward sustainable solutions, and climate change is an issue that we cannot afford to ignore. We need action from governments now.

If we continue releasing greenhouse gases, we are dooming ourselves as well as the planet. We need more than just meetings and politicians to get the message through. With every meeting and event we attend as part of our youth exchange, we become more convinced that groups of individuals working together can have great influence on the direction of our world. The solution is simple: a shift in priorities must take place. We must be able to grow our own food, buy only what we need to survive, and consume the least amount of resources possible. Our governments must help communities make this transition.

Youth like us are already implementing clean energy solutions, but we can’t do everything; we need guidance, inspiration, insight and support from adult allies and our governments to fulfill our duties. Through this exchange, we have begun to grasp the interconnectedness of people all over the world, and the necessity to work globally (that’s you and me!) to save our world. Will government leaders at Rio+20 also grasp this concept and give us a strong plan for climate solutions?

Futuro somos nos!  We are the future!

Rio+20: Conner Miers Video

June 21st, 2012

Part of the Green Cross/Global Green delegation to the Rio+20 United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development: student leaders we invited for the “Youth In Action” program from Green Cross. Conner Miers is a student at the Texas School for the Deaf, the winning school for our Green School Makeover Competition and he shares some of his impressions of the trip in this clip.

Word Up: Jean-Michel Cousteau at Rio+20

June 21st, 2012

“There is lots of blah, blah, blah, but no action, action, action.” — Jean-Michel Cousteau at the Rio+20 Earth Summit

Field Report: Limited Expectations for Rio+20

June 21st, 2012

The United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development (UNCSD), otherwise known as Rio+20, has just started its second of three official days of meetings at Riocentro, 30 miles or more south of Rio de Janeiro in Brazil. Hundreds of meetings and side events have been going on for more than a week, including three Green Cross events last Saturday, Monday, and Tuesday. We are hosting a fourth event today on the green economy (i.e. whether this means something new or is simply painting a free market economy as green). As further drafts of the final conference document on sustainable development are posted, both government and non-governmental delegations, including ourselves, appear to be limiting their expectations of any serious action agendas resulting from these long discussions on sustainable development. As one observer put it, maybe we should call this “Rio-Minus-20″ instead of “Rio-Plus-20.”

I’ve been here for five days now, as part of the Green Cross and Global Green delegation from across the globe, and I have been impressed with the massive organization of the whole event. Tens of thousands of individuals have descended on Rio for this meeting, 20 years after the original international conference here in 1992, and the Brazilian effort to keep us all organized and informed has been remarkable. The Riocentro conference center spans an area the size of several football fields, with five or more massive buildings and a food court the size of a baseball stadium. Another venue across the highway, Athlete’s Park, is equally large and holds still more events and corporate sponsor pavilions. Many events are also organized in downtown Rio, so transportation is a challenge, especially in light of the daily congestion that appears to burden this sprawling coastal city and region. There is also a separate “People’s Summit,” which is organized along the beach area north of Copacabana, close to downtown Rio.

Security is extremely high, with thousands of Brazilian armed troops, police, security and emergency personnel lining the highways and venues and hundreds of buses and VIP cars shuttling delegations to and from hotels, airports, and events. Occasional challenges arise, such as yesterday’s massive demonstration in downtown Rio, which gridlocked the city all afternoon; I was stuck on my shuttle bus for two hours in traffic, trying to return to my hotel, and finally resorted to taking the very good Rio subway system.

Many major issues are being addressed in the meetings here, including women’s rights, indigenous people’s concerns, youth demands, disarmament and security, protection of natural resources, environmental remediation and pollution control, resilient and sustainable cities, green agriculture, recycling, and green building — the list goes on and on. But, as with many multilateral forums, the final document may sadly result in a least-common-denominator declaration with no binding mandates or target goals for countries to follow.

Jean-Michel Cousteau, the son of the late oceanographer Jacques Cousteau, who is a Green Cross International Honorary Board Member, commented yesterday in a forum on oceans, that “there is lots of blah, blah, blah, but no action, action, action.” I personally hope that this is not the result of the Summit.

United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon addressed non-governmental groups this morning and stated that the final Rio document would be a starting point — not an end point — and that civil society would be needed to help pressure their governments to implement the many worthy goals therein. He was strongly criticized by some groups who saw this as a step backwards, not forwards, after two decades of multilateral dialogue on sustainable development. I will comment further on these final results when they are made available in the next day or two.

Rio+20: Rousing Date with History Speech

June 20th, 2012

Brittany Trilford of New Zealand was the winner of Tck Tck Tck’s “Date With History” speech contest and her prize was the opportunity to speak before heads of state at the Rio+20 United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development. Best of all: she’s 17 years old. See her address in the video above and check out the transcript of her amazing speech.

At this Earth Summit, Trilford is joined by many others from her generation, who are also voicing their concerns for the future of our planet and sharing stories of their work on environmental issues. We have heard reports from Rio from CEO Matt Petersen and Paul Walker, Director of our Environmental Security and Sustainability Program, about the positive influence of the youth delegates at Rio+20 and at other meetings — and the student leaders we sent with Green Cross International‘s “Youth in Action” effort are also reporting that the experience is rewarding and inspiring.