USGCC Chairman Peter Zahn visited Rio de Janeiro as preparations were under way for next week’s conference, and filed this report:
This year marks the 20th anniversary of the first Earth Summit, which took place in Rio de Janeiro. The 1992 gathering kicked off a series of United Nations environmental conferences that have been held in places like Kyoto, Copenhagen, and – most recently – Durban, South Africa.
On June 22-24 Rio will host the massive U.N. Conference on Sustainable Development (dubbed “Rio+20”). In addition there will be approximately 500 seminars and meetings prior to the Summit itself.
During my recent visit to Rio I met individuals who have been involved with preparations for events that will be occurring in and around the Rio+20 Conference. Ana Toni, former Executive Director for the Ford Foundation in Brazil, is Chairman of the Board of Greenpeace International.
She also consults businesses and NGO’s regarding environmental issues. Andrea Margit heads the environmental division of the Roberto Marinho Foundation.
Toni runs a slew of educational projects there, many of which combine participatory planning, media relations, conservation awareness campaigns and training. One fascinating initiative is the development of T.V. and video training for green jobs programs in the Amazon region.
New commitment for sustainable development
The objective of the Rio+20 Conference is to secure renewed political commitment for sustainable development, address commitments made at previous major summits, and take on many pressing challenges that face the planet and its inhabitants. This is a tall order and expectations are mixed at best. One of the Conferences’ themes is of special interest to the Green business community: a green economy in the context of sustainable development and poverty eradication.
When I met Andrea Margit she was in the thick of planning a massive education and social entrepreneurship project for Conference attendees and the community at large. “The Forum on Social Entrepreneurship in the New Economy” will generate ideas and practical next steps for sustainability and the emerging new economy.
The Forum is organized produced by Margit’s organization, with grants and assistance from by Ashoka, the Skoll Foundation and others. The Forum is based on the importance of social entrepreneurship in connecting society and nature, ethics and the economy as a foundation for sustainable development.
Both Margit and Ana Toni were guardedly optimistic about the possibility of achieving significant agreement among the world leaders who attend the Conference. Toni also pointed out that Brazil, as host country, is facing significant environmental challenges, yet does not want to have the Conference seen as a failure. Brazilian President Rousseff has not advocated for the environment as aggressively as her predecessor, President Lula. It remains to seen how committed she is to balancing the interests of the environment with those of business.
U.S. still behind the curve regarding green business initiatives
Meanwhile, the United States has avoided making significant environmental commitments on the world stage. The USA is taking Rio+20 seriously however. More than fifteen U.S. federal agencies have been preparing the Conference. The USA delegation will be led by Lawrence J. Gumbiner, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State in the Bureau of Oceans, International Environmental and Scientific Affairs.
Also the U.S. Government has been reaching out to a broad range of representatives from civil society, the private sector, and state and local governments to encourage their participation and secure their commitment to promoting sustainable development.
I came away from Rio awestruck by the scale of the event. There is genuine excitement and optimism around it. Based on my discussions I realize this is a critical opportunity – one that we cannot squander – to have the world leaders create a serious agreement to address climate change. Decisive action needs to be taken now to reverse and mitigate the previous negative changes. And we must have a greater emphasis on action and accountability.
Unfortunately many people on the ground in Rio, in both business and environmental organizations, do not have high expectations that the session will make significant, lasting progress. With so much at stake, I urge everyone to get informed and push our government to commit to substantial action.
For more information about the upcoming U.N. Conference on Sustainable Development check out: www.uncsd2012.org/rio20 To urge the US government’s Rio+20 representatives to agree to strict limits on GHG emissions – and other critical issues – call Lawrence Gumbiner at the State Department at 202-647-8309.