UN plans for Rio 2012 Earth Summit

12.01.11 Blog from New York

BioRegional are at UN meetings in New York and Panama this week talking with the organisers and delegates about bringing one planet living and the real life examples we have been working on with our partners to the UN Earth Summit in Rio in May 2012. Our aim is that by showing that sustainability is attractive and aspirational and can be done cost effectively, by providing some toolkits and advice on how to do it and by having catchy communications, we help to weight the scales towards positive action on sustainability by others. 

Rio 2012 is set to be a major landmark event and an opportunity to get the world talking and acting on sustainability. It takes place twenty years after the original Rio Earth Summit and all those declarations and commitments made then. These included Agenda 21 and the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) which is still being implemented first through Kyoto and now through the headline grabbing climate change talks in Copenhagen and Cancun. One of the questions delegates will be asking is how well have we done with implementing those commitments.

The main theme of the summit has been agreed as the green economy. Our real-life experience is that if you implement sustainability you get a green economy! 

Here is a small insight in to the UN system and how you, yes you, could get involved if you really wanted to.. skip to the next paragraph if you find these things boring. The delegates this week comprise the UN 2012 earth summit organising group and about 200 representatives from the 192 countries – known as member states – the UN bodies and then a hundred or so people (including us) from what they call civil society, that is, anyone who is not a sovereign country or UN representative. The UN decided long ago that there are nine major groups from civil society who need to be represented at these global meetings. They are, in no particular order; women, trade unions, business, environmental groups, science and technology, local authorities, farmers, youth and indigenous peoples.  Freya and I thought we could fit in to several of those categories! But of course we are accredited under the environmental NGO category.  What we now know since registering to attend the Copenhagen Climate talks in December 09 is that if you are interested enough to want to get involved and have some track record to recommend you, then decide which group you are in and you can get accredited to attend these meetings. You can go through an umbrella group or perhaps your organisation can get accredited in its own right as BioRegional has done. Stakeholder Forum are a good source of advice and information. http://www.earthsummit2012.org/

So back to what is happening here, we sat in one of those large UN rooms with desks, microphones and name plates for each of the member states. Panel members gave presentations and speeches of varying quality, some were really informative and inspiring, member states made official statements about what they thought about the upcoming summit and delegates quizzed the organisers about what would happen and asked what the outcomes would be.

What became clear is that the organisers haven’t yet decided what the outcome will be. It would obviously be ideal if every country agreed formally to take the necessary action to become sustainable within the time frame the science tells us is needed when we consider climate change, unsustainable resource use or water and to comprehensively address fair trade, poverty and human development. And that is what we are suggesting, that every country should have a one planet action plan. But although of course even UN staff would agree that would be ideal, they say it is too idealistic and unrealistic. Countries don’t like all fitting in with plans like that, they all have their own plans already and they have national interests to think about. It makes you think once again that if we can’t see past that then we really are doomed as a species and we will take a good  part of the web of life down with us. 

If there is one thing I have learnt from experience it is that you can be genuinely surprised by what can happen if you just try to do it, working and thinking hard and with good intentions. You naturally end up teaming up with like minded people and you can achieve a lot together. So we will see how far we can get working with our partners.

We held a side event yesterday lunchtime where some of our partners – B&Q, Codding, Sutton Council and the UK government spoke about how they are implementing one planet living. Greg Searle from BioRegional North America  joined us to help faciltate the event. Then we had a discussion where delegates and the panel came up with some great suggestions to make Rio 2012 a more sustainable event. Most popular ideas included more sustainable catering arrangements, making more use of electronic media to cut paper use and leaving a positive legacy in Rio itself. We will write it up and send it in to the organisers as food for thought.

In Copenhagen the biggest carbon impact (87%) was the flights of the delegates. We managed to get there by train, but that only works if you live fairly near. At our side event we talked about opportunities through social media and video conferencing at Rio to cut the carbon.  Tonight we are heading to Panama on a plane with many of the same people, burning up fossil fuels to go and talk about sustainable consumption and production. I think we should have all stayed in New York considering this, but apparently Panama had offered to host the meeting and this is the way things are done at the UN. I guess it helps all countries to engage with the process but our carbon emissions at BioRegional are shooting up as a result of getting involved in all this. It meant that we couldn’t commit to join 10:10 this year, which we find very ironic.


Sue Riddlestone