Nearly 20 Beahrs ELP alumni attended the June 2012 “Rio + 20” UN Summit on Sustainable Development as well as four Berkeley/ELP faculty members. Some participated in official negotiations but most attended parallel forums and side events centered on the issues of greatest concern to their organizations. In this article we feature the reflections of some of these participants six months after the event. One common feature stands out – that despite negative claims by media and experts regarding the lack of major inter-governmental commitments and outcomes, on individual and organizational levels, ELP participants felt strong solidarity at the Summit and are committed to moving their programs and partnerships for sustainable development forward.
Margherita Vitale (ELP 2010) from the Ministry of Environment, Italy, participated in several bilateral and multilateral cooperation activities. She lays out the global political economy context of Rio +20 and its focus on “green economy: “The so-called “developed countries” are facing a deep financial crisis, which undermines their historical leadership since 1992. The main drivers of the world economy today are the BRICS (Brazil, China, India, Russia, South Africa) and their quick growth has worsened the pressure on natural and energy resources highlighting the need for new technologies and more efficient systems for energy, water, and agriculture.” Nevertheless, Margherita notes one very positive outcome of the Summit, “the inclusion for the first time of the term “green economy” in a UN document. This term opens the path to a more concrete and active role of the private sector in driving development in a more sustainable way.”
Arona Soumare (ELP 2007), leading the WWF Africa Policy Team at Rio +20, comments on the implications of this changed global context for the Summit outcome: “The official Rio +20 outcome, while disappointing, was perhaps the best global deal on sustainable development that could be achieved in the present economic and geopolitical context. It was difficult for parties to reconcile the diminished financial clout of developed country governments with developing countries’ perception that green economy would constrain growth through increased conditionalities on trade and aid…..Perhaps the most important outcome of Rio+20, the process to design Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) by 2015, was clearly defined and credible.”
As follow-up to Rio +20, Arona forms part of the WWF expert group on formulation and advocacy for the post-2015 SDGs. “After being an active actor in these two years of negotiations, I will still be involved in the follow-up , relying on my own expertise but also on our vast network of thematic experts who, through a bottom-up approach, fashioned our policy into the Rio +20 negotiation process and directly into that of governments, relaying concepts, ideas and language.”
Kofo Adeleke (ELP 2006, in photo with Muhammad Yunus), Director of Community and Conservation Development Initiatives (CCDI) in Nigeria, attended events on energy and sustainable cities, culminating months of preparatory work on how the “green economy” can transform Nigeria, with practical examples from the ten major sectors (study – The Green Deal Nigeria). At the Summit, she made full use of the networking opportunities, including running into the President of Nigeria: “Rio+20 was a fantastic opportunity to network, exchange ideas and information and listen to and participate in debates led by influential figures and leading specialists in various fields. I managed to ‘ambush’ the President of Nigeria at one of the side meetings and gave him a quick brief about our climate change activities with local governments, something that would have been almost impossible to achieve in Nigeria.”
Archana Patkar (ELP2003), Programme Manager of the Water Supply and Sanitation Collaborative Council (WSSCC), a multi-stakeholder entity hosted by the United Nations Office of Project Services in Geneva, Switzerland (www.wsscc.org) in India, has been “deeply involved” prior to and after the Rio +20 Summit in the technical consultations on the post-2015 SDGs and targets, working to ensure that access to water, and especially sanitation, are upheld as universal rights. At Rio, Archana participated in the multi-stakeholder “Water Dialogues”, and used the opportunity to highlight the urgent issue of menstrual hygiene: “I ask that we articulate clearly what this means in practice for women and adolescent girls, and for breaking the taboos and silence around menstruation, a phenomenon that affects women for 3,000 days of their adult lives. We must factor this in when we talk about the quantity of water for washing and bathing, facilities for disposal and most importantly, putting women as de facto managers, clients and decision makers for the kind of services they need and would like.”
In November 2012, Archana completed a 50-day menstrual hygiene campaign in five of the poorest states in India gathering testaments from hundreds of women and girls. This campaign is now evolving into policy advocacy, action research and training activities, and contributing to formulation of the SDGs by 2020.
Dr. Sara Scherr (photo at ELP 2012), president and CEO of Ecoagriculture Partners, attended and sponsored multiple events at Rio+20, and launched the “Call to Action” of the Landscapes for People, Food and Nature Initiative (LPFN) at The Partnership Forum on June 22nd (http://landscpaes.ecoagriculture.org/). Both at the Partnership Forum and the Agriculture and Rural Development Day, Sara was pleased that the “landscape” approach to integrating food, energy, water and biodiversity needs was widely supported. “The final set of recommendations out of Rio very strongly support integrated landscape management (Ecoagriculture), particularly on the key themes of ecosystem foundations for agricultural production and sustainability, inter-sectoral linkages for policy and planning, and active community engagement in agricultural development strategies.” EcoAg Partners and LPFN are intensely involved in Rio +20 follow-up through the implementation of the “Call to Action” at global, national and local levels.
Representing the Ecuador-based policy NGO, FARO, Sigrid Vasconez (ELP 2008, photo below at Rio+20), participated in side events focused on the future of the Amazon Basin (see http://www.forumamazoniasustentavel.org.br/ for presentations). Though disappointed by the lack of major inter-governmental commitments, Sigrid was encouraged by the opportunity to revisit the MDGs/SDGs in the context of the Amazon and forest-dependent populations. “From the view of the Amazon basin countries, current MDG measurements are not sufficient, as forest peoples and the dynamics of their livelihoods are not well assessed in them. A reworking of these goals offers an opportunity to re-think the concept and practice of sustainability in ecosystems and populations that are critically dependent on forest resources for their livelihood.”
Sigrid also commented on the potential for stronger environmental governance under a more empowered UNEP (Rio+20 outcome), but views national and regional agreements as the more adequate mechanism for addressing current environmental realities in the Amazon Basin. “Will a new protagonist role for UNEP deliver sustainable development? Sustainable development – addressed as “green economy”, needs to be tied to national strategies. In Latin America, especially Amazon Basin countries, the tendency clearly shows an increase in natural resource extraction (especially minerals, oil and timber, and land use changes associated with agricultural commodities). Hence, while globally there might be a consensus that we are going in the right direction, at regional levels- such as the Amazon, the trajectories are going in another direction.” As follow-up to Rio+20, Sigrid and FARO are participating in two working groups to re-think indicators for measuring the “State of the Amazon Basin”.
Six months after Rio+20, all of the ELP alumni and faculty who participated remain actively involved in follow-up activities. The Rio Summit brought people together to dialogue, debate, renew commitments, establish alliances and contacts that make their sustainable development work more effective and visible. Kofo, from Nigeria, provides some concrete examples, “As a result of contacts made in Rio, CCDI involved a UNISDR (UN Office for Disaster Risk Reduction) consultant in a successful workshop on disaster management in Lagos; ENDA Senegal invited us to join the AfriCAN Climate Project; ICLEI has asked us to help get more local governments involved in their activities; and Columbia University has invited CCDI to become part of the Climate Change and Cities network. Participation in Rio +20 has given credence to the activities we are engaged in, prior to and after the event, and hopefully will provide inspiration and knowledge to help sustain CCDI over the next 10 years.”