PORTO ALEGRE, Brazil – A more responsible and inclusive model of global growth will be discussed in Rio de Janeiro on June 13.
The United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development, Rio+20 is expected to bring together thousands of experts, social activists, government officials and more than 100 heads of state.
Twenty years after Eco-92, the goal of the participants at the second global meeting held by the United Nations (UN) to discuss environmental issues is to transform the worldwide consensus regarding an inclusive green economy into local laws that will have tangible effects on everyone’s lives.
Two weeks before the start of Rio+20, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon urged countries to increase efforts to achieve concrete decisions to reduce poverty while promoting decent jobs, clean energy and more sustainable and fair use of resources.
“Rio+20 is a once-in-a-generation opportunity to make real progress towards the sustainable economy of the future,” Ban said at a recent press conference at the UN Headquarters in New York.
But concrete results from the conference will depend on governments’ putting their commitments into practice and citizens making changes to their lifestyles, experts say.
“The impact will depend on how successful Rio+20 is,” says physicist José Goldemberg, a professor at the University of São Paulo’s (USP) Institute for Electrotechnology and Energy and former minister of the Environment, and of Science and Technology for the federal government.
Discussions on a green economy, for example, could spark a new model of global economic growth, he adds.
“This means developing while simultaneously reducing environmental impacts,” says Goldemberg.
A practical example of the application of this new model is the decreased use of fertilizers and pesticides on crops.
“Measures such as these will, without a doubt, have a direct impact on people’s lives,” adds Goldemberg, who points out the adoption of more natural farming practices, without the use of pesticides, is gaining ground in some countries.
Another issue on the agenda at Rio+20 is the need to double, by 2030, the use of renewable sources in the global energy matrix, which is a United Nation’s goal.
“In Brazil, the My House, My Life program is studying the possible use of solar energy in low-income housing,” Goldemberg says. “Electric showers will be replaced by water heaters, which will considerably reduce electricity bills.”
Goldemberg says if the decisions made at Rio+20 are implemented, they will directly affect people’s daily lives. The speed with which this will occur will depend on how each country responds to the measures.
“It’s normal to encounter resistance from some countries that don’t want to change their existing systems,” he says. “Those that generate their energy from coal, for example, are not going to want to stop.”
Reconciling the rush of the current economic model with the biological rhythm of nature is impossible, says Eduardo Ernesto Filippi, a professor in the Department of Economics and International Relations at the Federal University of Rio Grande do Sul (UFRGS).
“The model for economic growth and job creation cannot stop, but the environment has a different logic for time,” he says.
For Filippi, the agenda at Rio+20, which will focus on environmental issues, will bring attention to practices adopted in recent years not just by governmental agencies, but also by industry and agriculture.
Brazil’s Forest Code, which received a partial presidential veto and is being reconsidered by the Congress, is expected to receive considerable attention from those focused on agricultural issues, he says.
For the industry sector, the main topics are expected to be pollution and the reduction of environmental damage, Filippi says.
It is expected that environmentalists will also want to set targets for nuclear energy, basic sanitation and the situation faced by indigenous peoples throughout the world.
“It will all be included in a large circle of debates,” Filippi says.
But the success of Rio+20 doesn’t depend solely on panelists, governments and the private sector, says Francisco Milanez, president of the Gaucho Association for the Protection of the Environment (AGAPAN).
“For the first time, I see a reform effort that will require the participation of 100% of the people of the planet in order to reach its objectives,” says Milanez, who took part in Eco-92. “All citizens must be aware that they are responsible for turning the world towards sustainable development.”
Conscious consumption, for example, is a personal choice that directly affects industry, experts say. The idea is to avoid purchasing products that will not last and instead choose higher quality products featuring reusable raw materials.
“Citizens will need to use common sense, think about the things they buy and be more serious when they choose them,” Milanez says. “We need to rethink our daily activities. We’re talking about a new process that doesn’t need speeches. It needs the participation of all people.”