Rio+20 Ending: Saying Goodbye to All That

I heart Rio t-shirt at Rio+20 People's Summit. Photo© Paula Alvarado

Yesterday’s afternoon youth and NGOs walkout from the Riocentro venue where the UN Conference on Sustainable Development Rio+20 was taking place was invigorating. And when I was told that there would be a meeting today about it, I felt a spark of hope.

I woke up this morning and had to go to a meeting in Barra da Tijuca, which is like an hour away from Rio, and then come back since this supposed meeting was at the People’s Summit. And when I spent two hours on the bus back with my cellphone dead again, the bus literally stopping three minutes at a time, the engine making the seats vibrate, seriously thinking about smashing the window with my head, I thought perhaps it was worth it, perhaps when I came back here I would find action.

Then I arrived at the People’s Summit and realized most of the passers by and those dressed in indigenous suits (which doesn’t necessarily mean they’re from tribes) were more interested in selling crafts (or even bags clearly imported from China) than about anything else. Someone was selling a t-shirt with the words “I [Heart] Rio” and it seemed ironic. A guy with a jacket printed with the image of an indian walked by carrying a large sign of currency and it seemed metaphoric. A few people rode bicycles with banners promoting tourism in a Brazilian State.

Person selling bags at People's Summit at Rio+20. Photo© Paula Alvarado

Thinking about going to Riocentro, I checked my e-mail when a Wi-fi signal miraculously appeared and saw a press conference call: “‘Inclusive’ Green Economy Given a Go Ahead by Heads of State at Rio+20,” “New Indicator of Wealth Beyond GDP.” Those were good headlines. But then the words: “if embraced over the coming months and years,” “nations agreed that such a transition could be ‘an important tool’ when supported by policies,” “nations wishing to forge ahead.” The inverted commas on Inclusive and An important tool are not mine.

It stopped being funny to criticize this. To think about the amount of money spent in business class flights and five star hotel rooms and silver lining at dinners and venues rental and flyers to make this happen is simply depressing, and is a waste that exactly contradicts everything this conference should stand for.

Rio+20 had a special meaning for me for being in Latin America, close to my home. And I wanted to believe, I spent the whole week trying to excuse it, criticizing the official meeting but thinking the activities around it had meaning. I actually do believe that, that it was important that people from all over the world got together in a big event like this and met face to face and shared experiences. Even I myself met interesting people.

Problem is, the mockery of the official meeting overshadows everything around it. And while I do think the power for change is outside of that process, policy is essential to stop so much nonsense. Just a small detail: yesterday, a person at a forum about the future of plastic (actually one of the most interesting events I went to) said it is because of an international regulation that every t-shirt that comes from China is wrapped in a plastic bag (even if you don’t see it at a store).

We need new regulations and new taxes and new policies that push businesses and civil society in the right direction.

The cover of Veja magazine, with a good visual metaphor for what environmental negotiations feel like. Rio+20. Photo© Paula Alvarado

George Monbiot said a few days ago that, “It is the system that needs to be challenged, not the individual decisions it makes,” and rightly pointed to the lack of nerve in the social sphere. He used the words “the kind of confrontation required to revitalize democracy,” and I thought about the term confrontation and how afraid we all are of it, and how friendly the tone of environmental events always is.

WWF tweeted: “World Leaders: We didn't elect & pay you to come to #RioPlus20 for the beaches,” and I thought it was about time this issue came into the conversation. Exactly what are we paying these people for? And how long are we going to keep doing that?

I´m in Rio until June 23. If you have any leads or want to point us in the direction of an interesting event, please e-mail or tweet me at @paualvarado.

Follow all Rio+20 coverage here.

Rio+20 Ending: Saying Goodbye to All That
The mockery of the official meeting overshadows everything around it. Can we start thinking about what are we paying our 'representatives' for?

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