While the world does not seem to expect much from the upcoming United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development, Rio+20, the organizing country is surely putting up a fight in not letting the event sink from the news.
In that line, a conference call with head of environment at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and chief negotiator on climate change for Brazil, Andre Correa do Lago, was organized for international media this morning.
Rio-20 not "idealistic"
Asked about the goals of the event, the diplomat was not shy in his words. “It is not an idealistic conference, we are not going to say we are saving the planet through goals and measures that we know are not going to be taken seriously.”
He stated that Rio+20 will be about figuring out “the kind of world we want to have in 20 years, so we can adjust what we’re doing in the present to that,” while making clear the event does not aim to be just an ‘intellectual exercise,’ but achieve goals.
A success for Brazil, he said, would be to “have an impact on how we treat these issues on the multilateral level, on how countries manage themselves and incorporate sustainable development as a paradigm, and on society agreeing that this agenda is the one that will give them a better future, because if civil society is not on board, governments won’t be able to make decisions.”
For this reason, a part of the conference called Four Days of Dialogue on Sustainable Development, to take place before the high level segment reunions, will be an open forum.
Developed vs. developing, once again
In those words, and by insistingly repeating that the idea is to discuss sustainable development that makes environmental, economic and social sense, he meant that developing countries will keep defending their right for growth without impositions from developed countries.
“There is a strange perception that the efforts regarding the greening of the economy have to be done ‘from now on’, and that what has to be done ‘from now on’ is mostly in developing countries," he said. "Developed countries need to look at what they have to do instead of what others need to do. If they create new standards of production and consumption, as China, Brazil or India start to build a huge middle class, they will start at a new level of sustainable production and consumption. Our middle classes are trying to have the standard of life of developed countries middle classes, so if they are unsustainable, ours will be too."
New ways of measuring growth, "key"
Participating in the call, TreeHugger pointed out that Latin American countries take deep pride in showing GDP growth numbers, which usually rely on a production-consumption machine that is not sustainable, and asked if there were any intentions in discussing how growth is measured.
“Yes, the idea of new indicators is very much in the agenda of the conference", said Correa do Lago. "Obviously some countries are worried about that, because they believe that if we create new indicators, maybe these indicators will be used against them. But I think we can do a good job in that area, this is a key issue on the conference."
It’s really not a small point, and you can see how countries may be afraid of getting away from the GDP talk. In order to have stable governments and drive investments, countries usually flag high GDP growth numbers that don't always make sense environmentally. An example: the Argentine government communicated with high pride that 2011 marked a new record in car sales in the country at 860 thousand new units, a 30% increase from 2010. This is great news in a frame of GDP growth, not in a sustainable development scenario for more than obvious reasons.
A consensus on a different way of measuring the way a country is ‘successful’ could be key in changing officials ideas of what improvement means for its people, and what needs to be done to achieve it.
With little high level officials attendance confirmed so far, it’s still unclear what the real impact of Rio+20 will be.
According to Correa do Lago, while the goals of the conference are similar to those of its first edition in 1992 and its second in 2002, the world has changed significantly. “Environmental issues have become central, and climate change by itself has transformed the world perception on how the world needs to run. What we want is sustainable development to be associated not only with the environment but also with economy and society, so we can really achieve what we wanted to do in ’92.”
Hopefully, third time’s the charm.