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Monday, June 18, 2012

The Mahatma Gandhi plaza, the carnival city & Rio+20

By Narayani Ganesh
Editor's Note: This article is in partnership with Federation of Environmental Journalists of India.

Why its holiday time for locals
“What do you feel about the UN Earth Summit returning to Rio after 20 years,” I ask a 20-something Brazilian seated next to me on the flight to Rio. He was helping me fill the landing form that was in Portugese. “It will be holiday time for many of us in Rio,” he grins, as most offices and educational establishments would simply shut down during the summit days as the streets would overflow with demonstrators, protestors and of course, more traffic. “And what do you think world leaders will discuss here, would it interest him?” “I guess it will be about energy and renewables and all that. In Brazil we have plenty of hydro power, and renewables too, mainly ethanol, so we don’t really have to worry.” He was going home after a holiday with friends in London and looking forward to a few more days off during the Rio+20 summit to be held June 20-22.

Global attention, local issues

Teachers protest against poor working conditions in Rio

Across the street from the hotel where I checked in, I could see a moving river of protestors shouting slogans into megaphones while others held up posters and waved banners: “Give us better salaries and working conditions! Shame on Brazil’s education system! Government, do something!” They were poorly paid teachers, seeking the attention of huge numbers of media persons and policymakers converging here for the Rio+20 Conference. What better way to draw attention than to embarrass the Dilma Rousseff government (she is Brazil’s first woman president) before its international guests? More than 50,000 Rio+20 participants are here, making it the biggest UN conference ever.

The city’s sidewalks are telling stories

In the morning, walking in Rio’s Lapa district, I came across an exhibition titled ‘Terra Vista’-Beautiful photographs sharing environmental stories from around the world. The blow ups,  displayed on either side of the path leading up to the Theatro Municipol building. And on the other side, the exhibition faced Bapu’s statue in the Mahatma Gandhi Plaza and the road named after him. Walking past the telling images and captions, at last I found what I was looking for – something from India! It was a photograph of field cultivation near Jodhpur Rajasthan, a woman in bright coloured clothes wielding a sickle. The caption says despite producing a large amount of cereal, India is yet to address its distribution problems as well as those of water conservation and irrigation.  Other photos include the Perito Morino glacier in Argentina that is receding, melting ice caps in Greenland, plastic rubbish in open dumps in the Dominican Republic and Flamingos converging on Lake Naruku in Kenya. Setting the mood for the conference that will discuss all these issues and more.

What will this Rio conference really do?
“There is a real spirit of compromise and determination among delegations to produce a document that can be endorsed by Heads of State and Government,” said Sha Zukang, Rio+20 Secretary-General. “Rio+20 will provide the inspiration and the guidance to accelerate progress on the sustainability agenda.” It is also the first major UN conference where there are more civil society representatives attending from developing countries than from the developed world.

The UN Framework Convention for Climate Change has declared that Rio+20 is expected to produce three types of outcomes: a negotiated document that will promote international cooperation and action on sustainable development; the recommendations of civil society during four Dialogue Days (June 16-19); and the announcement or launch of many major initiatives and commitments that will advance results on the ground.

A UN spokesperson said: “At the heart of the political document is a call for a renewed political commitment to sustainable development, and proposals for how the green economy could help achieve sustainable development and poverty eradication, as well as the institutions needed to promote and support sustainable development at the global level. In the negotiations, there has been widespread support for a process to determine a set of sustainable development goals. The goals may be similar in fashion to the Millennium Development Goals -- agreed to in 2000 with targets set for 2015 related to eradicating extreme poverty and hunger and improving global health -- but possibly with a broader reach for all countries.”

Blame it on Rio - a cult but ordinary movie of yesteryears, is a refrain no member of civil society wants.  Some things hopefully should move.

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