The Long Drive to Sustainability at Rio+20

It seems an odd way to have a conversation about sustainable development: to get to the Rio+20 conference Worldwatch’s team here in Rio de Janeiro has to spend an hour or more in buses or taxis. Like most of the other attendees, we’re staying in a reasonably central location while the main conference hall is on the outskirts of the city. Add about 50,000 visitors to this megacity, and the 30 kilometers between downtown and Riocentro, the conference site, becomes a major traffic jam. The shuttle buses, at least, move fairly quickly on dedicated lanes the city has just introduced. Score one, at least, for a sustainability-city  initiative that seems to work well.

Fresh from the traffic jam, three of us at least were able to ponder a more positive urban future at a side event on sustainable and just cities, organized by the Ford Foundation. The ideas and proposals—especially for helping low income urban dwellers gain access to information, opportunities and jobs—were stimulating. Perhaps mindful of the potential for pessimism in the traffic-weary crowd, Ford’s president, Luis Ubinas, recalled that rivers flowing through some U.S. cities once were so polluted they literally caught on fire, but today are far cleaner—and certainly fireproof. Change can happen, he stressed.

Santa Teresa Historic Tramway, a suburban tramway network in Rio (Photo via Flickr, by Rodrigo_Soldon)

Happily, other events are more centrally located, at the historic Copacabana Fort and at Flamengo Park, the site of the so-called People’s Summit.  Worldwatch is organizing sessions both at the UN venue and at Flamengo Park.  On June 19, Worldwatch Europe introduced its new report “Voices from Europe: Build a Living Economy” at a side event at the UN conference venue. One day later, we are presenting key chapters from State of the World 2012 addressing urban sustainability problems,at the Ford Foundation Forum in Flamengo Park.  Speakers include Robert Engelman and Michael Renner of Worldwatch, as well as chapter authors Michael Replogle of the Institute for Transport and Development Policy (speaking on transportation) and Joseph Foti  of World Resources Institute (speaking on transparent local governance).

On June 18, our activities included a meeting with Eduardo Paes, the Mayor of Rio. Worldwatch President Robert Engelman presented Paes with a print copy of Estado do Mundo 2012, the Brazilian edition of State of the World 2012, for which the Mayor had written a foreword.

(Written by Michael Renner and Robert Engelman)


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