First Impressions on Rio+20

First impressions: Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday

Late on Monday evening I arrived in Brazil on my School of Civil Engineering and Geosciences (CEGs) sponsored trip to the Rio+20 conference on sustainable development.

In the arrivals hall I was pleasantly surprised to bump into some of the Planet Earth Institute (PEI) team and so an unexpected (but welcome!) lift to the competition winners’ apartment in the Ipanema area of the city materialised.  The other competition winners Ed and Claire were already waiting for me in the apartment, the beach-front location of which didn’t disappoint as on Tuesday we were all able to have a pre-breakfast swim in glorious sunshine.  An excellent start to my trip!

Since that first morning the past two days have flown by: meeting the PEI team, registering for the conference (getting there in the first place was a challenge due to the heavy Rio traffic!) and attending a range of interesting ‘side-events’ at the main RioCentro conference centre, two of which have particularly stuck in my mind:

  1. Climate vulnerability. The environment ministers of Bangladesh, Nepal and Costa Rica discussed the challenges faced by their countries.  Whilst they all seemed to recognise the climate adaptation problems that their countries (and the world generally) face, I was struck that their actions probably do not reflect this.  Both the Nepali and Bangladeshi ministers discussed the importance of the issues surrounding water resources and the Ganges river basin which they share.  However, the Ganges is notorious for being one of the most badly managed river basins in the world!  (Few agreements exist on water sharing, there is no control of water quality, and riparian countries take actions [such as dam building] unilaterally).
  2. The Guyana-Norway rainforest agreement.  An interesting talk about how, in the continued absence of a global carbon trading mechanism, Norway and Guyana have established a bilateral arrangement whereby Norway pays Guyana not to log its rainforest (leaving at least 99.5% intact), enabling Guyana to invest in renewable energy projects.  Despite allegations of corruption surrounding how the money is spent Guyana (- something I was already aware of, it wasn’t discussed in the side-event!) the project provides an interesting model which could hopefully be replicated for other developing rainforest nations.

James Robinson
MEng Civil Engineering

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