Wednesday, April 18, 2012

The Top Three Reasons Rio+20 Will Change the World

Though two months away, the UN Conference on Sustainable Development’s Earth Summit, better known as Rio+20, has already been labeled vital,momentous and historic. And while delegates, students and activists have yet to arrive in Brazil, we already know that Rio+20 has the potential to be a “big deal.”

It all begs the question, can the people engaging in Rio+20, in-person or remotely, really change the world? My sage and inspiration for answering this question is Margaret Mead who said, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”

Simply, Rio+20 is about being part of that thoughtful group committed to "getting it right" for future generations. The outcome and commitments of the Conference will affect us all, from the farmer in Iowa to the IT specialist in India, and whether you attend the conference or not, your voice can and needs to be heard.

The first Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro in 1992 wasn’t a quiet affair by any means. An estimated 172 governments (108 heads of state), 2,400 NGO representatives and 17,000 attendees of the parallel Global Forum participated in the originalEarth Summit. Additionally, the 1992 conference yielded vital, momentous and historic gains, including Agenda 21 (the action plan supporting sustainable development goals through government engagement at all levels), the UN Convention on Biological Diversity and the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), from which all of our climate negotiations stem.

Rio+20 is estimated to eclipse the original Earth Summit in both size and breadth. The actual conference, which will take place June 20-22, will be preceded by over a week of civil society days and pre-conference events. In addition to buy-in from governments, industry and non-governmental organizations, Earth Summit 2.0 is posed to make an even bigger splash than the original.

Here are the top three reasons how Rio+20 can change the world:

3. Growing Green from the Ground Up
We usually look to our national leaders to make commitments on global policy; however, lack of consensus and cooperation has led to stalemate in negotiations. Rather than wait for a top-down climate regime, cities have emerged as the new leaders on climate change and sustainability. Local action is critical in our ability to meet global goals and cities have the authority to affect infrastructure, building and local development decisions in order to meet these goals. The current Rio+20 zero draft includes one paragraph on the role of cities:

“We commit to promote an integrated and holistic approach to planning and building sustainable cities through support to local authorities, efficient transportation and communication networks, greener buildings and an efficient human settlements and service delivery system, improved air and water quality, reduced waste, improved disaster preparedness and response and increased climate resilience.”

Though brief at this stage, I see this paragraph as a positive first step. We need to accelerate the development tools and resources to enable local governments to continue their inspiring work.

2. Empowering All to Shape the Future We Want
The themes of Rio+20—the green economy in the context of sustainable development and poverty eradication and the institutional framework for sustainable development—have universal importance and deserves the attention of all populations. The scope of climate change is not discriminatory, though its most adverse effects tend to affect vulnerable populations and regions. Rio+20 offers the chance to address climate change, sustainable development, poverty, world hunger and more in order to realize a brighter and more prosperous tomorrow.

The outcomes of Rio+20 affect every one of us. Like movements before us, we need to make Rio+20 the culmination of our fight for social equity, economic freedom and quality of life. We need to speak up and advocate for the future we want, but step one is to raise awareness and to educate our peers.

1. Unleashing a New Generation of Leadership
By leveraging the media tools of today, we all can engage in the 2012 Earth Summit. The profound equalizing effect of Facebook, Twitter and other social media platforms has helped forge a next generation of leadership that will be on full display at Rio+20, inspiring engagement, amplifying the urgency for action and driving commitment. Join the conversation on Twitter by using the hashtags – #RioPlus20 and #FutureWeWant – and the handles – @UNEP and @UN_RioPlus20. Go even further and spread the word on Facebook. Don’t just write and call your leaders to act in Rio, organize and mobilize. Take the lead and unleash your own movement.

I genuinely believe that Rio+20 has the potential (excuse the cliché) to change the world. However, it requires the attention and interest of all of us. Let’s make Rio+40 a celebration of what we accomplish this June, not another attempt to address the same issues. Join me in fighting for the future we want.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

I Don’t Need to Rule, But Our Leaders Do

I've been selected as one of the 10 finalists in the Rio+20 Big Blog Off! Vote for me to be the official blogger for World Environment Day in Rio on June 5, 2012.

As any pageant queen could tell you, the winning answer to “If I ruled the world” is something BIG. If I ruled the world…I would cure cancer! …I would end all world hunger! And, of course, …there would be WORLD PEACE!

Unfortunately, I am not a beauty queen and I am far too practical for overly idealistic goals for my world domination. But if Iruled the world…there would be policies in place at both the local and national levels of government that promote the green economy and sustainable development in an economically efficient and socially appropriate way! (Though, I’m not sure if I would win the interview category with that answer.)

We have the power and the tools already at our disposal to make the 2000s a sustainable century, though time is of the essence. We need to move quickly in order to get our carbon emissions in check and to stabilize our greenhouse gas emissions below the scientifically recommended 450 parts per million (ppm) and, ideally, get them down to the 350 ppm figure supported by vulnerable geographic regions for the best chance of survival. This is completely doable through international cooperation at Rio+20 in June and the Conference of Parties climate change negotiations in Qatar in December. However, there are a few points of context needed to understand what UN delegates are up against and why action on climate change hasn’t been realized already.

The policy nerd in me could discuss climate policy for ages, but, you’re lucky, I’ll spare you. What you need to know is that the only existing internationalcompact for greenhouse gas mitigation, the Kyoto Protocol, is insufficient for meeting our global emissions goals. First, some of the most polluting countries, including the United States, China, India, and Brazil, are not party to the Protocol and, therefore, have no obligation to reduce emissions. Second, participating countries are not legally-bound to meet their promised targets, which they often exceed without batting an eyelash. So from the get-go, the Kyoto Protocol falls short in its ability to effectively reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

The international community has had years to address these shortcomings. With the first commitment period of the Protocol due to expire in 2012, UN delegates in Durban, South Africa in December 2011 hastily extended a new commitment period for five or eight more years with no consideration for the apparent deficiencies of the existing treaty. Not to mention that Japan, Russia and Canada dropped out of the Protocol at this time. I love this line from the UNFCCC’s website on the outcomes of Durban, “The outcomes included a decision by Parties to adopt a universal legal agreement on climate change as soon as possible, and no later than 2015.” …That’s what they agreed on in 2007 in Bali, with an agreement negotiated and adopted later than 2009. *Sigh*

While Kyoto was a crucial first step in initiating global cooperation on climate change, it’s time for Kyoto 2.0.

Perhaps I spoke too soon when I said we have all of the tools at our disposal to make the 2000s a sustainable century because we’re missing one thing—political will from our leaders to take action now.

Maybe that’s the reason we could see the growth of the green economy and sustainable development during my hypothetical world domination, because I recognize the imperative to take action on climate change, to ensure the health and safety of the global population, to mitigate food shortages brought about by changing climates, and to lessen the growing civil strife and conflict which accompanies food and resource shortages. (Did I just end world hunger and solve word peace? Judges, take notice.)

Is it sad that my wildest dream is for our leaders to do their job? …To secure the well-being of their citizens and the environment on which all of our livelihoods depend?

If I ruled the world, our leaders would make legally-binding commitments in Rio and Qatar to participate in a fair, robust and universal post-2012 climate regime. The implementation of which would necessitate policies in place at both local and national levels of government that promote the green economy and sustainable development in an economically efficient and socially appropriate way.

The tipping point was yesterday. No more elapsed deadlines, no more excuses. We need to act NOW.

Friday, February 10, 2012

YOU are the Architect of the Green Economy

The engineer that just received her green building accreditation; the dad that championed a green school retrofit in his community; the non-profit leader that, for the first time, brought access to energy to part of rural India—each is laying the groundwork for the green economy, which I define as the realization of human, social and environmental well-being through thoughtful investments in sustainable development strategies.

While I embrace the phrase “green economy,” I recognize that this isn’t a clear term for many. The disconnect between our daily lives and the world of international policy is starkly apparent when related news is riddled with sector-specific jargon and acronyms. Despite the natural inclination to ignore the press and outcomes, I ask you to give Rio+20 (the historic summit in June that will champion the green economy and sustainable development) a chance. Though you may not be aware, you may already be contributing to the green economy (which is a good thing). It’s time to band together and embrace the green economy as a rallying cry for the “Future We Want,” the very appropriate theme of the Rio+20 conference.

When you define the economy, jobs, money and GDP may come to mind. Additionally, we assume that the economy is a force that is long-term and self-sustaining. . .sustainable, if you will. I love the dual connotation of sustainability because the environmentally conscious economic decisions that we make facilitate a stable and healthy economy that will stand the test of time. Investments in environmentally and climate sensitive industries create high-quality, long-term jobs, promote innovation and economic competitiveness, while fulfilling environmental and social goals. In this sense, the green economy is the attainment of sustainable development. However, in order to nurture the green economy of the (near) future, we need to make the right policy and investment decisions today. This calls for less apathy and more empathy from each one of us.

For example, adequate housing is a human right which is defined beyond a basic necessity for survival to include social, economic and psychological benefits. Adequate housing should include the environmental and health benefits to which every individual has a right. Green buildings serve these ends while promoting the green economy. At their most elementary level, green buildings are about harnessing low-cost solutions to reduce energy and water use, mitigating negative environmental impacts, and enhancing occupant health and happiness. These goals are achievable in both hemispheres and serve the aims of sustainable development.

The green affordable housing advocate advocate, the non-profit executive, the Peace Corps volunteer, and the environmental blogger, we all support the green economy in our own way. Regardless of your geographic location or economic status, we all have a role to play in the development of the green economy, but we need your help to get there. The outcomes of Rio have implications for each of us and will shape the fate of future generations. I hope you will join me in advocating for strong and just outcomes of the Rio+20 conference and remind our leaders of the “Future We Want.” Through your actions, we will not only achieve a global, green economy, but we will no longer need to call it green.