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Finding Optimism After Rio+20

Although more than 50,000 participants have left Rio de Janeiro, the buzz surrounding Rio+20 remains. The conference, which marked the 20th anniversary of the UN’s Earth Summit in Rio in 1992, concluded on June 22, with responses already hitting the internet before the jets left the tarmac.

20 years ago in Rio delegates adopted Agenda 21 and this year hopes were that through a combination of high-level proceedings and hundreds of smaller side events inspiration would be ignited and commitment to action would follow. Unfortunately, some are disappointed with the outcome of Rio+20, particularly from formal meetings. However, many are finding perspective in writing about the conference and are encouraging bloggers and reporters not to jump to conclusions. In fact, one particularly poignant point of reflection is how Rio’s predecessor in 1992 was initially met with criticism but is now lauded for its achievements in bringing the world together to have an important conversation.

Bob Skinner of the UN Foundation’s New York office urges that we should continue to see this as a step forward, saying that nations did indeed come together to create a document and that in itself is a starting point which can begin to give direction to move forward. Fiona Macleod of South Africa’s Mail & Guardian wrote, “The Rio+20 conference may not have produced an Earth-saving global deal but it succeeded in keeping global development at the top of the agenda of the world’s leaders.”

Furthermore,  Macleod opines that Rio+20 was not expected to generate the same landmark decisions we saw in 1992 but rather that the focus this year was on bringing together participants from every corner of the globe and from various sectors to engage in dialogue about the environment’s most pressing issues. This was certainly achieved: decision-makers from every sector (as well as global citizens who were more active than ever on social media platforms!) all came together in an impressive, unprecedented way.

A breakdown of Rio’s “The Future We Want” document.

In addition to high-level meetings and roundtables, 500+ side events at Rio+20 offered a promise of real progress. Mary Robinson, former UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, stated in an opinion piece for CNN that a “lack of political leadership was countered by the incredible vitality, determination, and commitment of civil society.” Outside of the scope of governing bodies, corporations, NGOs, and non-profits, identified action-steps to take in order to address environmental crises. Microsoft, for example, proposed an internal carbon fee on its operations in more than 100 countries; they hope to achieve carbon neutrality by the end of 2013.

Seeing actors from all sectors, public, private, not-for-profit, and civil society, work together and represent the next generation of environmental leaders is a positive note of the conference. It shows that key players acknowledge the importance of the multilateral, multinational cooperation that needs to take place in order to catalyze real change. Mary Robinson writes, “the legacy of Rio+20 will not just be the text of the Declaration.  Hopefully it will be the mobilization of people to build the future they desire.”

This brings us back to our original question and the theme of Rio+20, “The Future We Want”. In light of dissatisfaction from many concerning the Earth Summit, now is the time to voice our opinions and act locally to show our commitment as global citizens! We have been asked about the future we want and it is our duty to answer.

So, what can you do?!

Take social media by storm, express your opinions online or in your local newspaper, write to editors or government officials! Spread the good word – check out The Guardian’s article on 5 Reasons to Be Cheery About Rio+20 and pass it on!  And make some easy changes to your lifestyle that can benefit our environment. These are just a few suggestions that can make a big impact.

-Jessica P

Rio+20 images were used from The Interdependent’s photo diary.

What Future Do You Want?: Rio+20 Kicks-Off in Brazil

Today thousands of participants, including world leaders, CEOs, and global citizens alike are convening in Rio de Janeiro for Rio +20, also known as the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development. This year marks the 20th anniversary of the conference in Brazil and is an opportunity for us to reflect on the strides we have made in supporting our environment as well as what lies ahead in the future of sustainable development. In 1992, Earth Summit in Rio concluded with an adoption of Agenda 21, a framework for rethinking economic development; this year the UN hopes to take it further by bringing together institutions to agree on measures that promote development and help to alleviate poverty in the most sustainable ways.

The emphasis of the conference, which takes place from June 20 through 22, is “the future we want”; not only are we urging corporations, NGOs, and the everyday citizen to be more conscious of our environment today but we also need to look forward to future generations. “The Future We Want” taps into two main focuses of the Conference on Sustainable Development: green economies and international coordination. Rio+20 is also focusing on 7 key global environmental issues: jobs, energy, cities, food, oceans, water, disasters.

Essentially, how can we act together to establish a greener path for development, today, tomorrow, and in the long-run? UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon released a statement on YouTube last week expressing the future he wants? The Secretary-General’s statement promotes us to ask ourselves, “What is the future we want?”, and more importantly “How does Rio+20 factor into that?”

In a recent Guardian article, a UN official stated, “We want there to be more ambition so that it actually leads to sustainable development. At the moment, there is a risk that instead of the future we want, we will go back to the past we had.” Rio+20 serves as a forum for leaders from diverse backgrounds and sectors to come together and discuss ways in which we can move forward rather than backward.

Texts and documents have already been drafted through which corporations and groups pledge to make efforts to protect the environment. Yesterday 190 delegates drafted an agreement for approval on Friday, Rio+20’s last day, which addressed fossil fuel use, ocean protection, and support for renewable energy. The draft text is fittingly titled “The Future We Want” and delegates hope for it to act as a road map for businesses and policy makers in all areas.

Today the conference opens up with statements from Ban Ki-moon as well as Secretary-General of the conference both establishing their hopes for Rio+20 over the next few days and beyond.  High level round table discussions will take place in addition to countless side events throughout Rio de Janeiro. For forum and event schedules check out the take a look at the conference page.

Although Rio is nearly 5,000 miles from Boston, you don’t have to feel far away from the action.  Rio+20’s website has constant updates, and the Guardian’s Jo Confino and Adam Vaughan are detailing their experiences through daily diaries and live blogs. Rio+20’s webpage has an entire section dedicated to how you can be engaged and Rio+Social continues to be an easy way to be vocal.  Rio+Social, a social media conference and live stream which took place on June 19 let global citizens voice their opinions and express what they hope Rio+20 will accomplish. Although the live stream has passed, social media fans can still be involved by tweeting about sustainability using hash tags such as #rioplussocial or #rioplusfood, or going to Rio+Social on Twitter and Facebook. Liking and following UNA-GB on both Twitter and Facebook is also a great way to stay looped in!

Stay tuned for our post-conference reflection and analysis.  Additionally, we are continuing to answer the question about what is the future we want and are working towards here at UNA-GB, beyond Rio+20, and we hope you continue to join us.  While there’s a lot of ways to get involved, one exciting area we are growing here in Boston is our engagement around sustainable and responsible efforts of Boston and Massachusetts corporations.  Earlier this month, we teamed up with John Hancock Financial as they received their LEED Platinum certification for environmentally conscious design and joined some of their staff on a beach clean-up for World Environment Day. Additionally, at our annual United Nations Day Luncheon in October, we acknowledge several companies and universities that are signed onto the United Nations Global CompactPrinciples for Responsible Investment, and and the Principles for Responsible Management Education (PRME) with our corporate honor roll. Not only do we gladly shine a light on the valuable efforts these institutions are making but we also hope to inspire other local companies to follow suit.  Stay tuned on ways to engage more in these efforts!

-Jessica P

Celebrating World Environment Day with a Boston Corporate LEEDer

Tomorrow, June 5, UNA-GB is teaming up with John Hancock Financial to celebrate the 40th anniversary of United Nations World Environment Day and its theme, “Green Economy: Does it include you?”

The annual World Environment Day was created by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) in 1972 as a way to raise awareness about environmental issues. UNEP focuses on several areas ranging from environmental governance to disasters, conflicts, and climate change, and encourages global citizens to care for our environment in order to improve our quality of life. World Environment Day serves to personalize environmental issues and urge civil society to realize that it is our responsibility to take action. Not only is WED a celebration but it is also an opportunity to come together and initiate change in support of sustainable lifestyles and development.

More specifically, this year WED will hone in on issues of green economies– economies that are low carbon, resource efficient, and socially inclusive. UNEP suggests that because  a green economy is socially inclusive that means that we as global citizens are integral in making a change, that it is not only up to businesses and policy-makers; this is where the bulk of this year’s theme comes into play.

These questions arise just as the UN is gearing up for the Rio+20 conference, taking place June 20-22. The conference marks the 20th anniversary of the 1992 United Nations Conference on Environment and Development. UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon acknowledges World Environment Day as the perfect opportunity to prepare for Rio+20 and to reflect on how we fit into green economies (read his official statement here).  World leaders and thousands of participants from governments, NGOs, and the private sector will convene  to discuss “priority areas” including green economy and its role in poverty eradication. For more information on this topic, check out Rio+20’s green economy resource and this Guardian article on green jobs and how they can help lift workers out of poverty. And to get involved take a look at Rio’s page on engagement.

UNA-USA has sprung into action by responding to efforts to ban UN’s Agenda 21 and encouraging members to let their voices be heard and write letters to editors. Additionally, the UN Foundation has established Rio+Social and the 6 Minute Speech project as a way to connect to the event through social media- an easy way to get involved! Both organizations are hosting a live web conference on June 22 @ 1 PM EST to get an insider’s look at Rio+20’s sessions (RSVP here).

With all of those options there are still more opportunities to help! UNEP challenges us all to join in the WED  and Rio+20 action by not only asking ourselves how we can be included in promoting sustainable development but also by simply organizing a neighborhood clean-up, planting a tree, or even walking to work.  More than 8,400 WED activities, including Tuesday’s program at John Hancock, have been registered at UNEP’s global 2012 WED website.

This year John Hancock Financial’s headquarter offices at 601 Congress Street in downtown Boston became the first existing building in New England to become LEED certified at the platinum level by the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) At UNA-GB’s event, John Hancock Financial will be recognized for its environmental commitment and leadership. Our hope is to encourage other corporations in the Boston area and beyond to take similar steps such as striving for the greener rankings as John Hancock did or by supporting environmental efforts elsewhere in their company or surrounding communities.

Although the event focuses on corporate action, we must not forget this year’s WED theme; does the green economy include you? We should ask ourselves what we can do to be more involved in environmental issues. UNA-GB will be volunteering with the Boston Harbor Association on Tuesday by cleaning a park near John Hancock at 12:30pm.

UNA-GB is also deeply committed to educating the next generation of global citizens about environmental sustainability beyond just World Environment Day – through our Model UN program this past year, more than 600 students have debated environmental topics, including clean water, green building and sustainable development.

What will you do to celebrate World Environment Day? What actions will you take to support the environment on June 5? And on June 6th and beyond? A great first step is to join us for World Environment Day on Tuesday. Hope to see you there! You can also check out how else you can support the planet with 50 Ways to Help.

Boston Event details recap:
Tuesday, June 5
Event at John Hancock Financial, 601 Congress Street
10:15-10:45 AM- Tour of John Hancock’s new LEED certified building
11:00-11:30 AM- Brief speaking engagement with UNA-GB Board President Richard Golob and State/city environmental officials.
12:00 pm- John Hancock vendor fair
12:30-1:30 PM- Park clean-up with Boston Harbor Association (To participate in the clean-up, email info@unagb.org your name!).

-Jessica P