Jul 18, 2012

Rio, Bravo!

I'm back from Rio and have almost recovered from the whirlwind of activities going on there. A good whirlwind, don't get me wrong. I had an excellent time and learned a ton.

No, that's not airport security - that's the entrance to the conference.

I was in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil for the better part of six days attending the Rio+20 Earth Summit, a United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development. Each day had at least 50 panels I could attend on topics including land rights, climate smart agriculture, community forestry, payment for ecosystems services, integrated water resource management, you name it. Let's just say I attended a lot. Panels and smaller side events were great places to learn about others' work and various issues, as well as to meet representatives from other NGOs. Thanks to friends at the Equator Initiative, I was able to stay at an apartment only a 3 minute walk from the conference center. Without getting into details, I'll just say that most conference-goers did not have this luxury and had long, traffic-laden trips to the conference center (well, I think the heads of state took helicopters so they probably avoided the traffic, too). Anyways, because of my close proximity I was able to take full advantage of everything that was going on.

Sure, it was all business, but there were also really cool exhibits from the United Nations like this one showing faces of children from all over the world.

I was in Rio for two reasons: the first is that just like 20 years ago during the first Earth Summit, the conference was addressing some of the founding principles of EcoLogic - that for long-term conservation strategies to be truly effective, rural peoples must be included and their contributions given priority. The other reason for my attendance was to support and honor our partner, AJAASSPIB, which was being recognized as one of the winners of the 2012 UNDP Equator Prize. It was amazing to spend time with the 25 winners who were from around the world, and it was quite valuable to learn about the various initiatives they represented. I encourage you to check out the work of the different winners here. On the last night of my trip, there was a sold-out award ceremony to recognize the winners. Special guests included, Mohammed Yunis, Helen Clark, Richard Branson, and Edward Norton. Also, because of her attendance at Rio+20, Zumilda Duarte, an AJAASSPIB leader who was representing her organization, was able to attend a side conference by the Avina Foundation, Skoll Foundation, Ashoka, and others. Zumilda was all over Rio talking about AJAASSPIB!

That's Zumilda on the left accepting the Equator Prize from a United Nations representative.

Another big part of the conference was what was called "Dialogue Days." These were long sessions where a panel of high-level experts discussed a major theme being covered at the conference. I attended the Dialogue Days on the themes of "Sustainable Development for Poverty Reduction," and "Water." The purpose of these dialogues was to choose language that would be presented to the country delegations at the conference. The panelists discussed the options and the audience - filled with civil society representatives - voted at the end.

That's Zumilda right in the middle. She's on stage accepting the AJAASSPIB's award with some of the other finalists.

Although there is a large sense of disappointment about the outcomes of the conference, I'm glad that EcoLogic had a voice in the process.

As hard as it is to do, that sums up my time in Rio in broad strokes. As you may have noticed, there's been a lot of talk in the media about the conference outcome. What people are referring to is the agreement that participating governments signed, which is supposed to hold governments accountable to the concepts of sustainable development. The problem is that the agreement that was signed is extremely weak and does not push hard enough to bring about change at the policy level. That said, for the smaller NGOs of the world, like EcoLogic, and for grassroots groups like AJAASSPIB, the conference was undeniably valuable. I was able to talk to many people about our work and establish and/or strengthen relationships with new and existing collaborators, allies, donors, and friends. And I learned so much that I will be able to use to help EcoLogic help our partners throughout Central America and Mexico!

- Chris Patterson, Program Officer for EcoLogic
Chris collaborates closely with the senior program officer by writing grant proposals and project reports, and following trends in philanthropy, conservation, and international development.  

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