Road to Rio: What to Expect From Rio+20

Rio+20 is kicking into full swing in Brazil next week. Curious what all the buzz is about?’s Jordana Fyne spoke with Glenn Prickett, our Chief External Affairs Officer, to find out why this United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development is so important and what the Conservancy hopes to achieve there.

And stay connected with what happens next week at Rio+20 by following us on Twitter.  What’s the value of conferences like Rio+20? What kinds of decisions are made there?

Glenn:  The real value of these conferences is they’ve led to the creation of many environmental ministries in governments around the world and really the birth of the global environmental movement.

This is actually the 40th anniversary of the first global environmental conference in Stockholm 1972. Then we had Rio de Janeiro in 1992, the Earth Summit.

It was that first Rio summit that really created the movement around sustainable development and the recognition that we needed to balance conservation and economic development.

Here in the United States, it inspired President George H. W. Bush to create a presidential council on sustainable development. And especially in the developing world, it got governments to become very serious about developing sustainably. It helped launch big aid programs and really helped The Nature Conservancy, and other groups like us, to chart a course around conservation and development. We’re hopeful that Rio this year will be a similar watershed moment in the evolution of the global conservation movement.  What are some of the topics they’re covering at the conference you think would be of the most interest to readers?

Glenn:  One of the major themes of the Rio conference is going to be the “green economy,” and that’s really tailor-made for the Conservancy because the protection and restoration of healthy natural systems plays a central role in helping solve economic and social development challenges. So we’re going to be working with leaders of governments and companies at the conference to highlight the commitments they’re making to incorporate conservation as part of their development strategy.  One of the conference’s goals is a green economy “in the context of sustainably developed poverty eradication.” What’s the connection between poverty and a green economy?

Glenn:  Going back to Rio in 1992, there was this first recognition that you had to look at economic development and poverty reduction hand-in-hand with environmental protection, and we called that sustainable development.

Where we’ve really gotten to today is not the sense that these need to be balanced or they are somehow in opposition, but really that a healthy environment is necessary for a healthy economy and for reducing poverty. So the “green economy” we’ll be talking about next week in Rio is about how conservation makes an economy stronger, how it makes a community stronger or a company stronger. So we’re really looking at integrating the work we do to protect nature with the work society does to fight poverty and advance communities economically and socially. What’s the Conservancy’s goal at Rio+20?

Glenn:  I’ll start by saying what we don’t think is going to happen. In previous summits like the Earth Summit in ’92, there were global treaties that were signed and global deals that were struck. We don’t think there’s going to be anything like that next week in Rio. There just isn’t the momentum for it in the international system. And for us that’s okay because what Rio is really going to be about is companies and countries making commitments on their own for what they’re going to do for the environment as part of their development that makes sense for them.

So we’re going to be there to shine the spotlight on leaders of countries and companies that are making those commitments and figure out what we can do to help them implement and really be accountable to people for the commitments they’re making.

We’ve got a great group of Nature Conservancy staff from all around the world that’ll be coming together to support that effort.

Stay connected with what happens next week at Rio+20 by following us on Twitter and checking back on throughout the week.

[Image: A farmer carries a basket made of bamboo in Yunnan Province, China. Sustainable economic development efforts like bamboo harvesting Yunnan’s diverse natural resources and help restore the balance between people and nature. Image credit: Ami Vitale]

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