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Rio: long days, late nights, hot potatoes ahead

Rio+20 UN Conference on Sustainable DevelopmentAt the starting gate... Rio+20 UN Conference on Sustainable Development

My long trip to Rio for the UN Conference on Sustainable Development (aka the ‘Earth Summit’ 2012) doesn’t seem so bad compared to what some of my American colleagues have gone through. They were supposed to be here on Thursday but through a series of cancellations and mishaps, they got stuck in Sao Paulo trying to complete the last leg of their journey

Ahead of them they still had the two-hour shuttle journey to and from our accommodation in the not-so-glamorous Copacabana to the RioCentro conference centre – a sprawling series of hangars close to where the 2016 Olympic site is slowly taking shape.

It’s here that, on 20 June – 20 years after the first Earth Summit arguably brought green issues and sustainable development to public consciousness – 192 nations are set to debate some of the most pressing environmental issues of our time.

Side-events on everything from Ecolabelling to deforestation are already vying for the attention of delegates. WWF is holding about 16 side-events over the course of the next week to spread the word about some of the solutions we’re offering to the issues affecting the planet.

So far, a trickle of people have begun to make their way to the conference complex but numbers are expected to swell to tens of thousands when the three days of high-level negotiations begin on Thursday.

Over the course of the past few days, delicate talks have been taking place behind the scenes to pull together a text that can be agreed on when the main event begins. I’ve heard whispers that 70% of the text hasn’t been agreed on – so still a lot of work to try and thrash out a compromise.

Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg and environment secretary Caroline Spelman will be representing the UK government in the process, with WWF-UK’s CEO David Nussbaum accompanying the UK delegation. There will also be representatives from the world of business and a mass of media to report on the successes, and no doubt inevitable failures.

When they get here some of the issues on the table they’ll be asked to agree to include defining ‘sustainable development goals’ from 2015 – although who will pay for them is going to be high up the agenda.

The development of a ‘green economy’ – and how to develop it – is another political hot potato. The redirection of money currently used for subsidies for fossil fuels, unsustainable agriculture and fisheries practices could be yet another contentious issue.

Looks like there are going to be a few late nights to reach an agreement by next Friday.

Back in the centre of sunny Rio there’s an alternative People’s Summit for Social and Environmental Justice taking place at the same time as the UN one. Over the next few days I’m hoping to sneak over there to have a chat with some of the participants to listen to what they’ve got to say about how to get the green revolution back on track. Maybe the politicians should be listening to them a bit more closely.

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