Think of Rio de Janeiro, and you think of bustling street life, honking cars and a vibrant atmosphere.
Rio is busy. And this week it is beyond busy.
One carioca (that’s how people born and bred in Rio call themselves) at my hostel complains: “I can’t cope with these crowds! What are all these gringos doing here?”
She’s right. Gringos – as Brazilians call the non-Brazilians – are descending on Rio. And with them come security personnel on every corner and traffic jams caused by shuttle buses and motorcades.
The crowds have come to the UN conference on sustainable development and the parallel People’s Summit. Both events follow on from the original UN conference on Sustainable Development back in 1992, hence the nickname Rio+20.
I am here, with CAFOD partners from around the world, because we believe that poor communities need to have their say on the ‘future we want’ for all of us.
Many organisations that CAFOD works with in Brazil, other Latin American countries, the Philippines, the Congo and other countries around the world will be attending the summit to raise their voices.
Expectations are high. Rio+20 is supposed to solve during two weeks what hasn’t been achieved for the past 20 years: the genuine integration of poverty and environment concerns into the concept of sustainable development.
Rio+20 isn’t about just one issue, it’s a chance for world leaders to debate everything from renewable energy to deforestation, ocean protection to urbanisation, human wellbeing to the economics of ecosystems and biodiversity – and to come up with plans for ‘the future we want’, in the words of the conference’s ambitious motto.
As co-chair of the Beyond 2015 campaign, we also want to make sure that Rio+20 contributes to a strong and legitimate successor to the current UN Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) that will come into place in 2015.
I asked Nanette Antequisa, Executive Director of ECOWEB and Beyond 2015 Executive Board member, what a successful outcome of Rio+20 would look like for her.
“I hope the world manages to turn a new page for the global development agenda,” she said. “The outcome should reflect that sustainable development takes into account the needs of both, people and planet, for the present as well as the future generations.”
For me, Rio+20 will be a success, if we go home with a clear vision of how we can make sustainable development work for the poor. I believe leaders will have to step up and pave the way for a true greening of the economy that effectively marries environmental protection with social and economic development.
If we end up with empty promises and kind words, we have let those living in poverty around the world down.