Rio+20 101: An Introductory Guide to Rio+20

June 15, 2012 | 9:50 am
Calen May-Tobin
Former contributor

Yesterday marked the official start of the Rio+20 pre-meetings, with government negotiators and NGO staff descending on Riocentro convention center (which, despite its name, is some 25 miles from the center of Rio) by the thousands.

rio + 20 summit

This is part of a series of posts straight from the Rio +20 Summit.

The pavilions were packed with people from all around the world, trying to make sense of what can best be described as managed chaos. With so many simultaneous meetings and events it can get a little confusing, so for today’s post I want to provide an overview of all of the activities that are going on here at Rio+20.


rio+20 entrance

Banner above the entrance to the Riocentro welcoming delegates to Rio+20.

United Nations Negotiations

At the most basic level there are the official UN negotiations.  These are, ostensibly, the reason why everyone is here.  Government delegates from every country are meeting to work out the text of the consensus agreement on sustainable development that will be the official outcome of Rio+20.

This week is technically a “pre-meeting” where mid-level bureaucrats negotiate the fine points of the text.  Next week when the official summit starts, the VIPs (ministers of the environment, foreign secretaries, and some heads of state) arrive to finish up negotiations, announce commitments and make public declarations. Ultimately Rio+20 will be judged a success or failure based on the strength of these statements.

Negotiating session

UN negotiating session

NGOs and other civil society groups do not participate directly in the official negotiations (for the most part) but they are often allowed in as observers.  From this vantage point, they then try to lobby various countries to include language on issues which they care strongly about, just as domestic NGOs lobby Congress on various pieces of legislation.

Official Side Events

The next level down from the negotiations are the “official” unofficial side events, those that are deemed worthy enough to be hosted within the convention center, safely behind the security badge checks and x-ray machines.  These are lectures, receptions, and discussion panels sponsored by NGOs, companies, and other non-governmental groups that are meant to inform and engage the public and to some extent lobby the negotiators.

brazil state pavilion

A pavilion in the Athletes Park hosted by the states of Brazil.

Just across the road (though thanks to security measures, a mile and a half walk around three sides of a square) is the Athlete’s Park.  This area is host to a number of pavilions for individual governments, UN organizations, NGOs, and companies. In addition to exhibitions highlighting sustainability initiatives by the various entities, these groups also hold their own side events.  Unlike the rest of the official Rio+20 activities these pavilions don’t require accreditation and are therefore open to the general public.

Unofficial Side Events

Finally there are the unofficial events, meetings, and receptions, most of which are located back in Rio city proper.  The two-hour-plus bus ride from Riocentro to central Rio makes it practically impossible to jump between these and the summit proper, making them fairly isolated from the goings on at Riocentro, save for the evening receptions.

That, in a nutshell, is Rio+20.  Tomorrow I’ll write about my daily routine here, but before I sign off I want to highlight a few interesting events, and news stories which I have come across so far in Rio.

copa hotels

Hotels along Ipanema and Copacabana host a number of the unofficial side events, but feel worlds away from Rio+20.

Some Interesting Side Events

Certification as a tool for greening economies

A side event hosted by the Forest Stewardship Council on the role governments and certification bodies can play in changing markets to encourage reduced impact logging in the tropics.

Food security, green economy and biodiversity conservation

A side event that UCS co-sponsored with the National Wildlife Federation and a number of other groups, which focused on sustainable beef production in Brazil.

Forum on Science, Technology and Innovation for Sustainable Development

A five-day meeting on the role of science and technology in sustainable development. Since this was hosted in central Rio I wasn’t able to attend, but I look forward to reading about the outcomes.

News Stories

Brazil hosts Rio+20: a big surprise to some at home

Interesting article about how little is known about Rio+20 within Brazil. Only 22% of Brazilians know about Rio+20!

Rio+20: why Brazil is a country of contradictions

A look at some of the internal politics of environmental politics within Brazil.  The recent debate around the Brazilian Forest Code is just one example of these contradictions.

Rio+20 Earth summit: scientists call for action on population

Population control is a traditionally thorny subject with strong opinions on both sides.  Check out this recent post by my colleagues Brenda Ekwurzel and Peter Frumhoff on population and global warming emissions.