Rio+20 Conference Gets Underway

By Ben Tavener and Jay Forte, Contributing Reporters

RIO DE JANERO, BRAZIL – After much planning and anticipation the Rio+20 United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development is finally getting started. It was announced yesterday that Brazil’s president Dilma Rousseff will open the Brazil Pavilion today (June 13th) in her first participation of the event that runs until June 22nd.

President Rousseff announced she will open the Brazil Pavilion June 13th as her first participation of the Rio+20 Conference, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil News

President Rousseff announced she will open the Brazil Pavilion June 13th as her first participation of the Rio+20 Conference, photo by Wilson Dias/ABr.

The opening of the Brazil Pavilion is scheduled for 11AM at the Parc des Athletes (Athletes Park), in front of the Riocentro, the main area of the official activities of the mega event.

Afterwards Rousseff is expected to return on the 20th, with the arrival of most heads of state for the High-Level Meetings (June 20-22nd) intended to culminate in the signing of “focused political document”.

During a speech in Belo Horizonte yesterday, Rousseff said that the great challenge of the Rio+20 is to find a model that combines sustainable development, economic growth and social inclusion.

“You can have a country that develops economically, and add growth of its population, from a development point of view, with justice, and at the same time, respects the environment. This is the great challenge of this Rio+20 conference,” the president said.

The Secretary-General of the United Nations (UN) for Rio+20, Sha Zukang, said the absence of some world leaders – such as U.S. president Barack Obama, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Prime Minister of the UK David Cameron – will not weaken the conference.

“I do not think [the absences will weaken the final document of the Rio +20], because the United States, UK and Germany will be well represented at a high level,” said Zukang, after meeting Monday (June 11th) with the mayor of Rio de Janeiro, Eduardo Paes regarding logistical details of the meeting.

Zukang said he understood the reasons for any absences, including the U.S. elections and the economic crisis in Europe: “It’s their internal problems and a question of each sovereign country to say who will attend the conference. But we are happy if they change their mind and decide to be here.”

The Secretary-General of the United Nations (UN) for the Rio+20, Sha Zukang in a planning meeting, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil News

The Secretary-General of the United Nations (UN) for the Rio+20, Sha Zukang in a planning meeting, photo by Wilson Dias/ABr.

According Zukang, 134 heads of state or government are already confirmed to attend the conference. These will be joined by thousands of business CEOs, government officials, NGO leaders, academics, senior UN officials and representatives from many other groups. Over 50,000 people in total are expected to participate in the Conference and related events.

Getting underway this week, starting on today (June 13th), are the over 500 Side-Events set to happen at Riocentro. The program of 30-50 meetings per day has recently been finalized and will run for ten straight days until Friday, June 22nd.

The other important component of the conference starting this week are the four Dialogue Days which run from Saturday, June 16th through Tuesday, June 19th. Initiated by the Brazilian government, these meetings are intended to help foster a more inclusive process.

Speaking to The Rio Times ahead of the conference, the UN’s Rio+20 spokesperson Pragati Pascale explained: “The Brazilian government is playing an important role in involving civil society in the Conference, including by organizing a series of ten Global Sustainability Dialogues that will bring together thousands of people to discuss key issues. These will generate recommendations that will be presented to the government leaders.”

All the activity this week will also be accompanied by countless events organized by the state of Rio, as well as many other international and local organizations. The Rio State government has provided a comprehensive web site (in English) listing the agenda of events at Riocentro, as well as locations in Centro (Pier Mauá) and several favela communities including Rocinha, Vidigal and Complexo do Alemão.