By Ben Tavener, Senior Contributing Reporter
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – In just over a month, the UN’s biggest ever international event on sustainable development, Rio+20, is set to bring together global leaders in Brazil to agree on specific goals and actions. The conference is an important moment for Rio, hosting a major international event, and for the Rousseff administration to leverage the opportunity on the world stage.
With 182 UN member states and 135 world leaders attending, including the new presidents of Russia and France, and given the string of side meetings and business deals that will inevitably accompany the event, the stakes are high.
“Everyone recognizes that [Rio+20] is of major importance, and this is why we have had over a hundred heads-of-state confirm so far,” says André Correa do Lago, Brazil’s chief Rio+20 negotiator.
However some big names have already confirmed they cannot attend, including German Chancellor Angela Merkel and British Prime Minister David Cameron.
There is still a question whether the Chinese president Hu Jintao and U.S. President Barack Obama will attend – their presence, many hope, will give the event more political clout. But as U.S. presidential campaigning gets underway, Obama’s presence is looking increasingly unlikely.
Perhaps more concerning is that member countries have yet to agree on the wording for a political statement to be signed at the summit. Reports indicate it is mainly due to developing countries’ fears that the environmental measures could stymie economic development back home.
Experts are saying Brazil has plenty to gain politically from Rio+20, thanks to its growing role as a global player and greater assertiveness in various multilateral negotiations. Past issues include Brazil’s environmental diplomacy in the UN’s 1992 Earth summit, the Clean Development Mechanism it helped secure for 1997’s Kyoto Protocol, and work on the 2006 Cartegena Protocol.
However analysts also warn Brazil could see some set-backs if positive progress is not made, and if attention is drawn away by protesters:
“Rio+20 will have great strategic importance for Brazil in demonstrating the possibility of economic growth alongside environmental sustainability. Brazil has stated that sustainable development is necessary to eradicate poverty and enable social inclusion,” International Relations expert Professor Janiffer Zarpelon explains to The Rio Times.
“Brazil has also pointed to energy sources as a strategic issue, but has been criticized by several international institutions and NGOs, particularly over the construction of the Belo Monte dam in the Amazon region,” she adds.
Caroline Bennett from Amazon Watch says President Rousseff’s environmental credibility is diminishing day-by-day: “With each hectare that’s cleared for the Belo Monte dam, with each step forward in modifying the Forest Code, and with each forest defender who is killed in Brazil, the triumph of Brazil’s agri-business lobby over sound environmental policy will be one of Rio+20’s indelible narratives,” she told The Rio Times.
Although the three-day conference is likely to draw most attention, it is preceded by a number of smaller events, including “Dialogue Days” organized by the Brazilian government, which will address a range of topics from food security and poverty to unemployment and the human impact on oceans and forests.
As the event approaches parties on all sides of the key issues will be looking to build momentum and leverage opportunities. Brazil’s ability to remain a developing nation at the forefront of sustainability issues will surely be in focus.