News Story

June 17, 2013

Reflections on Rio

HUCE provided funding for Sachi Oshima ’13, Organismic and Evolutionary Biology, to attend the Rio+20 Earth Summit in Brazil this past summer. She recounts her journey here:

In the wake of the United Nation’s Rio+20 Earth Summit, popular opinion of the outcome is clear: “colossal failure,” one observer called it.  The summit, held in June 2012 in Rio de Janeiro, marked the 20th anniversary of the original Earth Summit, in which the world’s top leaders gathered to sign two groundbreaking treaties promoting sustainable development. This time, few key leaders even showed up, and the resulting official declaration lacked consequential substance.
   I received funding to attend the Rio+20 Summit from HUCE, and I traveled there as part of the faction from the New Economics Institute, a think tank based in the Massachusetts Berkshires that is dedicated to advancing economic policies that promote environmental health and human well being. This was my first experience in the international policy sphere, and I walked into the conference with the inexperienced eyes of a student, and few expectations. After 10 days in Rio, almost 40 events attended, and one full notebook, I left the conference with two main conclusions, reasons to hope that Rio+20 was not a complete failure.
   First, Rio+20 created a wealth of conversations, brought an astounding number of people together, and allowed numerous meaningful dialogues to occur, even if not all among our official delegates. I had the privilege of carrying a photo ID that allowed me to pass through the metal detectors, and into the official UN tents of the Rio+20 conference. But even for those who did not have this badge, there were more than 3,000 related events occurring throughout the city during the conference. Every day I sifted through the multitude of events to choose only a select few. The topics ranged from agroforestry to clean energy technology to innovative poverty alleviation policies. The events brought together activists, government officials, business leaders, and students: dedicated citizens engaged in meaningful discussions. These conversations proliferated outside official venues. For instance, I will always remember discussing indigenous rights with a tribal leader from British Columbia on the long plane ride back from Rio, as well as my conversation with a former environmental judge from Pennsylvania during the bus ride from the conference to the hotel. These conversations must continue and grow beyond conference walls in order to make progress.
   Second, there was an impressive youth presence at the Rio+20 conference. Although their impact could have been more strongly felt, Children and Youth was one of nine major groups represented at the conference, and that constituency released statements and responses to official decisions alongside NGOs and business leaders. Sadly, in remarks during the closing ceremony, the Children and Youth representatives were given only two minutes to make a statement.
   While my peers and I may not have the experience of others in the field, we are hopeful, determined and ready to engage directly with the challenges of climate change, poverty, and sustainable development. These are the inescapable issues of our generation, and they are going to require some creative solutions. It is time for young people to collaborate on creative solutions, and to be given the time, and the forum, to speak about what we are willing to do to achieve our goals for the future.

This article originally appeared in Environment@Harvard, the newsletter of the Center for the Environment, in Volume 5, Issue 1. Read the entire issue here.

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