RIO+20 expected to focus on inclusive green economy
March 28, 2012
By Fábio de Castro
Agência FAPESP – The United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development (RIO+20), to be held in Brazil this June, will not have the same legislative character as ECO-92, whose legacy permanently transformed the world’s perspective on the environment. However, RIO+20 could have a world impact of similar magnitude to ECO-92 if it manages to overcome the challenge of integrating the three pillars of sustainable development in a balanced manner. These pillars correspond to environmental, economic and social considerations.
Brazil’s position at the conference is, in essence, to defend this integration, says Ambassador Luiz Alberto Figueiredo Machado, subsecretary-general of Environment, Energy and Science and Technology for the Ministry of Foreign Relations. Machado participated in the BIOTA-BIOEN-Climate Change Joint Workshop: Science and policy for a greener economy in the context of RIO+20 on Tuesday, March 6th. He is the executive secretary of the Brazilian commission for RIO+20.
Planned as a forum where the scientific community could discuss topics for RIO+20, the event was held jointly by the BIOTA-FAPESP Program, by the FAPESP Bioenergy Research Program (BIOEN) and by the FAPESP Research Program on Global Climate Change (PFPMCG).
“RIO+20 is a conference on sustainable development and not just an environmental debate. The conference leadership’s intention is that environmental, social and economic questions hold the same weight in the debate. The Brazilian government, in turn, understands that if the challenges of the 21st century aren’t viewed in an integrated manner, we will never reach sustainable levels,” said Machado.
According to the Ambassador, the world is going through a period of international crisis, and current development models show an eroding capacity for providing answers to new challenges. “Current models produce crises in all the pillars of sustainable development: the climate crisis, accelerated loss of biodiversity, social degradation and the energy crisis show this. We are doing something wrong,” he said.
Machado says that at the time of ECO-92, the developed countries believed that they had resolved their economic and social questions and focused the discussions on purely environmental topics. Meanwhile, the developing nations were focusing on economic development within a context of sustainability.
“Twenty years later, the world has been turned on its head: developed nations are dealing with a severe economic and social crisis, while countries like Brazil are leaders in green technologies, investments, and clean energy and have moved forward in social inclusion,” he said.
According to Machado, in this new context, RIO+20 no longer has an agenda that views economic, environmental and social issues separately. The Brazilian commission to the conference is using the term “inclusive green economy” in referring to the “growth,” “social inclusion” and “protecting nature” triad.
“The political question for the 21st century is to integrate these three dimensions. This is a challenge for all nations and for RIO+20. If we manage to integrate them, we will finally, after two decades, be able to carry out the promises of ECO-92,” Machado affirmed.
At the opening of the event, FAPESP president Celso Lafer highlighted Brazil’s role and the integral importance of science in RIO+20. He said that Brazil carries substantial clout in the environmental arena and that none of the large problems on the agenda can be addressed without active Brazilian participation.
“Brazilian leadership holds international legitimacy. We must also stress the relevance of knowledge in the RIO+20 process. The conference involves complex problems for which thorough research will identify necessary answers,” said Lafer.
“The workshop proposed by FAPESP involving researchers who have been broadening the horizons of knowledge about climate change, bioenergy and biodiversity will contribute to preparations for negotiations and be part of our discourse,” he said.
The energy question
During the event, a lecture entitled “Bioenergy Production in the RIO+20 Context” was presented by physicist José Goldemberg, professor at the Electrotechnics and Energy Institute at the Universidade de São Paulo (USP) and Secretary of the Environment during ECO-92.
According to Goldemberg, the document prepared by the UN secretaries with contributions from RIO+20 participating nations including Brazil contains 128 paragraphs, two of which are dedicated to the energy problem. One of the main objectives established by the document is basic universal access to a minimum amount of modern energy by 2030, with double the energy efficiency that we have today.
“The meaning of these considerations is very deep, if we observe the data we have at our disposal. Today, over 80% of the energy consumed globally comes from fossil fuels: oil (34.6%), natural gas (22.1%) and coal (28.4%). Renewable energies correspond to 12.9% of the total,” affirmed Goldemberg.
The extreme dependence on petroleum poses a physically unsustainable limitation: limited reserves. No matter how large the size of the reserves found in Brazil’s pre-salt layer, Goldemberg says that they are a modest contribution to global oil energy sources.
“Aside from the physical limitation, oil has a serious access problem, as sources are distributed erratically around the world. Next, we have the more serious problem of the environmental impact of greenhouse gases, which add to global warming. Fossil fuels are responsible for a good part of the prosperity and comfort that humanity has gained, but, unfortunately, this situation can’t last,” he said.
Climate, bioenergy and biodiversity
FAPESP Scientific Director Carlos Henrique de Brito Cruz made a presentation at the workshop on the BIOTA-FAPESP, BIOEN and PFPMCG programs. According to him, BIOTA’s goal is not only to characterize the State of São Paulo’s biodiversity but also to define mechanisms for its sustainable conservation and use.
“BIOTA-FAPESP has already had 915 research projects and scholarships approved. There has been some R$ 100 million invested over 12 years. The program grew a great deal in 2011 with renewed interest on the part of the São Paulo scientific community, and we saw investments of R$ 22 million in that year alone. One of the program’s important impacts, aside from doing quality scientific work, is that it has generated a number of decrees, laws and resolutions on the conservation of biodiversity,” he affirmed.
He also said that in the area of bioenergy, FAPESP began to get involved in 1999 when SUCEST (Sugarcane Expressed Sequence Tag Project) was created to evaluate the sugarcane transcriptome. BIOEN was created in 2008.
“The BIOEN program involves 314 scientists, 229 of whom are from São Paulo, 33 from other states and 52 from other countries. The invested resources are already nearing R$ 100 million in 55 projects. The program has a multitude of collaborations with companies that co-finance research,” said Brito Cruz.
The PFPMCG also aggregates international collaborations with institutions such as the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC) in the United Kingdom – one of the organizations that compose the Research Councils UK and that has maintained an agreement with FAPESP since September 2009 – as well as the Agence Nationale de La Recherche (ANR) in France and the Interamerican Institute for Global Change Research (IAI), an intergovernmental organization supported by nine nations in the Americas.
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