Why Rio?

Why Rio?

Host of Rio+20 shows a combination of challenges on the search for the sustainable development

Rio's mountains seen from the Guanabara bay Foto: Custódio Coimbra / O GloboRio's mountains seen from the Guanabara bay Custódio Coimbra / O Globo
Two decades after the historical UN conference in the city, Rio is again at the center of the global discussion on the environment. Not since the 1992 Earth Summit, when 112 heads of state were in the marvelous city, has Rio hosted an environmental event of this magnitude. Once the city was chosen as the site of two mega sports events the 2014 World Cup and the 2016 Olympic Games - having it host the 2012 environmental conference was unavoidable. What other city could so well exemplify the global challenges inherent in the transition to a low-carbon emission economy? What other capital in the region could boast of having the second largest bicycle-route system in Latin America (140 km against Bogota´s 300 km) while at the same time suffering from serious infrastructure and sanitation problems? Israel Klabin, president of the Brazilian Foundation for Sustainable Development (FBDS in its Portuguese acronym) argues that Rio was bound to host the event. Carlos Minc, Rio de Janeiro´s State Secretary of the Environment adds that Brazil´s former president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva clinched the deal at the Climate Change Summit meeting in Copenhagen in December 2009. Lula surprised the world with a frank speech in which he put Brazil forward as a country interested in contributing to an international fund geared towards helping poorer countries adapt to climate change. - We once again gained center stage where the environment is concerned. Lula was the head of state to receive the most applause in Copenhagen and was the one who announced to the world that deforestation had been drastically reduced in the Amazon - says Minc. Meanwhile, the successful work of Rio´s Pacifying Police Units (UPPs) became featured news in the international press. Choosing Rio as host was a natural development. The Secretary says that the pendulum swayed even more in favor of Brazil when the country adopted targets to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions. The goal was to cut emissions by between 36-39% by 2020, as compared to 1994 levels. Brazil was the first developing country to make this kind of commitment. Its prominent role during the Biodiversity Conference in Nagoya, Japan, in October of 2010 was another plus, say Minc. - We were able to rally the 17 most biodiverse countries in the world around a document proposing to combat biopiracy. Israel Klabin, who was mayor of Rio between 1979-80, points out that the city´s urban planning is under review in light of the mega events that will take place there. Klabin says that the challenge facing the conference is one of governance. In other words, leaders know what to do so as to not go beyond what the planet can bear. But they still do not know how to do it. - There have been advances in the environmental sciences, and in climate-change monitoring and evaluation since 1992. But there is a lack of global leadership. The liberal economy cycle has dried up somewhat. We must think of making the transition to the so-called green economy - Rio is at the center of these structural changes, says the environmentalist. Economist Sergio Besserman says that one should also highlight Rio´s exuberant environmental capital: the city is home to the Pedra Branca State Park that houses the world´s largest forest in an urban area; the Guanabara and Sepetiba Bays, and a green-space area that occupies 28.9% of its territory: 35,290 hectares (over 87,000 acres) of Atlantic Forest and the ecosystems associated with it, such as sandbars and mangroves. On the other hand, there are historical challenges to overcome in areas such as waste management the city only recycles 1% of its garbage , sanitation and urban transportation. - Rio is the very expression of global sustainability challenges - says Besserman. On the city´s to do list, the economist cites and supports the creation of ecological corridors connecting the main green areas of the city - the Tijuca and Pedra Branca Parks and Serra do Mendanha; the creation of the Guanabara Bay Authority, made up of civil society and representatives from federal agencies such as Ibama (The Brazilian Institute of Environment and Natural Resources), the Port Authority and Petrobras; and the implementation of BRTs (express lanes) for electric buses. - The projected BRTs will have diesel-50 buses running (50 sulfur parts per million). That is a step forward when compared to traditional diesel-500 buses (500 parts per million). But, an electric system would be ideal. We still have much to achieve in the area of waste treatment, but closing the Gramacho* landfill was a very important step. Carlos Minc cites the lack of basic sanitation in the city´s West Side as the main challenge in Rio: - There is hardly any sewage treatment in that part of the city. What we do have, however, is a formalized, public-private partnership (PPP) effort to clean up that area at a cost of 3 billion Reais (over 1.6 billion U.S. dollars). *Jardim Gramacho was the largest landfill in Latin America and was located in the Duque de Caxias municipality in the state of Rio de Janeiro.

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Icon: Rio de Janeiro Flag
English version: Ayala Tiago

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