Preparing for Rio+20: DPI/NGO Conference Day 1

In early September, 2011, Human Impacts Institute’s European Representative, Mariana Orozco, will be reporting from her work meeting with global leaders in environmental policy and sustainable development in preparation for the 2012 Rio+20 Earth Summit.

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On September 3rd, 2011, the 64th Annual UN DPI/NGO Conference got off to an exciting and vibrant note with a packed room, people of all ages and nationalities, representing organizations from all over the world and ready to exchange their ideas on environmental governance and poverty alleviation.

A welcome was offered by Kiyo Akasaka, Under Secretary General for Communications and Public Information of the United Nations. He encouraged all to take advantage of the enormous opportunity to get their voices and concerns heard at the conference. He emphasized how it is up to volunteers and NGO’s to go back to their communities and inform, educate, change the attitudes and practices of those around them, knowing they have a strong partner in the UN.

Next, Jurgen Nimptsch, the mayor of the city of Bonn, Germany, took the stage to welcome everyone to the city, and remarked how societies are only as sustainable as the actions of its citizens. U.N. Secretary General Ban-Ki Moon addressed the audience through a video, highlighting the importance of voluntary action for the transformation of patterns and lifestyles, and wished everyone a productive meeting. Flavia Pansieri, Chair of the Consultative Forum in Germany and Executive Coordinator of U.N. Volunteers, rounded off the welcome, commenting on the amazing response of citizens, who are the ones needed to ensure sustainability is environmental, economic and social.

Vandana Shiva, a well-known environmental activist and eco-feminist, started off by speaking about the importance of food, of protecting citizen freedom, not corporate freedom. That if we cannot protect farmers, who produce the most basic needs, we threaten our survival. She criticized the view that “everything is for sale”, and expressed outrage at how the financial bailout money was spent, when it could have been used towards others goals.

Shiva’s message was clear: we cannot separate the economy from ecology or the environment from development, which is what we have done until now. She spoke of respecting the “Rights of Mother Earth’ and to have the humility to see ourselves as a part of the planet, not separate from it. It is this view of being outside the earth that leads us to the dangers associated with geo-engineering, genetic engineering, and an overall lack of responsibility from those who interfere with ecosystems.

Next, Grace H. Aguiling, a volunteer and psychologist with VSO Bahaginan, gave a quick overview on the importance of volunteers as catalysts for change, the need for a collective self, taking into account the cultural views on volunteering.

Achim Steiner, Executive Director of the United Nation’s Environment Programme (UNEP), addressed the audience and started of by saying that we must recognize that not everything is worse. He described the challenges of today; How the economy has taken priority over the environment. On a sad note, he highlighted the repeal by President Obama of environmental emissions legislation in the U.S. the day before as an example of this. He expressed that we have to change the view that economics overrides everything, and to remember that the environment, the people, and the economy are all one. Her further emphasized that we must consider banning the word “trade-off” from our discourse.

Wrapping up the morning session, Chair of the Conference and Executive Director of theStakeholder Forum, Felix Dodds, remarked how most of the problems on the Rio+20agenda today have been around for 40 years. He spoke of reinforcing Principle 10 of the Rio Declaration, which states that, “Environmental issues are best handled with participation of all concerned citizens, at the relevant level. ” Dodds also emphasized the importance of new technologies in the process, as well as corporate and governmental accountability as a top priority in light of their dismal performance to date.

By Mariana Orozco, 2011 Human Impacts Institute Environmental Leadership Intern and European Representative

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