Tufts at Rio+20

Perspectives on Rio+20

“We witnessed, and contributed to, many new ideas for ways to move towards more sustainable development. Many informal agreements were made among a variety of stakeholders, including some nation states as well as corporations, NGOs, and municipal-level governmental organizations. This falls under what we are calling ‘Sustainable Development Diplomacy.’ We are now in the process of drafting a paper with analysis on the types of agreements that came out of Rio+20, the variety of stakeholders involved, and the substantive areas they cover.”
- Mieke van der Wansem, Associate Director of the Center for International Environment and Resource Policy (CIERP) at The Fletcher School

“The Rio+20 Conference strengthened my interest in exploring the role of a wide range of actors, particularly the private sector, in sustainable development. One of the things that stood out the most for me at Rio was the contrast between the lack of momentum and enthusiasm in the formal negotiations, and the excitement of initiatives hosted by private sector actors. Although I am naturally hesitant to trust the private sector’s interests in sustainable development, after Rio I have a more positive perspective on public-private partnerships.”
- Laura Kuhl, PhD candidate, The Fletcher School

“Attending Rio+20 gave me an appreciation for the fact that sometimes the supposed ‘main event’ of a conference, in this case the state-level negotiations, is often less important than the ‘side events,’ some of which carry much more potential for immediate change. I now think it will take discrete steps by civil society and the private sector to challenge the diplomatic impasse we have recently seen in international environmental diplomacy. Students who want to be change-makers should not be scared to look beyond the governmental sector when trying to find their place in helping to create a better future.”
- Andrew Tirrell, PhD candidate, The Fletcher School

Tufts Rio+20

In conjunction with the Center for International Environmental Resource Policy at the Fletcher School, the United Nations Foundation, the Stockholm Environment Institute, and the World Resources Institute, representatives from Tufts and TIE hosted a side event at the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development in Rio de Janeiro in June 2012.

Since the first Earth Summit in Rio, the focus of governmental efforts has primarily been on the economic and environmental pillars of sustainable development, but the social pillar needs much more attention. The repeated economic crises demonstrate that the global economy is far from sustainable. Income inequality has grown, millions still live in poverty, and the natural environment is highly stressed. International environmental negotiations have been largely disconnected from international economic affairs and development programs, and many of these environmental negotiations are mired in stale debates. The Rio+20 theme of the “green economy” once again places emphasis on economic development with an environmental flavor. Improvement of the human condition is secondary, and the idea of the “green economy” does not seem to offer any solutions on how to escape the international gridlock on issues like climate change.

This event, entitled “From Burden Bearing to Opportunity Sharing: Reframing Environmental Negotiations[PDF] , explored ideas for how to shift the current “green economy” approach to environmental negotiation from “burden bearing,” placing emphasis on economic development, to “opportunity sharing,” emphasizing the importance of the improvement of the human condition.  The event focused on how the current negotiations can shift from a pollution prevention framework to opportunities for sustainable development through access to cleaner energy technologies, resilient development, access to fresh water, and improved health. The role of the World Health Organization’s environmental health indicators in sustainable development was discussed as well.

Tufts panelists included Kelly Sims Gallagher, Associate Professor of Energy & Environmental Policy at the Fletcher School; Elena Naumova, Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering and TIE Faculty Director; and Laura Kuhl, PhD Candidate at the Fletcher School and 2010-2011 TIE Fellow. They presented alongside Måns Nilsson of the Stockholm Environment Institute, Jennifer Morgan of the World Resources Institute in Brazil, Dr. Bettina Menne of the World Health Organization European Centre for Environment and Health , and Richenda Van Leeuwen of the United Nations Foundation.

In addition to the official Side Event, Tufts ran two other initiatives at Rio+20. Attending Tufts students coordinated an admissions table at the Youth Blast a week before the conference, designed to highlight sustainable development programs at Tufts and draw potential students. Laura Kuhl and Andrew Tirrell, PhD candidates at the Fletcher School, also organized an alumni event expected to draw Tufts alumni from all around the world. These events were part of Tufts’ broader participation in the conference, which was attended by a delegation of faculty, staff, graduate, and undergraduate students from across the university.

Read what some of the Tufts students had to say about the conference: http://jumbosinrio.wordpress.com/.