by Aaron Gardner, UNA-SNY Energy Project volunteer
On May 15, the UNA-SNY Energy Project hosted a panel discussion reviewing the current state of Rio+20 information preparation meetings to an audience of about 40, a number of whom plan to attend Rio+20.
Mr. Andreas Paffernoschke of the Permanent Mission of Germany to the UN provided an insider’s look at the intense work going on behind the scenes to prepare for the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development to be held in Rio de Janeiro June 20 – 22. Beginning with a detailed history of international environmental cooperation going back to the original United Nations Conference on Environment and Development in 1992, he took the audience all the way up to the current moment, as member states wrangle a draft text to be presented to ministerial-level officials for final negotiations in Rio. Among a host of important issues under consideration, he noted that a world environmental organization to coordinate international efforts at environmental cooperation is high on the wish list of European Union negotiators.
Mr. Joel Smith of Urban Green Energy added a perspective from the private sector. In his comments he highlighted the positive role that private sector innovation can play in putting developing countries on a growth path consistent with the economic, social and environmental needs of future generations. Among other examples he discussed an initiative to install power sources based on wind and solar power at schools that students can use to charge batteries for home use. In addition to providing much-needed clean energy, the initiative also provides an incentive for children to go to school.
Ms. Krystal Laymon of the Columbia University Coalition for Sustainable Development shared insights from her close observation of the ongoing conference preparations. She highlighted three issues with particular salience: how to define the “green economy,” how to account propertly for the economic value of natural resources, and the potential for international strife arising from increasing fresh water scarcity. She also discussed an exciting youth-led initiative to make the conference plastic-free.
Ms. Kate Offerdahl of the NY+20 Youth & Student Movement discussed an inspiring global effort to ensure that young voices are heard in Rio. As part of the My City+20 initiative, young people in cities around the world have held their own sustainable development summits. The New York summit produced a statement on sustainable development. Among other thoughtful proposals, Ms. Offerdahl explained how green jobs could be part of a global demilitarization strategy. Another proposal is for an Ombudsman for Future Generations, a recognized authority within the UN system charged with protecting our descendants’ interests.
In his concluding remarks the UNA-SNY Energy Project Coordinator, Matthias Resch, raised the important point that clean energy is not necessarily identical to sustainable energy. He mentioned as an example massive hydroelectric power projects that lead to habitat destruction and deleterious social effects. He also pointed out the importance of the value chain for energy sources. He cited as a positive example locally produced biomass charcoal produced in Haiti. This fuel source benefits the local economy without contributing to deforestation. The lively discussion period that followed focused on details of specific energy sources in a development context and the level of expectations for Rio+20 outcomes, among other topics.