Welcome (or not) to Rio Centro

by nathan thanki

Today marked the first day of the "Third Preparatory Committee meeting to the UN Conference on Sustainable Development." That basically just means that negotiators have a few days to finalise all the details of the outcome document (the offensively titled "Future We Want").

Things just got kicked up a gear.

These past few days had been spent getting our bearings in Rio, and meeting other youth from around the world (and many from our host country of Brazil) at the Youth Blast. The contrast between those days and today is hard to overemphasize.

Whereas the Youth Blast was loose, informal, fun, and generally relaxed (even though it had been very well organised – kudos to those who made that happen), the atmosphere at Rio Centro could not be more different.

Whereas the Youth Blast had been planned to be as participatory and accessible as possible, Rio+20 seems to have been planned by the Brazilian government to be the exact opposite. Now, I do not underestimate the logistical challenges involved in organising such an event, nor am I a conspiracy crackpot: I have reasons for saying that. Rio Centro is literally as far away from the People's Space as possible without being in another city. Two hours on a bus that is not signposted, nor frequent enough or big enough to carry the some 50,000 participants to the centre. It's almost as if the voice of the people is not welcomed. Further reminders of this appear when you arrive. In the chemical smelling halls of Rio Centro, military and security personnel outnumber Youth. The security is tighter than an airport. You are constantly asked to show your badge. You are treated like a criminal by your caring global UN 'family'


But you've arrived, so you let those things slide.

However, the creeping sense of being unwelcome returns soon after. It's the usual closed-door meetings. It's the usual changing of plans and schedules last minute, the usual lack of a shit given to civil society. And it's the usual [green] façade that shines on. It's a paperless conference (bravo), but there are people going to the medical tent with problems breathing in the chemicals in the air of the pavilions. There are solar panels inside, not hooked up to anything. Not since St. Patrick's Day was anything so artificially green. We're told that the UN is based on respect. But that means respecting their rules, that means respecting their right to speak, as governments and bureaucrats rather than respecting all of our rights to speak as human beings. 

We don't like it, but we'll be back there tomorrow. Because as we keep saying, you can't have a tug of war without a rope. It's just the rope-burn that hurts…

2 thoughts on “Welcome (or not) to Rio Centro

  1. Hey, Nathan!
    I’m brazilian and I’m ashamed, but I must say: that’s how we do it in Brazil. It begins with our Capital, Brasilia, that was planned and built in the middle of NOWHERE. Today, most of Brasilia’s population is somehow involved in politics, therefore the government is as far as it can be from people – and from possible protests. The same has just happened in my State. The government agencies and bodies used to be in the city center. Then, they decided to move all the agencies to a new (enormous and totally not sustainable) building, far from the city center and also in the middle of nowhere. They say it was a measure to cut costs and to promote the urban development of this area of the city. Therefore, it is usual here in Brazil that governments try the most they can to keep all the decisions as far as possible from people.
    It was not different with Rio+20. I was at the brazilian days of Youth Blast and we were very few. At the workshops we didn’t actually discussed the main topics that are being negotiated at Rio+20. What I could see is that there’s a huge gap between brazilians and foreigners youth. You are way more informed than we are. At the brazilian days, when we had a few discussions about environment, they weren’t as deep as the ones of the international days, because most of us didn’t really know what is going on. The document that our working groups have made was very poor. In some points it didn’t even made sense, such as propositions to modify the calculation basis of brazilian taxes. The text that they read at the closing plenary had nothing to do with the text that was made at the brazilians days, it was actually a text that was published before the conference, at the Youth Blast’s website. Besides that, many brazilians that wanted to be part of the Conference (many of the volunteers of youth blast) will not attend it, because they didn’t know how to do so. It was really difficult for us, brazilians, to be a part of it.
    My point here is: we are hosting the conference, but it is really far from our people. There is no effort to inform people about what is happening and no effort to involve people in the convention. It all seems so far from our reality. I wish I could say that this is an exception, but unfortunately, here in Brazil, this is the rule.
    That’s why I am always insisting that for an effective right of participation, we have to provide access to information. And at this point we can make a difference. We that have access to information (what is not easy, I must say) should make all the efforts to inform those who doesn’t have the same opportunities that we have. Excuse me for misrepresenting the post, but these issues about Rio+20 were disturbing me.

    1. Oi Luisa,

      obrigado for your thoughtful comment. it was really helpful in understanding the context we’re in. one thing that i personally struggle with is that even though some international youth may be informed regarding the UN structure and process, and might come ready to engage on topical issues (usually on specific stuff rather than big-picture stuff), hardly any of us come informed about the host city or country and the internal politics.
      even if the UN meetings try to shut out the real world and setting in which they’re in, we should not, and i regret that there has not been more dialogue with brazilian youth on our part. we struggled with a lack of capacity to translate to portuguese.
      the issues also disturb us at [earth]. we’ll probably see even more closely the brazilian government’s desire to keep its people out of the process. as we understand it, a large part of civil society is boycotting the sustainable development dialogues on principle.
      hope to see you around either centro or flamengo, and thanks again for your comment


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