The preliminary work of the conference came to a conclusion Tuesday and the UNCSD has begun. The signs are obvious — traffic is even more snarled, the police presence more pronounced, red bereted soldiers with automatic weapons patrol Copacabana beach, black cars flying national flags snake through the streets ferrying diplomats to their meetings, and the tempo of activity in the various venues increases. There are conferences, meetings and events all over the city.
Yesterday I spoke at the opening of the Legal Frameworks for Sustainable Development colloquium at the Fundação Getúlio Vargas Law School, for which Pace Law School’s Brazilian American Institute for Environmental Law was one of the co-convenors [a little plug for the home team]. In ruminating on the message to convey to the lawyers and students gathered there, I chose the word “regardless.” It is being used more and more frequently in the conference rooms and corridors of RioCentro, usually with exasperation at what the speakers view as the timidity of the outcome document. One representative of Local Authorities, a Major Group in UN speak, declared that regardless of what the politicians do, he and his peers are going forward to make our cities sustainable, to encourage urban agriculture and to cut down greenhouse gas emissions. The same theme echoed at the business events, with major figures like the president of CocaCola making clear that they were tired of waiting for governments to act. Although the business sector wants certainty about the rules it must meet, companies are turning their efforts to private sector activities and partnerships. And certainly many of the more vocal citizen activists have expressed disgust and are taking their arguments to the people. Private responsibility and activism is the byword, and may be the ultimate message from Rio+20.