Feature: The Rio+20 Conference – The Future We Want

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Prime Minister Freundel Stuart??

Today, Wednesday, June 20, marks the start of the long anticipated Rio+20 Conference.

It marks the 20th anniversary of the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development, also referred to as the first Rio Conference, which was held in 1992, and symbolised the birth of new ideas generated to sustain environments around the world.

Rio has been also described as a space where challenges and obstacles will be discussed and reviewed; a space where there will be lessons learnt, and innovative methodologies exchanged; and a place where scientific breakthrough technologies would be exhibited and showcased, and joint private-public ventures and or opportunities on offer.

For Barbados, the next three days present an opportunity to show the world what the country has to offer; to stand out from among other Caribbean countries as a leader in the drive towards a green economy, in keeping with one of the conference’s themes.

This effort for Barbados will be led by Prime Minister Freundel Stuart, accompanied by Minister of the Environment and Drainage, Dr. Denis Lowe, Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Environment, Gayle Francis-Vaughan, and other officials.

Overall, today symbolises the start of the future – the future we all want!

Everyone want clean air to breathe; to see a reduction in poverty, to be assured of food security and sustainable agriculture; to have clean drinking water; to be ready for disasters when they strike; to have decent jobs; energy; sustainable cities; and clean oceans.

But the question has to be asked, what are Barbados and countries around the world, particularly Small Island Developing States (SIDS) doing to achieve the future they want?

The topics referred to above will all form the priority areas to be discussed at the June 20 to 22 Rio+20 Conference in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, which has two main themes: A Green Economy in the context of Sustainable Development and Poverty Eradication and the Institutional Framework for Sustainable Development.

Globally, issues of climate change, sea level rise, beach erosion and biodiversity are growing areas of concern for SIDS countries.

Barbados has already made significant strides in both themes for the Rio+20 Conference, becoming the first and only Caribbean country at present to pursue the establishment of the green economy.

And, the country will continue to champion the cause for the Green Economy when it shares its experiences at the long anticipated conference tomorrow, June 21.

During the sessions, environmental technocrats and other officials will hammer out a range of topics with the aim of strengthening the position of SIDS, and highlight the role of the economy in their sustainability going forward.

Environmental Officer in the Ministry of the Environment and Drainage, Amrikha Singh explained that Barbados was always out front in its recognition of the green economy.

In 2006, one of the National Strategic Plans for Barbados was building a green economy through strengthening the physical infrastructure and preserving the environment. The United Nations Environmental Programme (UNEP) raised the issue in 2007.

The island’s support for the green economy was continued in 2009 through late Prime Minister David Thompson, who said his vision was for Barbados to be the most environmentally-advanced green economy in Latin America and the Caribbean.

So intent were the efforts to transform the country to a green economy, that Dr. Lowe approached UNEP to establish a partnership and conduct a study to see exactly what it would take to achieve that goal.

As a result, the Green Economy Scoping Study was launched in March 2011 by Prime Minister Freundel Stuart, and handed over by UNEP in March 2012, following a year of intense consultations on the ground level.

That study focused on the areas of transport, agriculture, housing and tourism, and also dealt with cross cutting issues pertaining to land, water, energy and waste management.

Mrs. Singh said the private sector, unions, and non-governmental organisations all contributed to those studies, with academia being a major supporter and co-partner in the research process.

"Barbados was also instrumental in the regional dialogue to develop a joint CARICOM position leading up to the conference at the international level," she said, noting Barbados’ views were regarded as "very important" to the development of the negotiating context.

In fact, this country’s delegates will be making every effort to have the Barbados Declaration on Achieving Sustainable Energy for All in Small Island Developing States featured in the final outcome of the conference.

The issue of oceans and the need to scale-up investment in human resources and appropriate technologies to enhance national and regional management and governance frameworks will also be raised during the Conference.

For Barbados, the Rio+20 Conference is a continuation of years of work and input from the staging of the first environmental conference held in 1972. That conference set the stage for raising the awareness of environmental matters.

But despite these early efforts to raise awareness of environmental matters, the degradation continued, climate change got worse, and new issues of sea level rise developed.

It was then that the first Rio Conference was held in 1992, to develop a blue print for action. "Barbados’ role was significant. We, together with other SIDS made the world aware that countries like ours experience special negative effects which affect our ability to survive economically and socially," Mrs. Singh said.

Two years later, a SIDS Conference was held to create an awareness of the special vulnerabilities of affected islands, and highlight environmental concerns which existed due to unsustainable development.

That included issues relating to the loss of biodiversity, threats to the coastline, unsustainable transport, and climate change. "All these raised issues relating to the economic and environmental cost," she said.

Mrs. Singh, who is a part of Barbados’ ground team in Rio, explained documents emerging from that conference were reviewed, and the Rio Agenda 21 and the SIDS Programme of Action were the result.

"Barbados was seen as one of the leaders in the whole sustainable development movement," she said.

The Rio Agenda 21 document was reviewed in 2002 in Johannesburg and out of that came the Johannesburg Programme of Implementation. "We recognised that the first document had what you should do, but not how you should implement it," she said. Two years later the Mauritius Strategy for Implementation was developed.

Now in 2012, 20 years since the first Rio Conference, Barbados and countries across the globe have been faced with financial, food and energy crises. "We realise we need to look at these special things and how to respond to them and the international set-up," the Environmental Officer pointed out, adding that any plan developed now, could not be stagnant.

Speaking during the opening of the Rio+20 SIDS Informal Ministerial Meeting last month, Minister of the Environment and Drainage, Dr. Denis Lowe, urged SIDS countries to recognise that it was no longer business as usual, and that a shift needed to occur for sustainable development to be possible.

"We as SIDS have to determine our own destiny, write our own history, and build our own pathway. Of course, we will need some help. However, let us set the stones in place that will secure our foundation as we build our future," he said.

julia.rawlins-bentham@barbados.gov.bb

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