Who are the students representing Yale at Rio+20?

Who are the students representing Yale at Rio+20?

As 20 students of the Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies arrive in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, they will join over 50,000 delegates and more than 130 heads of state and government that will participate in what is already being deemed as the “largest U.N. conference” ever.

Historically, F&ES has a long tradition of participating in international environmental conferences as a way of bringing to life the challenge of developing institutions and treaties to deal with pressing environmental issues.  Twenty years ago, the first Rio Earth Summit in 1992 was a landmark event in that sustainable development came to the fore of the political agenda.  Several important treaties emerged to address from the original 1992 Earth Summit, including the Rio Declaration on Environment and Development, Agenda 21, the Convention on Biological Diversity, the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, the Forest Principles. Rio in 1992 also launched the following two decades of “conference diplomacy” in which conferences have become an important mechanism to negotiate global environmental cooperation.

Twenty years later, participants at the Rio+20 Earth Summit (the conference’s short name) are faced with a much starker reality – 1.3 billion people still on less than $1.25 per day and an estimated 900 million people face hunger.  Therefore, discussion of environmental sustainability cannot be divorced from considerations of economic development and poverty eradication, which is why one of the major themes of the conference is focused on “green economy”.  Green economic growth is vaguely defined as growth that incorporates social, economic, and environmental aspects.

Negotiators here in Rio have been negotiating a document called “The Future We Want”  for the last few months that will hopefully serve as the outcome of the Rio+20 summit.  It aims to establish a process that will establish a set of Sustainable Development Goals that will help countries achieve the Millenium Development Goals by 2015.  While this document started at 19 pages this past January, it quickly ballooned to over 200 pages, and now sits at around 50 pages.  Quite contentious, only 20 percent of the negotiation text so far as achieved consensus. So there is still much work left to be done before heads of state and government arrive for the high-level talks starting on June 20.

A view from the Riocentro conference center.

Who comprises the Yale delegation and what role are they playing in Rio? Students represent three courses at F&ES:  International Organizations and Conferences, Environmental Diplomacy Practicum, and International Environmental Governance and Policy.  During the semester, they have been working with various stakeholders to understand a particular country or organization’s position in the negotiations.  These include: the Natural Resources Defense Council, the United Nations Institute for Training and Research (UNITAR), the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN), the Marshall Islands, Seychelles, Nepal, and Vanuatu. In most cases, students have been directly involved in assisting these countries and organizations in developing a strategy for engagement and advancing a particular goal in the talks.  On the ground, they are working closely with their stakeholders to follow issues, reach out to key representatives, provide valuable on-the-ground support, and, of course, write and analyze what they’re observing and learning from this rare opportunity.

A group of us (Jose Medinamora (MEM’13), Soojin Kim (MEM’12), and myself) will also launch a game we designed, Settlers of a Green Future, on June 19. The idea is that games can help demonstrate the difficulties in multilateral environmental negotiations and engage people in the real policy options being discussed here in Rio.

We hope that you’ll stay tuned to this blog to read about all of the exciting updates live from the ground n Rio. Here is a full list of our activities for the week.  see Leave us comments or questions you’d like us to ask the participants here, and follow me on Twitter (@ecoangelhsu)!