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TOURING RIO+20: Part 1
By Ariane Janér
Twenty years ago I had just started an ecotourism company, when Rio hosted the Earth Summit called ECO92. I didn't participate much in the event itself, but was busy organizing day tours for the delegates. Our most popular tour was the Golden Lion Tamarin tour, a day tour to see a beautiful golden orange monkey and learn about the conservation program set up to save it from extinction.
Now, here we are, 20 years on. So what has changed? In Rio de Janeiro, in Brazil, in the world? And what has changed tourism wise?
In 1992, Rio de Janeiro had become a little run down and many tourists considered it "mad, bad and dangerous to go". Brazil itself was struggling economically and inflation was high. There was a big gap between rich and poor and GDP per capita (PPP) was around US$ 5.500. Of the 1,5 million visitors, 62% came from Latin America and nobody had bothered to estimate the size of the Brazilian domestic market.
Today, Rio is a place where everyone wants to be, so much so that it now is a very expensive place to live or stay. The economy has been doing very well and is still holding up well in a world in economic crisis. The gap between rich and poor has decreased, GDP per capita has more than doubled and there is a rising middle class. Foreign visitors are now at 5,4 million and more than half come from outside Latin America. And Brazilians account for more than 180 million domestic trips.
The Golden Lion Tamarin is doing well. The conservation program put in place has managed to increase its numbers and at the same time increase private land under protection. The municipality of Silva Jardim, where many of the tamarins live in private reserves, is the #1 in the Rio de Janeiro State Conservation Ranking. That meant extra funds from the value added tax revenue, which the State of Rio distributes in part based on environmental performance. The State of Rio itself did well in general. SOS Mata Atlantica, a NGO that works very hard for the protection of the Atlantic Rainforest, showed that Rio de Janeiro had reduced deforestation to less than 100 ha a year.
So is Brazil doing well conservation-wise? Yes and no. Environmental awareness has increased and there are more smart consumers. Flagship species for conservation like the Hyacinthine Macaw, Hawksbill Sea Turtles, Humpback Whales are also recovering. Protected areas have increased: the number of National Parks nearly doubled and there are over 1.000 private reserves. At the same time, however, the agricultural lobby is trying to change the forest code and mining, oil and energy interests threaten established conservation areas. These commodity export sectors are at the base of Brazil's economic boom.
And the world is in a serious economic crisis. There is growing realization that "economic growth", as measured by a faulty indicator called GDP, might not be the answer anymore. The Earth simply does not have the bio capacity to handle the footprint of an economy that is based on "extract, consume like there is no tomorrow and dump".
No wonder that RIO+20 Earth Summit is about the Green Economy and Governance. But even the concept of a Green Economy is open to discussion: is it business as usual but "greener" or are we going to change the way we run businesses and economies, so that we become sustainable. Governance will be very important, but at the moment the countries have still not come to final agreements they can sign off on.
As RIO+20 unfolds, we will learn more about what impact the conference will have. I will be shuttling between the various venues like the Parque das Atletas (expositions of countries, organizations and Brazilian states plus conferences), Copacabana Fort (Humanidade exposition financed by business and conferences) and Flamengo Park (where the Summit of the Peoples is held and the NGOs are). There are many other side events in other places as well.
As for tourism, there are not that many events. Before the conference we had the official launch of UNEP's Green Passport. During the event we will have:
- World Summit on Green Tourism and Creative Economy (June 16, UNCSD, Rio de Janeiro)
- Greening the Games: How Brazil’s World Cup is Driving Economic Changes (June 16, Green Building Council of Brasil, Rio de Janeiro): Discussion on how World Cup investments can be leveraged for positive, long-term social and environmental benefits in Brazil’s cities and used as a model for global scale. Key themes include: green building, low-carbon transit, green jobs, sustainable financing mechanisms.
- RTD6 (Responsible Tourism in Destinations) (June 18-20, Leeds Met University/USP, Sao Paolo): The Sao Paulo Conference will focus on the themes of environment and development and provide an opportunity to debate progress since 1992 in making tourism more environmentally, socially and economically sustainable and to assess tourism's contribution to development.
- Green Innovation in Tourism (June 19, CNC-SESC-SENAC, Rio de Janeiro): Key themes include: OECD Approaches to Green Innovation in Tourism: Industry and Policy Perspectives; Measuring the Benefits of Green Innovation in Tourism; Fostering Responsible Growth and Increasing Competitiveness in Tourism through Innovation.
- Tourism for a Sustainable Future (June 20, UNWTO, Ministry of Tourism Brazil, SCDT, Rio de Janeiro): Discussion on the state of tourism, main challenges it faces and direction it should be heading for sustainable growth and contribution to global development imperatives. How can tourism be an instrument to drive positive change, and be mainstreamed in the global development agenda?
- Additionally SEBRAE will organize a round table about Tourism Certification in Brazil on June 23rd.
Ariane Janér reporting from Rio de Janeiro, the marvelous city. Ariane is a member of the Board of Advisors for The International Ecotourism Society (TIES). Send your questions to ariane[at]ecobrasil.org.br
More About Rio+20
Rio+20 - the short name for the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development to take place in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, in June 2012 - marks the 20th anniversary of the 1992 Earth Summit in Rio, where countries adopted Agenda 21 - a blueprint to rethink economic growth, advance social equity and ensure environmental protection.
The Conference will focus on two themes: (a) a green economy in the context of sustainable development poverty eradication; and (b) the institutional framework for sustainable development. The preparations for Rio+20 have highlighted seven areas which need priority attention; these include decent jobs, energy, sustainable cities, food security and sustainable agriculture, water, oceans and disaster readiness.