TOURING RIO+20: Part 3

TOURING RIO+20: Part 3

By Ariane Janér


The show is over. The delegates have gone home, the venues have been dismantled and now all sides are now picking over what has been achieved.


The version of the politicians is that progress has been made, expectations (admittedly low) have been surpassed and there is a final document. It has 283 paragraphs and 53 pages. There are even 2 paragraphs on sustainable tourism. I was not very impressed by it. But when I voiced that to a Dutch delegate, I was told that I do not understand UN Speak. I'll admit that some of the paragraphs are very usable as rallying calls in presentations and as text to be quoted in project proposals.


Well, you be the judge. This is what it says on sustainable tourism:

130. We emphasize that well designed and managed tourism can make a significant contribution to the three dimensions of sustainable development, has close linkages to other sectors, and can create decent jobs and generate trade opportunities. We recognize the need to support sustainable tourism activities and relevant capacity building that promote environmental awareness, conserve and protect the environment, respect wildlife, flora, biodiversity and ecosystems and cultural diversity, and improve the welfare and livelihoods of local communities by supporting their local economies and the human and natural environment as a whole. We call for enhanced support for sustainable tourism activities and relevant capacity building in developing countries in order to contribute to the achievement of sustainable development.

131. We encourage the promotion of investment in sustainable tourism, including eco-tourism and cultural tourism, which may include creating small- and medium-sized enterprises and facilitating access to finance, including through microcredit initiatives for the poor, indigenous peoples and local communities in areas with high eco-tourism potential. In this regard, we underline the importance of establishing, where necessary, appropriate guidelines and regulations in accordance with national priorities and legislation for promoting and supporting sustainable tourism.

It is certainly some progress from the zero draft document, which didn't even mention sustainable tourism.


But when even some of the political leaders voiced disappointment about the so-called 'Future We Want' in the official Summit outcome, it is no surprise that NGOs and sustainable development advocates were even more vociferous about the document. Friends of the Earth called it a "damp squib", Oxfam a "dead end". There were many demonstrations during Rio+20, both in the centre of Rio and at Riocentro. One iconic image was an Indigenous man with bow and arrow (see below), threatening security guards of the Brazilian Development Bank (BNDES).


Rio+20 protest


What Kind of Green Economy?

We should remind ourselves that RIO+20 wasn't only about the official document, but also what was happening around the main conference. Apart from the 500 official side-events, Brazil estimates there were another 3,000 parallel events that took place during the Summit. A lot of networking also happened, and organizations and individuals from all over the world had a chance to see what others were doing, assess the strengths of commitments and feel if there was a sense of urgency to change.


On the "Business Day" for Business Action for Sustainable Development, it was clear that businesses are taking initiatives to support and implement 'Green Economy'. A number of "Men in Black" were walking around at the Windsor Barra Hotel, and the Business Day conference shared a lot of valuable information. Of course the question remains on what this Green Economy really is. Is it doing business as usual but in a much more efficient way, or is it radically rethinking the economy and overhauling vested interests?


It is great to hear what Pepsico is doing with their local suppliers, for example, but shouldn't they be also working on getting their customers to eat and drink better? Or to put it in tourism terms, can we still do lots of long haul tourism using biofueled planes (the Dutch delegation arrived by KLM in a biofueled plane) or should we stay close to home, be vegetarian locavores, and use low-carbon ways of getting around?


Rio+20 Business Day

Rio+20 Business Day presentation by DuPont: mission on creating sustainable solutions.

Roles of Innovation in Promoting Sustainability

Many looked to innovation and several countries showcased their contributions at the Parque das Atletas. At the Pier Mauá, there was a great exposition in four pavilions, which showed both the divisions and the possibilities for change. Greenpeace's Rainbow Warrior, was strategically anchored outside the AgroBrasil pavilion, where the agricultural lobby showcased itself as a bastion for conservation and responsible use of natural sources.


Rio+20 Greenpeace

Greenpeace's Rainbow Warrior


Rio+20 AgroBrasil

AgroBrasil Pavilion


In other pavilions, you could find out about innovative Brazilian companies, see a magnificent exposition on Brazilian biomes and meet with organizations working in these biomes. There was also a popular science fair. I was happy to see a lot of school children avidly soaking things up.


How about innovation in tourism? I went learn about that at the Green Innovation in Tourism event, organized by the OECD and UNEP, with the Brazilian Minister of Tourism attending.


Rio+20 Green Innovation in Tourism

Green Innovation in Tourism Event - Opening Panel


There was a very interesting presentation from Korea, which is really linking nature to wellbeing of their population. Roteiros de Charme, an association of small independent boutique hotels that was founded right after ECO92, showed what can be achieved if you focus. The Wyndham Group showed that environmental management makes for good business. But, I must say, I had hoped to gain more new insights. There were other tourism events, including one in São Paulo (RTD6), which I understand was poorly attended (too far off-site) and also lacking in concrete calls for action or solutions for change.


Sustainable tourism is also not (yet?) on the growing list of voluntary commitment. Perhaps this is a discussion we can breathe life into at the ESTC12 in Monterey this September?

What Did Rio+20 Mean for Brazil?

There is some good news from Brazil. The National Tourism Plan now has the word sustainable in it. It also seems that after a three-year limbo since the efforts of the multi-stakeholder Sustainable Tourism Program (2002-2009), there seem to be new champions to take the agenda forward again. Interestingly, it is the private sector that is leading sustainability efforts.


For the city of Rio de Janeiro, RIO+20 was a big success and an excellent test event before the World Cup and Olympic Games. There were some traffic problems around in the pre-conference days, but once schools and universities closed for the conference days, transfer times improved. The Rio population was its hospitable self and also enjoyed the many opportunities to enjoy the "sustainability circus". One important lesson learned was the hotel reservation and booking system for big events, which was badly planned. This led to astronomical hotel room prices, resulted in delegate cancellations and needed high level intervention at the last minute.


One great improvement for both local community and visitor satisfaction, which also reducing green house emissions is the fact that airport taxi monopolies have now been cancelled. This means that a taxi that drops you off at the airport, can now also pick up passengers and waiting queues will be greatly reduced.


And there were those giant fish sculptures on Botafogo Beach (with Sugar Loaf in the background). Made entirely of PET bottles, they eloquently showed that what we throw away is not waste if we give it value.


Rio+20 Plastic bottle fish sculpture

A giant outdoor installation of fish made of discarded plastic bottles, Botafogo beach, Rio de Janeiro

RIO+20 by the numbers (13 – 22 June 2012)

  • 29,393 accredited delegates (governments and NGOs)
  • 110,000 total visitor estimate
  • 212,000 visitors to Humanidade Exposition
  • 300,000 visitors to Cupula dos Povos (Flamengo Park)
  • R$ 274 million entered the Rio Economy
  • 95% hotel occupancy rate
  • 1200+ delegate group transfers
  • 42 tons of recyclable waste

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Ariane JanerAriane 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]




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