By: Eric Coppenger, new business development director at Rare
Twenty years ago, 108 world leaders met in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil for the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development, also known as the Earth Summit. Only the nerdiest attendees even knew of the Internet. Everyone carried a schedule printed on—gasp —paper. Progress: at the Rio+20 Earth Summit last month, only electronic conference agendas were offered, a gesture in support of the green or blue, if you like fish and fishers (and we do), economy. Unfortunately, the Internet connection was not strong enough to accommodate 50,000 agenda downloads. It is perhaps a metaphor for the story you have likely heard about the largest global gathering this decade. As the media has practically screamed from the presses, basically nothing about Rio+20 worked from a policy perspective.
I would like to offer a different view. Rare’s team at Rio managed to make things work. And although global policy makers did not come to agreement on a plan of necessary action, people from all economic sectors and corners of the world are busy making things work. Over 50,000 delegates, including 130 heads of state, convened in one place with a vision for an improved world. True, that vision did not lead to an agreement among the nations represented. Therefore, the final document is widely derided as regressive rhetoric rather than development. But in the unpublicized margins, conversations and commitments took shape among less powerful nations, lower-level authorities, nongovernmental organizations and corporations (which is new). These discussions are setting a path to realize a better future.
Pictured above from left: Rare’s Rio+20 team-Patrick, Kate, Britta, Elan, Keith and Eric
“What people don’t understand is that what the ministry level does is often not as important as commitments made at a lower level,” says Keith Alger, Rare’s vice president for Latin America programs. For instance, at an event hosted by the Inter-American Development Bank, numerous ministers of finance made commitments to adjust for the loss of natural capital in the economic analysis of nations, municipalities and regions. “Twenty years ago, this concept was on the agenda at Rio, but it’s just now starting to get legs,” says Alger.
The “side events” outside of high-level negotiations created a dynamic space for Rare to champion our methodology and showcase a tested model for changing behavior with a plan to scale efforts. For instance, Rachel Kyte, vice president of sustainable development at the World Bank gave a terrific talk on inclusive growth in a green economy. She pointed out that the development community hasn’t even begun to address how to motivate the kind of mass scale behavior change required.
Rare had a lean and nimble team of seven in Rio to show how Rare has addressed this issue for decades. We presented on three panels detailing how Rare and its partners use marine reserves and no-fishing areas to improve fisheries management as well as Rare’s approach to protect critical watershed habitat through reciprocal community agreements.
A highlight of the week in Rio was a dinner hosted by Rare Trustee Gustavo Fonseca, the head of the delegation from the Global Environment Facility (GEF). Eighteen guests including high-level officials from Brazil’s ministry of the environment enjoyed a phenomenal meal of Amazonian cuisine as they learned about Rare’s potential to help Brazil engage local communities in conservation.
During daylight hours, Rare’s team spread out across multiple events and meetings to diversify conversations and exposure. Audiences ranging from potential donors and partners to the president of Micronesia and actor Ed Norton (keynote speaker for the Equator Prize event) consistently seemed impressed and interested in learning more about Rare.
One of the best moments for our team, which really brought home the positive spirit of the event, was the Equator Prize ceremony that celebrated how local actions solve some of the world’s most critical environmental problems. As my stomach grumbled from a frenetic few days that involved rushed gulps of coffee and very little else, waiters passed around what looked like a giant bowl of candy. I almost took a big bite out of what ended up being a USB flash drive giveaway. We may still require more innovation to feed our appetite for change, but we are making progress. Rare came to Rio to emphasize the need for behavior change and expand our network of partners who also want to focus on solutions. Mission accomplished!
“The take home for me were the thousands of people with a shared vision for the future of our planet. We can make a difference.”
-Patrick Mehlman–senior director, program development
“While things were doom and gloom for some, the fact that 50,000 folks were making connections and thinking of ways to work together is fuel to the fire.”
-Elan Nissenboim–new business development
“We had inspiring conversations with high-level government officials and like-minded conservationists from all over the world.”
-Britta Garfield–associate, new business development
“I had mixed emotions. There were vivid and concrete discussions but the world is in a difficult position to accelerate change.”
-Rodrigo Martinez–manager, program development, Latin America
“The importance of Rare’s work in training a generation of communications specialists was never more clear to me. It made me proud to work for Rare.”
-Kate Mannle–manager, program development