Brazil’s delicate balancing act at Rio+20

June 12, 2012

T. V. Padma

T. V. Padma
South Asia regional coordinator, SciDev.Net


The BASIC countries – Brazil, South Africa, India and China – are trying their best to hold together as they tackle their common problem of how to maintain their current growth rates and yet not be accused of contributing to global environment problems.

It’s worse if one of them happens to host a once-in-20-years global environment summit – that country has to maintain the delicate balance between addressing the BASIC countries’ concerns and finding a global consensus that could go against the BASIC countries’ interests.

Back home in India, local dailies reported last week on Indian officials’ concerns that Brazil, as host to the Rio + 20 meet, could feel the need to break away from the BASIC group during the Rio+20 Summit.

Brazil’s minister for science, technology and innovation Marco António Raupp voiced the BASIC group’s views in a keynote address on the opening day of the Forum here in Rio de Janeiro.

Raupp mentioned three shifts of the past 20 years. There is the huge global interconnectivity and the emergence of the anthropocene age of human impact on Earth systems.

The third, said Raupp, is of a geopolitical nature: Brazil, China and India are now critical to global sustainability in the next two decades.

Raupp said that in the global quest for a green economy, the economic crisis that started in 2008 posed additional challenges, not only for the developed countries, but also to the emerging economies which needed to continue their fight against poverty in their societies.

The Brazilian minister described the green economy as a “controversial subject”, adding that it should be an inclusive green economy covering the three dimensions of sustainability: economical, environmental and social.

It must promote new jobs, technological innovation, science, social inclusion and the conservation of natural resources.

Each country must develop its own strategy for transition to a green economy, he added.

So far, echoing what many developing countries are saying not just BASICs. What emerges next week as Brazil hosts Rio+20, remains to be seen.

This blog post is part of our Forum on Science, Technology and Innovation for Sustainable Development blog which takes place 11-15 June 2012. To read news and analysis from the conference please visit our website.


Greater ST&I investment needed to fight youth unemployment and poverty

April 2, 2012

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Maina Waruru
Freelance journalist, SciDev.Net


The African Conference on Science, Technology and Innovations for Youth Employment, Human Capital Development and Inclusive Growth opened in Nairobi on Sunday with calls for tangible action to use science and technology to fight youth unemployment and poverty.

Speakers at the first day of the conference said the time had come for the continent to use knowledge already in its possession to tackle these double  malaises  which continue to afflict the continent even as scientific and technical advances continue to be made around the world.

“It is now quite clear that the ability of African countries to achieve rapid and inclusive development and [the] ability to compete in the global market lies in their  ability to use science and technology and to creatively innovate, ” said Margaret Kamar, Kenya’s Minister for Education, Science and Technology.

“It is only through this that Africa governments will be able to address some of the most pressing challenges of  human capital  development and youth unemployment,” said the minister at the opening of the conference.

The forum — the very first of its kind in Africa — is sponsored by the United Nations  Education  and Science Council (UNESCO) and the African Development Bank (AFDB).

It aims to generate concrete steps and points of action including a “Nairobi Declaration” on a way forward that addresses the conference’s main themes and the measures that need to be taken to actualise the dream of African economies driven by ST&I.

Delegates include government ministers, bureaucrats and civil society activists and representatives from the private sector.

Lamine Ndiaye, President  of the African Academy of Sciences urged the continent’s governments to increase funding for ST&I, saying the traditional apathy of funding for ST&I would not work for Africa.


Why egalitarian societies have more cyclists

March 29, 2012

Aisling Irwin

Aisling Irwin
Consultant news editor, SciDev.Net


The more unequal a society is, the fewer cyclists it has.

This turned out to be a useful insight which, after it was put to the Tuesday plenaries, was referred to by conference speakers again and again.

It was useful because it helped people to think of ways to move beyond the impossible invocations of many scientists here, repeated endlessly at this meeting, that the only way to save the planet is to “change societal values” and “reduce consumption”.

Cyclist, Vietnam

Low status?

Richard Wilkinson, professor at the University of Nottingham, UK, and expert from the world of inequality research, told us there is a growing wealth of data showing that more unequal societies are, regardless of the overall national wealth, more fraught with health and social problems ranging from obesity to violence.

“Inequality is divisive and corrosive. The data show us that that is truer than we ever expected,” he said.

Here’s where the cyclists fit in: they tend not to come out in societies where your position is in a steep hierarchy, and thus the symbols of status you project, are important. Cyclists are also less common when you need to defend yourself against the weak. In both cases a flashy four-wheel drive vehicle is a better option for those who can afford it.

That’s why greater inequality  leads to greater consumption, argued Wilkinson, as people aspire to climb the hierarchy, acquire status and protect themselves from those beneath them.

And that, in turn, is why reducing inequality may be the route to reducing consumption.

Wilkinson also said that people (and businesses) in more equal societies are more public-spirited and thus more likely to act according to the greater environmental interest.

The previous day, doctoral student Pamela Collins called for a ‘global patriotism’ – the kind of sentiment that has pulled communities together during times of war – as a route to rising above individual interests to halt Earth’s environmental decline.

So is tackling societal inequality, therefore, the first step?

This blog post is part of our Planet Under Pressure 2012 coverage — which takes place 26–29 March 2012. To read news and analysis from the conference please visit our website.


Removing the stigma of solar heaters in SA

November 9, 2010

Solar heaters are sometimes seen as a stigma in South Africa. Image Credit: Kuyasa CDM project

The second day of the ASADI meeting kicked off with a passionate speech from Dipuo Peters, South Africa’s energy minister.

She brought up an interesting, and somewhat saddening, problem in South Africa. The South African government has been investing in solar water heaters for poor households. This has been a great success in Kayelitsha, a township near Cape Town, where researchers have verified the social benefits of such interventions.

But the roll-out of such technologies in poor areas has had an unintended consequence. Poor South Africans often assume that non-standard technologies distributed to them are inferior to those used by the majority. This has resulted in a distrust of unconventional, experimental, non-grid energy generation technologies such as solar heating.

Renewable energy – in particular solar energy – therefore needs an image boost in South Africa. The minister urged people who can afford it to invest in solar panels on their houses to stop them being a signifier for being poor.

We have not heard whether this is a problem in other African countries. In Kenya, for example, a 14-year-old boy’s home-built windmill became emblematic of African innovation a few years ago.

A stronger sense of technology ownership is clearly crucial to improve its acceptance in poor communities. Khayelitsha’s solar heaters are a badge of success for the government of South Africa and residents alike. It would be a shame if prejudice limits the uptake of solar heaters elsewhere.

Linda Nordling, SciDev.Net columnist


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