Hilarious moments from world leaders at #rioplus20

June 23, 2012

Smriti Mallapaty
Freelance journalist from Nepal, SciDev.Net


Live captioning at Rio+20 is a testament to the successes and shortcomings of speech recognition technology today.

That conference organisers trusted the technology enough to let it loose on the plenary floor is impressive, but depending on it to document or report developments could get you into some trouble.

Let the text speak for itself on the difficulties it faces, when at a side event for the Sustainable Energy for All initiative it proclaimed: “The challenge will be how to do even wonderful string”!

Livetext in play at #rioplus20

At the plenary session today, it almost felt like the private sector – quite a prominent presence at this conference – was sending subliminal messages through the Serbian representative’s text, when he made “teleproposals” on the “strength to regional corporation system” and how “2015 can increase Porsche”. Even the “mime minister of Denmark” was culprit to subconscious lobbying, when in calling for “gene jobs and green business” she endorsed a “pro-Pound transition to green economy.”

Civil society may agree with the Iraq representative, when he told the plenary about being “grayed upon as the concept of a green economy, because this preen economy must be autists.”

“Let’s be oftenest”, in the textualised words of Hillary Clinton, there’s a difference between arable land and “airable land”. And the Prime Minister of Samoa may have scripted so, but it is questionable whether Rio is of any “spatial significance” to small island states.

Reading Clinton’s lines would have one believe that she thinks ‘when’ but not ‘whether’ to have kids is a woman’s right: “Women must be empowered to make decisions about Mr. and when to have children”. More to the point, though, was the Somoan PM’s comment on how satisfying everyone’s goals was elusive, and an “exercise in fertility”.

Sometimes subtext emerges in the text, like when Clinton described U.S. efforts “under the I don’t want initiative on urban sustainability”.

But other times it is just a jumbled mess, for example when “the holy seat” stressed the importance of “moving from a merely tech logical model of development, to an intest test test test grellerly human model.”

But deciphering the meaning of the following beauty may be even more difficult than moving world leaders towards a truly sustainable future:

“The fixed number of the changes have corrupted image and is going to increase the number of cars, so the challenge is there, especially in the field of energy we have high energy in the functioning of the board and work that could be utilized.”

This blog post is part of our coverage of Rio+20: United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development. To read news and analysis on Science at Rio+20 please visit our website.


Big voluntary commitments to Sustainable Energy For All ( #SE4All ) at #Rioplus20

June 23, 2012

Smriti Mallapaty
Freelance journalist from Nepal, SciDev.Net


It was only ‘noted’ in the final outcome document of Rio+20, but the Secretary General’s Sustainable Energy for All (SE4All) initiative was applauded on the sidelines.

Billions of dollars have been promised to make energy accessible to all
Flickr/Good Neighbors

At the final press conference and three-hour side event following it on 21 June, commitments to universal energy access, and to doubling both efficiency and the share of renewables by 2030 rained down on a packed room.

Over the last nine months, and culminating at Rio, the initiative has collected commitments that, if honoured, will deliver energy access to more than a billion people, mostly in developing countries, and private investment worth over US$50 billion towards all the three targets.

Some countries have made financial pledges, and others have agreed to regulatory reforms. For example, the US will leverage US$2 billion in grants, loans and loan guarantees for clean technology, and Norway guaranteed $140 million to projects in Ethiopia, Kenya and Liberia.

50 states from Africa, Asia, Latin America, and including small island developing states, have signed up to develop energy plans and programmes that would attract investment, some even setting themselves energy targets (Barbados is aiming for 29 percent renewable use by 2029).

A quick skim of the list (see the Cloud of Commitments online http://www.cloudofcommitments.org/commitments/byplatform/sustainable-energy-for-all) reveals that these are mostly an assortment of private sector commitments.

Large financial institutions and banks pledged to finance projects, like Bank of America ($35 billion for energy), and the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development ($8 billion for projects in Eastern Europe and Central Asia).

Major companies assured steps towards reducing their own carbon emissions, including Microsoft (carbon neutral by 2013), Nike, Inc. (reducing CO2 emissions by 20 percent in five years), and Unilever (halve environmental impact of products). Some focused on education, like the U.A.E.’s Masdar High School Prize, and GDF Suez’s promotion of social entrepreneurs. And some simply vowed to continue ongoing work, like Statoil’s ‘no production flaring’ policy. The list also includes plans to set up a Clean Energy Finance University, share modelling tools and create jobs.

“This could be the biggest public private partnership of all time,” proclaimed Chad Holliday, chairman of the board of directors of Bank of America and co-chair of the SE4All’s High-Level Group, describing a “new approach of business and government working together for the common good.”

But given their voluntary nature, the challenge following Rio+20 would be to “track those commitments,” said Kandeh Yumkellah, director-general of the UN Industrial and Development Organization and co-chair of the High-level Group. Besides an open-access tracker, the initiative also plans to establish a baseline (set at 2012) and indicators for all three energy targets, similar the Human Development Index.

Some of the initiative’s success with the private sector can be attributed to the fact that renewable energy has become more competitive over the last 20 years. “The time is right for heavy investment in renewables,” said José Goldemberg, Brazilian expert on energy and environment. But “private sector commitment is the least you could ask for,” he added, referring to the failure of governments to commit to any quantitative energy targets in the final outcome document.

So while prize-worthy, the SE4All’s achievements feel more like “a consolation prize.”

This blog post is part of our coverage of Rio+20: United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development. To read news and analysis on Science at Rio+20 please visit our website.


If only sustainable development had moved as fast as ICT

June 19, 2012

Smriti Mallapaty
Freelance journalist from Nepal, SciDev.Net


Reminiscing about the quaint information communications technology (ICT) used at the last Earth Summit, Nitin Desai, former Under-Secretary-General for Economic and Social Affairs at Rio +20, was speculating yesterday what life would be like now if sustainable development had changed in as radical a way.

Flickr/ Fora do Eixo

Desai described how in 1992, the World Wide Web was still an emerging technology, with the web browser Mosaic, credited with popularising the World Wide Web, only launching a year later. Although conference organisers “were quite ahead” and used the Internet two decades ago, it involved using a huge computer with servers occupying half the room. “If you caught connection speeds of 14.4 you were doing wonderfully,” he added, and document transfers would go on through the night.

By those standards, technological transformation has been extraordinary.

At the same venue today, and locations across Rio, 67,000 users can simultaneously access the wifi network set up by the Brazilian company Oi, the official sponsor and supplier of telecommunications services for the conference.

Oi have also installed 1800 broadband access points, 180 internet kiosks to access the conference, and the latest 4G mobile internet service is on demonstration at a side booth. The company also equipped organisers with cloud computing, smartphones and tablets – not that this would distinguish them from the tech-loaded conference attendants.

Paper is on the decline, with PaperSmart services printing only ‘essential’ documents, and only by request. More often than not, it’s easier just to browse through the five official websites dedicated to communicating the latest discussions.

“If sustainable development had moved at the same pace as ICT had, we probably wouldn’t even need this conference,” said Desai, suggesting that sustainable development hitches a ride with speeding technologies.


This blog post is part of our coverage of Rio+20: United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development. To read news and analysis on Science at Rio+20 please visit our website.


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