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Image: DW/M. Kasper-Claridge

Looking ahead to Rio+20

April 19, 2012

Policymakers at the World Economic Forum in Mexico are trying to outline their strategy for the UN Rio+20 summit in June. They hope this will lead to action, not promises.


Alice Barcena gets very emotional when it comes to the topic of reducing poverty, but for a change, she has something to get excited about: the UN is holding its Conference on Sustainable Development in Rio de Janeiro this June. Barcena is the UN Executive Secretary of the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean. The Mexican politician wants her colleagues to put their money where their mouths are at Rio+20: "When the first UN Conference was held in Rio 20 years ago, 48 percent of Latin Americans lived in poverty. Today, it's still 30 percent. That means we have lifted 110 million people out of poverty. That's good, but it's not enough!"

Latin Americawants a strategy

Description: World Economic Forum Latin America Carlos with Alicia Barcena Ibarra Date: 17.4. 2012 Location: Puerto Vallarta (Mexico) Source: Manuela Kasper-Claridge (DW) Provided by: Henrik Böhme
Alice Barcena (UN Executive Secretary of the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean) at the World Economic Forum on Latin America in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico.Image: DW

Latin Americans have begun discussing what they want from the Rio+20 conference. They're asking questions now, like what path should Latin America take? They also want to outline clear goals in advance so that the conference will be a success and not just a declaration of intent.

These questions have become the focus of the World Economic Forum on Latin America. "There isn't one way to reduce poverty. The most effective measures for Africa aren't the same for Latin America,” says Ingo Ploger of the Brazilian Business Council of Latin America. He's sitting onstage with Barcena at the conference in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico. "We must be clear about what we want to accomplish in Rio and then say exactly how much time we have to implement our plans and then start working on it immediately." Ploger thinks his goal of reducing worldwide poverty by 20 percent in 10 years is absolutely realistic. He doesn't give concrete details about how he's going to do it, though.

Rio+20 with substance?

135 heads of state and government have already signed up for Rio+20, which will take place from June 20 to 22. Hundreds of representatives from NGOs also plan to attend. Latin Americans say the conference runs the risk of producing lots of good pictures, but little substance. They want to show the world that they can do things differently.

Mexicois the current president of the G20, a group made up of the world's largest economies, as well as emerging ones. It wants to bring the G20 countries into agreement on what the goals should be for the upcoming conference. So far, food security, sustainable growth and poverty reduction have top priority. The president of the Mexican Agency for International Development, Rogelio Granguillhome, says, "Without growth, you can't have social mobility."

The high cost of growth

Beschreibung:Group photo at the World Economic Forum Latin America Aufnahmedatum: 17.4. 2012 Ort: Puerto Vallarta (Mexiko) Quelle: Manuela Kasper-Claridge (DW) zugeliefert von: Henrik Böhme
Participants of a debate at the World Economic Forum on Latin America in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico.Image: DW

Granguillhome's stance on growth and social mobility has been facing resistance, but Helio Mattar is someone who agrees with him. Mattar is a social entrepreneur who founded the Institute for Conscious Consumption in Brazil. He and his organization work to promote the idea that "less is more." They want to change the way people consume. "Our values must change,” says Mattar. "Not every kind of growth is good for people. We're wasting our resources. This doesn't lead to prosperity, it just leads to more poverty. We have to raise our children to conserve the environment and not to just throw things away, but to use them again."

Creating a realistic agenda

Back at the conference in Puerto Vallarta, Ploger ends his comments with a practical suggestion that could become one of their goals at the Rio+20 conference. "We should enact a social development index. This would give us a clear way to measure whether the economic situation has actually improved in a country." This brings applause from the audience, but Alicia Barcena once again points her finger and says they must spell out, "the goals, the timing, and how we intend to finance these measures. That's what we need to bring to Latin America."

Author: Manuela Kasper-Claridge, reporting from Puerto Vallarta/kms
Editor: Henrik Böhme / sgb

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