As World Environment Day is celebrated around the world, our correspondent hits the streets of Sao Paulo to find if Brazil's future is green.
It's just a matter of weeks before policy makers and business leaders descend on Brazil to take part in Rio+20 talks on poverty reduction and environmental protection. As part of the countdown, Rio is holding a massive week-long festival to mark World Environment Day. Across the city, there are green-themed concerts, workshops on sustainable practices, eco-friendly fashion shows and even an interactive exhibit called 'Feel the Climate', which allows visitors to experience the effects of climate change.
Supermodel plants trees
The United Nation's Environment Programme has enlisted the help of supermodel Gisele Bündchen. She's a UNEP Goodwill Ambassador and promoted World Environment Day by taking part in a tree planting event. With a shovel in hand, she planted a sapucaia tree, which is native to Brazil, and encouraged spectators to think green.
"The most important thing we can do is to raise awareness and educate people about what's happening, about our impact on the environment and how everyone can do their part,” the model said.
Brazil's politicians also marked World Environment Day, calling for new strategies to address poverty, while conserving resources and protecting wildlife. The Brazilian government faces a huge challenge heading into the Rio+20 talks, as it attempts to protect the interests of a rapidly growing economy, while pursuing principles of sustainability. But at Environment Day events, Brazilian Environment Minister Izabel Teixeira sounded optimistic.
Achim Steiner is the UNEP's Executive Director
"For us, this is an honor. We understand this is the moment to countdown to the Rio+20 conference. We need to be ambitious for the outcomes," she said.
Teixeira has been working with the UNEP's Executive Director Achim Steiner to promote green tourism. He pointed out that tourism is the world's biggest industry, accounting for around 11 percent of global GDP and some eight per cent of jobs worldwide. He wants to see travelers make choices which have a positive impact on local ecology. His Green Passport program has already been introduced in Ecuador, Costa Rica and South Africa. It's a passport-style document full of advice on how to make a holiday more sustainable. Now, he's introduced the passport in Brazil.
Looking back at the first "Earth Summit," which was held in Brazil in 1992, Steiner said the country had come along way.
"Of the many countries on this planet, Brazil stands out as a nation (that) since 1992 has taken the sustainable development paradigm ...forward. As the world returns to celebrate World Environment Day in 2012, Brazil is a very different country - economically, socially and environmentally," Steiner said.
This year's World Environment Day focused on building a green economy. The UN defines a green economy as one in which growth and employment are driven by investments that reduce carbon emissions, enhance energy, use resources efficiently and guard against the loss of biodiversity.
According to UNEP's report 'Towards a Green Economy: Pathways to Sustainable Development and Poverty Eradication', Brazil has enormous potential to lead the world toward environmentally responsible models of business. The report points out that two-thirds of all vehicles in Brazil are fuelled with ethanol and almost half of Brazil's energy supply is tapped from renewable sources.
Lack of respect for nature
But not everyone is as optimistic. In the streets of Sao Paulo, some expressed concern that World Environment Day events were glossing over the situation in Brazil.
"I don't see a reason to celebrate here in Sao Paulo," said Jessica Palon, a resident of the city. "People don't respect the environment. They throw garbage anywhere. If you look at Sao Paulo, Brazil doesn't score any points."
Gabriela Floriano, a student here, felt the same way. "There is a lack of respect for nature. Just look around. There are almost no plants or forests... People need to think a little more about the future of the planet," he told DW.
Experts are also divided on Brazil's commitment to green economic growth. Ricardo Baitelo coordinates Greenpeace's renewable energy campaign in Brazil. He says Brazil's development model fails to effectively address sustainability.
"We don't have reasons to celebrate. ...If we look at the electricity matrix, we are obviously ahead of the world average. But when we talk about a green or sustainable economy, we have to look at the entire chain and we have to look at the entire process," he said.
"Unfortunately, we have a lot of deforestation attached to not only cattle and soya production but to iron production and infrastructure projects. When we look at the broader picture, you see we have a big impact and we intend to expand this impact."
Author: Milton Bragatti / shc
Editor: Jessie Wingard