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Rio+20: Dispatch #5

Posted 06.22.2012

Celebrities Dazzle at Deforestation Event While Wheels Spin at Riocentro

As 85 heads of state and ministers discussed a text that has been hotly criticized for its “lowest common denominator” tack, and as NGOs orchestrated sit-ins inside Riocentro yesterday, I decided to stay away.

Instead, we cabbed it over to the Windsor Barra Hotel for the Avoided Deforestation Partners (ADP) event. I’d already been to two of these things (at UN climate talks in Cancún, Mexico, and Durban, South Africa) – where somehow ADP founder Jeff Horowitz manages to snag high-profile dignitaries like UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon away from intense negotiations for part of the afternoon. Who knows? Maybe they want a respite from the wheel-spinning politics.

This year was the sexiest ADP event yet with an opening video address from Prince Charles, and Jane Goodall kicking off the four-hour session with her famous chimpanzee calls. The agenda I received prior to the event was full of other high-profile people, but I wasn’t optimistic they’d really show because of their hectic schedules. Slated for the afternoon were EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson, Bianca Jagger, Sir Richard Branson and actor Ed Norton. But did they really show up? Yes – along with a whole lot of other important people like former Ireland President Mary Robinson and Unilever CEO Paul Polman.

So, today, I could write a dispatch on how the heads of state and ministers weighed in on a text that’s already closed. (They’re only talking about how to implement it. Read more here.) Instead, I’ll share some pretty cool photos featuring what went down at Windsor Barra. Because it got pretty lively. I’ll put it in chronological order, so be sure to stick to the end.

His Royal Highness The Prince of Wales

Prince Charles’s opening video address was introduced by Justin Mundy (director of the Prince’s Charities International Sustainability Unit) and was picked up by the Huffington Post – complete with full transcript. The Prince of Wales talked about what is becoming a theme of Rio+20 – not waiting around for global negotiations. “We simply cannot wait for international frameworks to be put in place. If the pace of the negotiations and the speed with which agreements are implemented is too slow to arrest the present rate of depletion, then it seems to me we have no option but to forge ahead by taking action now, then linking it with the international frameworks when they finally emerge further down the line.” Jane Goodall also talked about “bridging” back to the framework later.

The Hon. Lisa Jackson, Administrator, U.S. EPA

I loved what EPA Administrator Jackson had to say when asked about “environmental justice.” She talked about growing up in an urban environment in New Orleans. “As a girl I didn’t camp,” said Jackson. She talked about how important it is to get kids outside for their health, and so they can see “the other side.” This is something I’m sure my friends at Campfire USA would love to hear coming from such a high official. Sitting to the left of Jackson in the photo above is Jane Goodall’s stuffed chimp given to her by a Marine who lost his eyesight. Goodall takes the chimp with her everywhere she goes and says it’s been touched by some 4 million people during her travels. The stuffed toy looks pretty good, considering Goodall’s extensive travel schedule. She had just flown in from Istanbul yesterday morning, just four hours before the session began.

Jonathan Pershing, Deputy Special Envoy for Climate Change, U.S. State Department

Pershing (far left) showed up at the Durban ADP event last December, but only fleetingly because he’s such a key player in climate change negotiations. This time, with Rio+20′s focus on sustainable development and not solely on climate change, Pershing had time to moderate a full panel discussion on “Establishing Deforestation-Free, Sustainable Agricultural Markets.” Considering how at odds the U.S. and China have been in climate negotiations, it was interesting to see Pershing moderate a panel featuring Dr. Zhang Songdan of China’s State Forestry Administration. Also featured are Olav Kjørven, Assistant Secretary-General, UN Development Programme; Jason Clay, Senior Vice President, World Wildlife Fund–U.S. (WWF has been highly critical of the Rio+20 text); and Unilever CEO Paul Polman, who co-chairs the Consumer Goods Forum.

Bianca Jagger, Plant a Pledge Campaign Ambassador; Founder, Chair, Bianca Jagger Human Rights Foundation

Still beautiful — and smart and savvy — the former model (check this 1974 Vogue cover) once known primarily for her marriage to Mick Jagger spelled out her mission with the PlantaPledge campaign: “Our plan is to lobby government to restore 150 million hectares” of forest and landscape. She talked about the announcement this week to restore 18 million hectares of land, 15 million of which were pledged by the U.S. Department of Agriculture Forest Service. PlantaPledge is basically an online petition, and Jagger is expected to take the pledges to UN climate talks in Qatar this November (COP18) in support of the Bonn Challenge issued last fall to restore the 150 million hectares by 2020. (We’re not going to COP18 in Qatar this year.)

Sir Richard Branson, Founder, Virgin Group

When ADP founder Horowitz asked the billionaire what motivates him, he said learning something new every day. Branson pointed out, for instance, that he was unaware of the Treaty for High Seas protection of 64 percent of the world’s oceans, which ended up being excluded from the Rio+20 text this week. It had support from nearly all countries — except the U.S., Canada, Japan, Venezuela and Russia. Both Branson and Airbus spoke of the hope of being able to use more “clean fuels that aren’t eating into the food supply.”

Edward Norton, Actor, Environmental Activist, UN Goodwill Ambassador for Biodiversity

Super smart, somewhat serious, and inspired by his environmental lawyer father, Norton said, “We are straddling a key moment in the environmental movement.” He said the “intrinsic value of nature is not enough” anymore to gain progress but is optimistic about “a new set of indicators” like natural resource capital and “captains of industry … learning they’re going to do better with these value propositions.” Not 100 percent serious though, he said at one point, “When I wake up smiling it’s usually because I was dreaming I were Richard [Branson].” And Jane Goodall said of the indigenous women she works with, “I doubt she [dreams] about you [Branson] because she doesn’t know who you are.”

The Protestors

One reason I avoided Riocentro yesterday was to steer clear from the protests. But no. Just when panel moderator Horowitz asked Richard Branson “What motivates you?” these three bolted upright from their seats in the middle of the room and carried on for a good three minutes. It was loud and monotonous, and I thought it was pretty hilarious when Bianca Jagger jumped out of her chair at the front of the room to take her own snapshots of the protestors.

“Consider yourself heard” is what panel moderator Horowitz said after the protestors finally finished. Branson said, “They had a good point. They just went on a bit long.” Norton added that they “had some apt points” but contended that it’s unrealistic and ineffective to expect indigenous people to protect the forest without being able “to make their livelihood in the ecosystem.” He emphasized how important local capacity is to reforestation, pointing out that help from the “macro” level “gets bottle-necked getting it on the ground.” Norton said he’d like to see something the U.S. does well — seed capital for start-ups — and apply that concept to deforestation and local capacity. Jane Goodall had an interesting point about how Google Earth has partnered with the deforestation movement to work with “village monitors” to help ensure that communities that are getting paid to protect the land are not clearing trees anyway.