Rio de Janeiro is a rich, vibrant city. The people here are animated, colourful and have a passion for their music. Steep green mountains rise up from the city and rich and poor live side by side, with smart hotels a strone´s throw away from the ´favelas´, a kind of urban slum. A week or so ago, I visited one of these favelas and was struck by the beauty of the unplanned way buildings are dotted over the hills. As the sun sets, they begin to glow and clouds overhead turn purple.
About an hour outside of the city is RioCentro building, the setting for the Rio+20 conference on sustainable development. It looks like a scene from a sci-fi film, with armed guards at every gate, helicopters overhead and vast cavernous pavilions where people in suits rush from room to room. We are only a day away from the arrival of many of the world´s leaders so the setting will only become more surreal.
For many months before Rio+20, negotiators from have been working hard on an agreement about how we move towards a more sustainable and equitable world, one where we can live within planetary boundaries (Oxfam´s Kate Raworth has a great explanation of how this can be understood). This agreement would then be finally signed and agreed during the conference itself. However, it is now the eleventh hour and in the eagerness to get the agreement finished, important words and phrases like these have been left out.
These important discussions happen in a maze of brown rooms in one of the pavilions or buildings, eerily closed off from natural light. In just a 30 second walk you might have passed some of the most powerful negotiators from around the world! People talk in corridors and courtyards and you never know if they are discussing the weather and their upcoming lunch, or thrashing out the wording of a new commitment. The sounds of RioCentro are a blend of hushed voices and the constant whirr of air conditioning that keeps everyone too cool to be comfortable.
Many are pessimistic about Rio+20, but there are glimmers of some small steps forward and these short phrases and sentences in an agreement can sometimes mean big differences for the world´s poorest. When Nick Clegg arrives, we are hoping that he can make those sentences about the world´s small scale farmers as strong as possible, protecting their rights to land and supporting them in growing food sustainably in co-operatives. So, as the leaders take their chauffeur driven cars to the conference centre, I hope they see the overlap of inequality and diversity in Rio de Janeiro, and it reminds them of their obligations to find a more ambitious deal…