Jun 13, 2012

In anticipation of Rio+20, Brazil creates new nature reserves and closes major land-fill

Brazil announced plans to protect an additional 10 000km² of land and pledged not to let economic woes stop it from implementing other measures to protect the environment.

According to the Environment Ministry, the country's total surface area under preservation - including reservations for indigenous people - would increase to 770 000km² under decrees signed by President Dilma Rousseff just days before the start of Rio+20, a United Nations summit on sustainable development in Rio de Janeiro.

“Brazil accounts for 75% of all protected environmental zones created in the world since 2003,” Rousseff said.

The head of state, who recently opposed a partial veto of a controversial law reducing the protection of the Amazon rainforest, also announced that 6 418km² of land was deforested in 2011, down from a peak of 27 000km² in 2004.

“More than 80% of the Amazon's original vegetation remains intact and between 2004 and 2011 the rate of deforestation dropped by 78%,” Rousseff noted.

Speaking on World Environment Day, she also stressed that economic problems should not serve as a pretext to abandon efforts to safeguard the planet.

“The crisis can't be an argument to suspend measures to protect the environment, much as it can't be an argument to suspend policies of social inclusion,” Rousseff said.

More than 100 heads of state and tens of thousands of participants from governments, the private sector and NGOs will converge on Rio de Janeiro 20-22 June for the Rio+20 United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development.

Likewise in advance of the Rio+20 summit the state government of Rio do Janeiro last week announced the closure of one of the world’s largest open-pit landfills, where thousands of people have made a living sorting the debris.

Long a symbol of ill-conceived urban planning and environmental negligence, the Jardim Gramacho dump is being transformed into a vast facility that will harness the greenhouse gases generated by the rotting rubbish and turn them into fuel capable of heating homes and powering cars.

Environmentalists had blamed Gramacho for the high levels of pollution in Rio's once pristine Guanabara Bay, where tons of run-off from the garbage had leaked.

Less clear is what will happen to the more than 1.700 people who worked at the site, scaling hills of fresh, fly- and vulture-covered trash to pluck recyclable plastic, paper and metal from the 9.000 tons of detritus once dumped there daily. 

Tags RIO20 Brazil

Countries must fully support right to water at Rio20 conference, says UN expert

A United Nations independent expert today called on governments to "fully support" the right to drinking water and sanitation at the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development (Rio20) in Brazil later this month.

In an open letter to States negotiating the outcome document of Rio20, the UN Special Rapporteur on the human right to safe drinking water and sanitation, Catarina de Albuquerque, expressed concern that a clear recognition of the human right to water and sanitation is at risk of being suppressed from the document after three rounds of negotiations in New York over the past three months.

"Some States suggested alternative language that does not explicitly refer to the human right to water and sanitation," Ms. de Albuquerque said in a news release. "Some tried to reinterpret or even dilute the content of this human right." 

She noted that the right to water and sanitation has been recognized as a human right under international law, including by the General Assembly and the Human Rights Council in 2010. 

More than 100 world leaders, along with thousands of parliamentarians, mayors, UN officials, Chief Executive Officers and civil society leaders will come together at Rio20, in Rio de Janeiro from 20 to 22 June, seeking to renew commitments to find solutions to the world's most pressing social, economic and environmental challenges, including access to water and sanitation.

Negotiators concluded the last round of Rio20 preparatory talks focussed on the upcoming event's outcome document in New York last Saturday, and they have reached agreement on more than 20 per cent of the document, with many additional paragraphs close to agreement. The next and final preparatory talks will be held in Rio de Janeiro from 13 to 15 June.

Ms. de Albuquerque emphasized that Governments need to set a target for water and sanitation for all, without discrimination, to protect the health and dignity in particular of marginalized populations. 

"I call on all States to maintain their support to this fundamental human right and its explicit inclusion in the Rio20 outcome document," Ms. de Albuquerque said. "It is clear that a commitment to water and sanitation without the recognition of the human right to water and sanitation is insufficient to achieve the future we all want." 

Independent experts, or special rapporteurs, are appointed by the Geneva-based Human Rights Council to examine and report back on a country situation or a specific human rights theme. The positions are honorary and the experts are not United Nations staff, nor are they paid for their work.

Tags RIO20 Brazil