The Road to Rio

By Professor Guy Poppy

Director of Multidisciplinary Research at the University of Southampton

Having the opportunity to attend events at the Rio+20 Earth Summit is both exciting and worrying. It has been twenty years since Rio 92, which set the stage for many of the major targets, goals and policies we see in the world relating to the environment and poverty. So where are we now twenty years later and what will Rio +20 achieve which does not require/necessitate a Rio +40? These thoughts and questions were filling my mind as I flew to Rio late on Saturday night. Taking part in such a potentially important meeting in human history was an honour for me after years of undertaking pure academic research and now realising that applying this work to the ‘Grand Challenges’ was the best way in which Universities can really contribute to civil society, government and business.  That is what we are doing at University of Southampton in our university strategic research groups and I am pleased that important progress is being made in this exciting new part of the University’s strategy.

Guy Poppy at the Rio +20 Earth Summit

On my journey to Rio, the plane was full of people coming to Rio+20 and we engaged in discussions about the summit itself and whether our political leaders will rise to the challenge to shape how we can reduce poverty, advance social equity and ensure environmental protection on an ever more crowded planet to get to the future we want. Whilst the view is pessimistic about our politicians, the civil society and business delegates at Rio will make a difference. It is in these meetings where knowledge, ideas and the pressure will grow. We are all in this together, but we as individuals can make a difference. It is worth looking at your personal consumption and lifestyle and telling others how they can help – our leaders will then not be able to ignore our thoughts and beliefs and will do what is right, even when it involves tough decisions. This is the sign of good leadership.

On arriving into Rio early in the morning, I decided to walk along Copacabana beach to get some sunlight. What a beautiful place with such beautiful people! Rio is the perfect setting to discuss protecting the earth and ensuring that mankind lives within its boundaries.  Since Rio 92, the population has grown by 26% and today stands at a staggering 7 billion. That presents a huge environmental problem for our limited planet.  We currently need 1.5 earths to support our consumption and that is growing towards three!

Today, I have been given a t-shirt and hat from a union parade representing the Brazilian people. This was a great experience and reminds me of the importance of civil society. Unfortunately, I cannot understand the commentary but the music and passion is evident and I am reminded again of the power of human spirit. I thus return to my hotel optimistic and keen to play my part in a potential turning point in society – as UN Secretary General Ban-Ki-Moon has said – Rio+20 Earth Summit is too important to fail.

Follow me on twitter @GuyPoppy1

Related research projects- ESPA Assets project ‘Attaining Sustainable Services from Ecosystems.