Rio+20 goes social for change

Citizens around the world were invited to contribute their views on a better future for the planet as part of the 6-Minute Speech Project.
Citizens around the world were invited to contribute their views on a better future for the planet as part of the 6-Minute Speech Project.

The UN conference on Sustainable Development taking place in Brazil, in June, will take advantage of social media to foster global conversation on 21st-century sustainability issues.

The organisations behind the annual Social Good Summit, held in New York, are partnering to host an initiative called Rio+Social, which takes place on 19 June, the eve of the main conference.

It brings together tech and energy companies Ericsson and EDP, community organisation 92nd Street Y, tech news site Mashable, digital media agency LiveAD, and sustainability platform Planeta Sustent'avel to create a global gathering in which both online and offline participants will discuss how social media can power a better future for the planet, in line with the UN's conference theme, “The Future We Want”.

The aim, say organisers, is to extend the debate beyond high-level meeting rooms and into the public arena, where citizens from all corners of the globe can give their input into tackling issues like poverty and climate change. “Rio+Social will emphasise that building the future we want cannot be achieved without investing in the power of technology and leveraging the promise of digital media,” the partners say.

The Rio+20 conference marks 20 years since the first UN meeting of its kind, dubbed the Earth Summit, and in the time between technology has moved from a non-entity to a powerful force in the global development agenda.

[EMBEDDED]“Every minute, social media and technology is opening doors for new, young voices to participate in and shape the ongoing international development debate,” said Kathy Calvin, CEO of the UN Foundation, in a release.

President and CEO of Ericsson, Hans Vestberg, added that the mobile and broadband networks underpinning modern society can play an instrumental role in addressing global sustainable development challenges. “The billions of mobile subscribers worldwide make the largest social network in the history of mankind and have the power to transform the world and use technology as a force for social good.”

In a related initiative, the Rio+Social partners invited the world's citizens to help write the next “six-minute speech”, based on the speech given by a 12-year-old girl at the original Rio Summit. In it she expressed her concerns and hopes for the planet's future and called on global leaders to address the environmental and sustainability problems of the time.

The 6-Minute Speech Project saw people worldwide give their views on a sustainable future via videos and social media over a 10-day period. Contributions are now being compiled into a crowd-sourced speech reflecting collective visions for a better world, and will be unveiled at Rio+Social next week.

Topics of conversation at the summit include technology and social media's impact on the major issues being discussed at Rio+20, including energy, cities, jobs, food, water, women, oceans, and disasters. There will also be a major emphasis on the “Sustainable Energy for All” initiative, being spearheaded by UN secretary-general Ban Ki-moon.

Speaking during a pre-event teleconference this week, Henry Timms, deputy executive director for strategy, content and innovation at 92Y, said Rio+Social was not only about enabling a bigger conversation, but one that generates solutions.

“We can get people everywhere to begin to think early on in their careers about how technology for good can play a part in solving problems that have been around for a really long time.

“We want to bring together the best technology and new media minds, and the best anthropic and social minds, and in that special mix find new solutions to long-standing problems,” he said. “We see the Rio+Social event as incredibly important; not just for the world of ideas, but for the world of solutions.”

No time to waste

The Rio+20 Summit comes during a time of renewed warnings that earth is buckling under the pressure of explosive population growth and resource consumption. The UN Environment Programme released a 525-page report last week stating that the world's environmental systems "are being pushed towards their biophysical limits". Without concerted action, this could lead to irreversible and potentially catastrophic changes to the life-support functions of the planet, the report added.

In terms of local impacts, environmental affairs minister Edna Molewa said at a business briefing in Sandton yesterday that growing concerns over the capacity of the earth's resources to sustain current levels of production and consumption were adding urgency to global efforts to better respond to this challenge.

“This is compounded by the emerging multiple financial and economic challenges which still require resolution. There is a growing recognition that SA's natural capital, in the form of ecosystems, biodiversity and other natural resources, is critical to unlocking and boosting economic growth and ensuring the long-term wellbeing of society.”

Chief of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, Rajendra K Pachauri, said earlier this year he believed the Rio+20 Summit would lead to new agreements that could help move the world onto a path of sustainable development. But he warned that the conference should be seen as one step in the process, not the pinnacle.

Speakers at the Rio+Social event include Virgin Group founder Richard Branson, Greenpeace executive director Kumi Naidoo, president of the UN Foundation Timothy E Wirth, Mashable CEO Pete Cashmore, and Hans Vestberg, president and CEO of Ericsson.

The event will be streamed live on the Rio+ site and multiple social media channels, and citizens from around the world are invited to participate. To get involved, visit Rio+ or follow event proceedings on Twitter @rioplussocial, or connect via

Read time 5min 10sec
Lezette Engelbrecht
ITWeb online features editor

Lezette Engelbrecht is an ITWeb online features editor.

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