I now consider myself settled into a pattern in Rio; I have gotten used to sleeping in the hostel by simply burning the candle at both ends so when I fall into bed at 1am I’m out like a light!
It’s a pretty surreal world here. I get up in the morning at 7am, get ready in the dark and try not to drop stuff and wake any fellow travellers. I suit up and walk down to the fancy UN shuttle bus, grabbing a juice on the way from one of the many juice bars. The streets remind me a lot of Athens; the varied building quality, the crazy traffic, the people sitting in 24 hour cafes.
80 minutes later after riding the bus along the coastline and gazing at the fancy hotels, I hop off the bus at the conference centre, deceptively named RioCentro but located in the Rio equivalent of Altona, next to a brick and tile shop. It’s surrounded by armed guards from the military and police, and today since the highest level part of the conference has started, there are mounted soldiers and groups with riot shields at all entrances.
I pass through the airport security and scanners, and I’m in – It’s a huge place, strangely semi-temporary with rooms built inside permanent larger buildings, and cheap carpet not quite stapled to the floor. I attend many many events, all of which come down to seeing 5-8 people speak for a few minutes about what they do, what they think about something or what they want. Some are clear and insightful, some really aren’t. The same goes for the audience members who get a chance to speak, depending on whether they actually want to discuss the nominated topic or just promote their cause.
I go to city related panels mostly, listening out for discussions of how they learn from each other and what they do. Occasionally I ask questions, always a nerve-wracking process, but people seem to enjoy seeing young people at these events (just got called ‘the very young woman’ by the chair of a UN HABITAT panel).
The people I talk to seem to share my despair of the high level talks leading to anything. Many of the ANU group are keeping a closer eye on the problems in the main document, and taking part in various protest and lobbying measures. The local government officials have for the most part decided to focus on bottom-up action, banding together to do all the good they can. Local government are the implementers of a huge amount of environmental policy, particular regarding climate change. I prefer to work on this level, looking at what we are doing best rather than what nation states are slowing things down. When they come to the party, local government will be ready.
Sometime after nightfall I run out of steam and the conference runs out of events. With luck I run into a fellow ANU traveller and we catch the bus back into town, eating dinner around 10 and eventually going to bed (again getting changed and packing up in the dark, as the non-ANU traveller in our room is already asleep. Can’t remember the last time I saw my luggage by the light of day!)
I’m having a great if bewildered time, thinking and talking about big and difficult ideas, and engaging with many different points of view. I continue to seek out good news and good ideas, knowing that to focus on our failures will not bring us any momentum.