Couldn’t make it to Rio+20?

A short piece to remedy your curiosity about the experience on the ground

What is it like to be at Rio+20?

It can be hard to get a physical “feel” for attending a mega-gathering like this from only reading on websites, so I will write out a short piece on the everyday experience of attending the conference.

Unsurprisingly, the most striking immediate impact is  the scale. The food court alone is the size of a hangar, security is everywhere, and a hundred things happen simultaneously at all times. Still, there is a palpable sense of calm throughout the convention center. I hesitate to say that the atmosphere is subdued, but I wouldn’t exactly say it’s explosive either. Not to suggest that this is a bad thing. We all remember the “chaos” of the Copenhagen climate summit, and certainly Rio+20, from what I’ve seen, seems downright serene by comparison. Not once have I felt crowded anywhere in the convention centre.

Information about the time and location of meetings is provided in real time on flatscreens (think airport terminal) in each of the conference centers. But of course, most people just walk with laser focus to the one or few meetings that they are personally engaged with on that day. It is understandable, but also a bit of a shame, considering the abundance of expertise and interesting events that go on. Be that as it may, this is still clearly the event of the year for most people attending, and the atmosphere and quality of presentations shows it. Put simply, people bring their “A-material” and their best shirt.

Language issues do occur on occasion, although the designated helpdesks scattered around form little islands of help provided in advanced english. Put more tangibly, if your portugueses is as bad as mine, you might be using some hand signalling at the food court and in a myriad “little” situations around Rio+20. Obviously, when compared to other parts of Rio, the service in English is still excellent.

Traffic in Rio is terrible however, full stop. The official shuttles remedy this to a certain extent, but many participants will probably still see their taxi budget overstretched from sitting in traffic. Riocentro, the main conference centre, is clearly out of the way from the city proper. Consequently, many of those who opted for the more “touristy” areas of copacabana and ipanema might end up regretting their choice, especially if they need to swing back and forth a lot and spend the time that goes with it.

On the physical area itself, and considering all the hubbub surrounding the conference, one might also wonder if it is very “built up”, perhaps flashy even?

Nope. Not at all.

The main Riocentro area goes in a very minimalist style, clearly favouring simplistic wood panelled function over form. There are very small art exhibits scattered here and there, but dwarfed by the giant buildings they become curious and overlooked asides rather than actual attractions.

So what are the coffee conversations going on at Rio+20 in between the events? It’s early still so of course there are no news yet on an actual rio declaration (though everybody knows it’s looking grim). Once anything on this leaks out, I’m pretty sure it will dominate the water cooler conersation. But lacking that, people seem to discuss their trials and tribulations with traffic and, of course, their work and what they do. However, there doesn’t seem to be that much “cross-breeding” going on between people of different discplines meeting spontaneously at the conference. Everybody is too busy for that. Even I could be schmoozing random people in the cafeteria right now, but instead I choose to produce some work, and most seem to make the same choice.

Of course, this short description just wouldn’t be complete without some comments on Rio itself. Temperatures during the day vary between 25 and 29 degrees, it’s humid but not oppressively so, and caipirinhas on the beach are about 8 BRL (around 27 SEK or 4 USD). In short, it’s a very nice location for a conference. So the great location, of course, is also one of the most frequent topics of conversation at this early stage of the conference.

There are many more days to go, but I hope this short description has provided a less “sterilized” account of attending the behemoth that is Rio+20.

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