Development veteran Serguem Silva looks after Tearfund’s work in Brazil. He was at the first Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro in 1992 and then went back last month to the People’s Summit of Rio plus 20. Here he reflects on 20 years of Rio; what’s changed and what’s not?
I remember my time at the 1992 Earth Summit in Rio. It was the first time that international government, civil society and business leaders joined together to talk about the environment. So it was really a paradigm shift for sustainability. I was part of a small Christian presence there, one of only a few groups taking part in the discussions. There weren’t many like us trying to influence the summit’s agenda and outcomes.
My aim in 1992 was to convince leaders, organisations and those in different churches of the biblical perspective of sustainability, and to build a bridge to civil society organisations. I wanted to persuade and bring people together so that we could all be a part of this process.
Since then, many things have changed in Brazil and around the world. In my opinion improvements, especially in business, have happened quickly. But attitudes in society seem more resistant to change.
I’ve seen some encouraging milestones along the way. In Brazil the rate of deforestation, particularly in the Amazon, is less than it was 20 years ago. New legislation has been put in place that defines how companies should work in the rainforest to minimise their environmental impact. Now the government is under pressure to adopt more legislation, as well as to enforce what we already have.
Also, more and more people from the Christian community are getting involved in the debate. The church of 2012 is more mobilised to action than in ’92. I think that one reason for this is the increase in resources that give a biblical view of sustainability and the environment. We didn’t have these in Brazil before.
I would like to see young people taking a leading role on this issue. If they have a vision of how the future should be and play a significant part in the discussions, we’ll certainly have a better world. They are the ones who can change the situation both now and in the future. This means that we need to invest time in supporting young people to be the heroes on this, empowering them to take responsibility.
For me another big challenge is individual behaviour change, and answering questions like: How should we use natural resources? How can we reduce the impact this has on the future? We all need to change our lifestyles. We have to find a safe way to live, which is a huge challenge because, in general, we want to consume.
It’s impossible to respond to today’s reality without realising the importance of the environment and sustainability. I hope that in the future we will change the mechanisms of consumption and, ultimately, change our way of life.