I had the honour of being at Rio+20 and spent time on our stand, which was part of the UNEP and Bosch and Siemens pavilion called “technology in action”.
I really felt like home over there walking through big models of wind generators, solar panels, improved stoves. It was great to share the space with a lot of NGOs and enterprises that share the vision of technology being central to fight poverty. Projects in Centro America, Asia, Africa and Latin America on renewable energies, access to water and sanitation, climate change.
Our stand showed the power of a “healthy smoke hood” – a very simple technology Practical Action have developed with Bosch and Siemens that can solve the problem of millions of poor families who suffer from the effects of smoke in their homes. Just in Peru, for example, 6 million families still cook with wood or animal dung.
With the support of Bosch and Siemens could avoid the 2 million annual deaths caused by smoke in the kitchen. Valued at $60, and managed by small cooperatives, families can access this technology with $10 dollars and pay the rest in two years.
It was interesting to verify that we all share the vision that technology is only part of the solution. The real challenge is to deal with sustainability, meaning for example, the management of an energy system, the strengthening of local human resources, the promotion of productive uses of energy.
There is a lot to be solved to call many technology solutions really sustainable, but it was great to share some ideas that are really working. We need to engage with national education systems to introduce new technical careers on energy for rural areas, community managed enterprises and generation of small business using energy.
In Peru, we have just received the great news that after two years of concerted effort the Agriculture Ministry will recognize our peasant trainers as legal national providers of technical assistance and integrate them to the National Institute of Agriculture Innovation (INIA). We will now work to get the same opportunity for our energy promoters.No Comments » | Add your comment
I’m sitting in the airport waiting for a plane back to London having spent the past week with a small team from Practical Action at the Rio + 20 negotiations. We’ve been particularly focussed on the discussions around energy access for the poor that were a theme through side meetings and discussions throughout the week.
This is the first time I have attended an event like this. And my impressions? Largely disappointing. Speaking with a fellow conference attender a minute ago we both came to the conclusion that if you were going to design a process to ensure agreement was reached on steps to ensure a sustainable future for all of us on the planet, this would not be it. In the formal part: endless and inconclusive negotiations on the minutiae of text, with national governments treating the process as if they were bartering for terms of trade as opposed to trying to prevent global disaster. And in the informal part: hundreds of side events – some really fascinating, others really dull, but none having any impact on or relationship to the sterile and hopeless process going on in the main negotiations.
That said, there were some positives to take away from the week. The issue of energy access got a lot of attention in the side events and was one of the few areas where hard financial commitments were discussed during the week, albeit outside of the formal proceedings. I attended the signing ceremony for 3 agreements between the Norway and Ethiopia, Kenya and Liberia for energy access programmes under the Energy Plus initiative. And although the UN Secretary General’s Sustainable Energy for All initiative attracted some criticism for its lack of engagement with civil society (the UN could learn from the Norwegians who seem to have made a better job of civil society consultation under Energy Plus), they too announced a whole series of commitments from governments, donors, private sector and NGOs (including Practical Action). I was also heartened to attend an event discussing alternatives to GDP as a measure of social and economic progress, which included presentations about work going on in the EC and in the OECD to develop national systems of accounting that would incorporate ideas of wellbeing and natural capital.
So all in all my take would be: an abysmal meeting in terms of the formal proceedings, with a complete lack of leadership from heads of government and a final document generous only in its use of platitudes and worryingly short on concrete proposals, but some interesting side events showing that civil society and sometimes even the EC and the OECD are occasionally still doing interesting stuff!
For me, Rio+ 20, coming after the failed Copenhagen Climate Change talks and some eminently forgettable global meetings in between, marks the terminal decline of the big set piece international conference. The global leadership and vision that delivered the international conventions on biodiversity and climate change 20 years ago at the original Rio conference have disappeared. We need a different format if we are to make progress in the future. Maybe we should subcontract Avaaz to run the next one virtually and crowd source some common sense instead?2 Comments » | Add your comment
The death of lonesome George probably the last Pinta giant tortoise in the Galapagos, was announced today.
His demise, days after the world fudged the opportunity for a plan to safeguard the future of the planet and its species at Rio+20, is a timely reminder that time is running out. And without major lifestyle changes, the future of the planet and the human race are also threatened. World leaders seem paralysed by financial chaos. Inaction and procrastination seem to be the default settings.
It was the Archbishop of Canterbury who articulated the big question that politicians chose not to answer:
“What kind of world do we want to leave to our children? And that’s not just a question about what kind of material environment we want to leave – the answers to that, in a way, are quite simple: we want a world that’s free of pollution, a world where everyone has access to clean water, a world where food supplies are secure, a world where people have learned sustainable methods of agriculture and development.
“But just as importantly, it’s a question of what kind of habits and what kind of lifestyle we want to leave to our children – what sort of skills we want to see them developing in living sustainably in this world.”
Has sustainable development now been marginalised so that it is subject matter for religion rather than politics?
At Practical Action we know that sustainability is the key to success. We know that communities thrive when they are empowered to create their own wealth and given the tools and knowledge to do this. A realistic, achievable set of sustainable development goals may be agreed by the world one day, but it will be too late for George.No Comments » | Add your comment
This morning I was woken up at 5am, by the sound of a helicopter, flying over the apartment I’m staying in.
The helicopter was carrying one of the 100 world leaders descending on Rio de Janeiro today.
They are arriving with seemingly no job to do (as the outcome document has already been agreed) and yet a generation-changing job to do (as the outcome document has already been agreed).
You see, on Monday evening Brazil produced their own version of the Rio +20 outcome document, disregarding the year long process of negotiations by actors around the world.
In any negotiation documents it’s the brackets that count – that’s where the crucial and controversial points are, the points that will make a difference, the points that are worth fighting over.
But Brazil’s focus on securing an outcome meant that they simply deleted the brackets. Deleted The Future We Want.
The Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff is standing by the ‘agreed’ outcome. But there are three days to go, three days to make a difference by re-opening the document and including time-bound targets with financial commitments, and billions of reasons to do so.
And now it’s time to sleep – and it’s not the helicopters that are keeping me awake … but I’m hoping that just a few of our world leaders have a sleepless night too
HelenNo Comments » | Add your comment
Thousands of policy makers, campaigners and activists have descended on Rio de Janeiro this week. They are talking about the issues that matter for them, and debating tweaks in the words and phrases included in the ‘outcome document’.
From a Practical Action perspective, we have a small, but hopefully influential team taking part in debates and events pressing for our vision for ‘Universal Energy Access’. That means addressing the situation where billions of poor people still don’t have the energy they need to light their homes, cook meals safely and earn a living. We have a vision for Total Energy Access based on an understanding of energy needs from the perspective of the poor people we have worked with over the past 30 years and more. For them, ‘energy access’ is not just about how much electricity a country generates, or even about having their own electricity connection – it is about having daily use of the energy they need for their wellbeing – for lighting, cooking and water heating, space heating, cooking, information and communications and earning a living. People need a range of energy technologies, services and supplies to avoid darkness, drudgery and ill health in the household.
To make that happen, change is urgently needed to:
• Improve the policy environment so that it supports poor people
• Boost capacity to deliver more and better quality energy technologies; and
• Ramp up the volume and types of energy financing that support access
Here’s our policy brief with more information about those issues.
However, I can’t help but agree with Matthew Lockwood of IDS who says that “sustainable development targets will only work if they engage with the realities of national politics”. In other words – the real work starts once Rio ends and people get back to their countries. The UN’s Sustainable Energy for All Initiative will be working at country level to help put together National Implementation plans. All of Practical Action’s countries of operation are included in the list of 40 focal countries for the initiative. We are keen to engage because we have plenty to contribute about how change can really be brought about for the people who need it most.No Comments » | Add your comment
The Rio+20 process is sustainability, and water and sanitation are among the key issues on the agenda.
So what does sustainability mean for water and sanitation? It could mean all kinds of things – and often it’s rightly interpreted as being about how we can take care of, and preserve our scarce water resources.
But as was pointed out by one of the participant’s at today’s Parliamentary meeting on WASH (water, sanitation and hygiene), a huge issue in water and sanitation is maintenance and repairs. It’s something Practical Action has been aware of for a long time, and is a key part of what makes any kind of technology or infrastructure ‘appropriate’. Examples of what we’ve been doing include:
- Work in Zimbabwe to repair rural water points where we found that 60% of those already installed were broken down, and that repairing them was far cheaper than building a new one. We’ve also addressed some of the reasons they lay unrepaired for so long by training village pump minders and pump mechanics, and linking them with the district water officers who can help where there are issues the village level mechanic cannot fix.
- Work on sanitation in urban areas where a toilet can no sooner be built than it fills up, or becomes so filthy it is a health hazard in itself. Without adequate thought to how it will be cleaned and emptied, or what will be done with the contents, you might as well not bother! The right designs, clarity about the arrangements for how it will be kept clean and safe, can all make sure these vital services are actually useful for years to come.
Let’s hope the leaders involved in Rio+20 debates pay sufficient attention to these somewhat less glamorous, but ultimately vital aspects of what it will take to truly achieve Sanitation and Water for All.1 Comment » | Add your comment
At terminal 5, before leaving for the Rio +20 Summit, I had a cursory glance at Facebook, my last for 10 days. The main topic of conversation – Euro 2012, football and goals (I’m not sure what that says about my friends)…
Landing in Rio, here too there is a (‘beautiful’?) game being played, a vying for position amongst countries and much talk of goals – of the Sustainable Development variety.
It’s likely that one of the main outcomes of Rio +20 will be a commitment to create a series of Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) focusing on poverty but also, specifically, on energy (for the very first time), water, land use and more – details pending.
But, I hear you say, what about the Millennium Development Goals, the eight global targets set in 2000 and endorsed by 191 governments? Will they be replaced or lost in the drive for the SDGs?
Well, on that, I don’t have an answer – and, right now, neither do the UN and governments here in Rio.
For three reasons:
1) One track or two? – Countries haven’t yet decided on, or committed to, whether the two tracks (MDGs and SDGs) should be combined into a single series of Goals
2) Money Matters – Will developing countries really be willing to commit to signing to another set of Goals without any clarity on the finance available to help realise them?
3) Environment vs Development – The debate continues around the extent to which the SDGs focus on planet over people. Whilst developing countries are supportive of creating the new set of Goals (in fact, Columbia suggested them as a concept) they aren’t likely to sign to SDGs which define how they must drive their own development.
Can we avoid an own goal at Rio? Let’s hope so …
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Living without energy is tough…really tough. I know, because I’ve just gone without energy for a week. Why? To raise awareness of energy poverty.
Despite the availability of technical solutions, 1.3 billion people are still without any access to electricity and 2.7 billion people cook over open fires – suffering the effects of the potentially choking fatal toxic fumes given off by this fuel.
I didn’t cook my food on an open fire. Instead, I ate food that I didn’t have to cook, and didn’t have to refrigerate – crisps, bread, biscuits, fruit, salad. This wasn’t so bad though, as I could resort to a very simple technology to keep food cool without using energy – a zeer pot!
What I found very difficult though, after waking up (without an alarm clock – interesting!) was having a cold shower or wash, and then not being able to use my hairdryer or straighteners!
I need two or three cups of coffee in the morning to wake myself, so not being able to use the kettle was a disaster! I found it very difficult to find the energy in the morning to cycle into work (a very hilly 13 mile journey)!
Now there had to be one exception to the rule – I had to use energy for work because I need a computer to do my job. However, I did not use my laptop outside of work, or my phone. I had no music and I didn’t watch any television. I read books until there was no longer any light.
I couldn’t use the heating, but as it’s summer (kind of) that wasn’t much of a problem. But it would be a different story in the winter!
I can’t imagine living permanently without energy…but so many people are forced to.
At Rio+20 this week we continue to push for a global effort to eliminate energy poverty and support the UN goal of universal energy access by 2030.
• Energy enables people to work their way out of poverty
• Energy provides better access to education and other basic services
• Energy improves health and wellbeing, especially for women and children
The link between energy and the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) is a hot topic at the #Rioplus20 conference this week. As the Telegraph reported Practical Action is there ensuring #totalenergyaccess energy remains on the agenda.
To help geography students understand how the two are intertwined the schools team have produced a brand new resource. The resource consists of a pdf presentation to aid students initial understanding of MDGs and the issues around energy access followed by a hands-on activity which makes them think about the energy requirements for each of the MDGs.
Why not have a look at the presentation and have a go at the activity yourself ? http://bit.ly/L14Cvh
This new resource will be officially launched at the Eco-schools conference on Tuesday 26th June.No Comments » | Add your comment
According to the World Health Organisation, nearly 2 million people die each year from diseases caused by indoor smoke from cooking fires.
Practical Action, in a new partnership with Bosch Siemens Household Appliances (BSH) is working with communities in the high hills of Nepal to reduce the impact of indoor smoke. By installing Healthy Smoke Hoods this toxic smoke can be reduced by 82%. This technology also increases the stove’s efficiency, reducing firewood consumption.
Practical Action and BSH are demonstrating this Healthy Hood technology at Rio+20 and have successfully engaged the attention of visitors, who are impressed with its simplicity and with the fact that it can be manufactured and maintained locally.
Our stand is in the Technology in Action Pavilion, along with many other technological solutions, with a strong focus on energy, building materials and communications for emergencies.
At an event on the stand on 16th June Siemens together with social entrepreneurship organisation Ashoka launched an empowering people award, which will focus on appropriate technology solutions for developing countries.No Comments » | Add your comment