Closing Remarks at USRio+2.0: Summation of Key Themes - Results of the Conference and the Road to Rio+20
Assistant Secretary, Bureau of Oceans and International Environmental and Scientific Affairs
Stanford University Business School’s video coverage of USRio+2.0 conference remarks
I just have to say it’s a tough act to follow all of these very succinct, energized presentations. So I just want to add my gratitude to all of the energy everybody brought to the meetings.
I’m going to do two things. First, I’m going to try to summarize the ministerial discussion we had at lunch with many of our colleagues from around the world. Then I will talk a little bit about the overall meeting to give a quick summary, not to the level of detail we just heard, but to paint some big picture items that we think are very important going forward.
Ministerial Luncheon Summary
First about the ministerial, we had many speakers there and I’m not going to give any attribution, but just call out what many of the leaders pointed out during that discussion. First of all it was pointed out that there are submissions to the UN from different countries on what they think Rio 2012 should be. There are over six hundred submissions counting countries, and NGOs, and other organizations. We were told today that there are 1,973 comments in those submissions that touch on the issue of connection technologies and the potential that they offer. So everyone is talking about what the potential is for what we have been discussing over the past few days. Many of the participants called out very important observations from their countries which I’m going to try to summarize.
First, many took note of the dramatic advancement of information communication technologies and how it really has driven innovation and helped to devise some new tools in development, in governance, in fighting corruption, and in driving accountability. There was certainly the call that more can be done, and we need to pay more attention to that.
Participants also gave examples of different policy frameworks that countries have in place and of strategic policies for development of research and technology or for environmental policy that they feel helped to set the enabling environment. There was also the observation and the call to have more data, the importance of data, the importance of open data, and the importance of promoting the flow of information in a transparent manner.
Beyond policy, participants also talked about specific programs and activities that they’re doing, and some of them included such items as a water information system which was able to provide a lot of information across the country. Participants also mentioned programs where countries and regions were looking at specific environmental technology and trying to verify whether it was appropriate technology or promote the use of that technology. There was also a lot of discussion about innovation in governments themselves. What could governments do both to enable more innovation, but also be more innovative in their interaction with innovators and promoting entrepreneurship? Some examples were given where countries actually are trying to have innovative labs or offices within their own government offices to speed this up and to show how it can work.
The importance of youth was called out along with the fact that some countries are seeing a large penetration of mobile phones. Many youth have mobile phones, so how do we mobilize that next generation and provide applications and technologies that will be very useful in the process of having them become more active citizens and more involved in what’s going on in their countries?
The importance of political will was mentioned. I think many of the leaders around the table recognize this. There was a lot of head-nodding when the Minister was talking about this, and that the political will to make changes, make things happen, to stay the course is something that everyone recognizes often sits with government. It’s a responsibility everyone takes very seriously, but it’s something that we constantly have to pay attention to. The digital divide was mentioned—that it still does exist. How do we address it? How do we deal with it in a way that makes sure there is more access to this ability to be plugged in to the connective world that is evolving so quickly? One theme that I’ll just wrap up with is, how can we capture the energy of the individuals—the non-state actors—around specific problems in specific areas?
It was mentioned that the Rio+20 outcomes should really capture experiences of a broad collection of stakeholders, and that it needs to be recognized that the private sector is an integral part of that conversation. How do we keep that energy going and sustain it? It was also mentioned that coming from Rio we really need a big push. We all know that changes are needed, and I think it was well-stated when someone said, “We really need to look at the rate of change.” I think that’s something that would be interesting to think about in terms of Rio.
One final point was raised regarding what are our expectations about the UN going into Rio+20. What do we want to see going into it and what do we want to see coming out of it in terms of the role that the UN plays? So that’s a brief summary and I apologize to speakers where I may have truncated your comments or not captured everything, but it was an effort to present to the whole audience here a sense of what we were discussing in our luncheon.
U.S.Rio+2.0 Conference Summary
So let me move to more closing remarks and a summary of this overall conference. First, again thank you all for being here. I also want to make one more thank you. You’ve heard a lot about the bureau that I lead, the Bureau of Oceans and International Environmental and Scientific Affairs, but I have to tell you about a very important partner we had at the State Department and that’s the Office of E-Diplomacy, which is an office that within the State Department is taking this issue of connection technology very seriously and bringing it into all of our diplomatic efforts and all the outreach we do. So I just wanted to call them out because the work they do is tremendous and they have been a great partner in getting all of this done and making all of the connections we needed, in terms of having this conference go forward.
But let me get to the big messages. I think all of us were struck by Tim O’Reilly’s presentation and one of the things he said is that we really need to stop paying for what we do for process and we need to really focus on results. I think that he stated it very simply, and he stated it repeatedly. That’s the message many of us can take forward going into Rio.
We also heard about the overall importance of data. It seems in every sector we’re talking about the importance of data, the importance of open data, the importance of accurate data, the importance of credible data. And so it’s important to have that, so decisions can be informed from a technical and scientific base. It’s also important to stimulate innovations and I think that’s something we really need to focus on as we go forward. In addition to the importance of data, it is a key element in terms of building trust, in terms of transparency, and accountability. We heard again this from different sectors. These are common issues we can take forward from this conference.
We also talked about needs for investments in data collection and research. We heard about the need to sustain and increase research investments in agriculture and elsewhere. We learned about what the government role should be. We heard that perhaps government really needs to facilitate and sometimes, as one person put it, “just get out of the way.” I take that as a point where the enabling environment is something that governments really need to pay attention to.
Governments have a facilitative role to play and we need to really think about simplifying processes that will help to enable innovation and advancement in sustainable development. And of course in “Demo Alley,” I think one of the really important messages was that individuals really make a difference. Individuals can really make a big difference in terms of advancing solutions with the problems we have and also in bringing a lot of energy in ways that are creative, that we hadn’t considered before.
So let me just close by thinking about where do we go from here. We’re in Stanford and heading to Rio. How can we take some lessons learned from this conference and go forward? For the U.S. we’re just thrilled about this conference because we think it represents the breadth of participation that is really needed in Rio 2012. All of the players in this room need to be a part of that process. And I think from the breakout groups and the unconference groups you heard some of these solutions just bubbling up, and I think we need to really tap into that energy in Rio 2012.
So there’s the question out there that’s a challenging question. How do we begin to think about crowdsourcing initiatives as we move towards Rio 2012? You know we see this in a lot of different areas. But what’s something that we can do that will bring this kind of energy to Rio 2012?
The other big message that I took away was the technology is really important. It offers us great opportunity, but we have to know what question we’re trying to answer. I think there were several people who made that point. What are we trying to solve? We need to think about that. And the other piece of that observation is—and we need to act. We have to think about actions, which is something that we all have come here ready to do. Rio 2012 will give us a chance to really think about how we capture action.
In the U.S. submission, we proposed an idea called a “compendium of commitments.” This idea encompasses how we, from a U.S. perspective, capture the energy and initiatives and take those forward in a way that we recognize all of this energy. Because in Rio 2012 we have the opportunity to really reenergize the discussion about sustainable development. I think everyone in the world is committed to this. I think it’s a challenge now for us to recognize the potential of the broader community you all represent, with all of the talent and the spirit, and to really channel that into making a difference in taking on the challenges of sustainable development.
So with that, I’ll stop. I again thank you very much for being here and for all of your willingness to experiment with a different kind of conference. Thank you.