Welcome to Rio+20

This weekend, an intrepid group of PhD students from Princeton University—the Princeton Energy and Climate Scholars (PECS)—will head to the other side of the equator for the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development (or Rio+20) in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Armed with little more than a video camera and our passion for environmental and climate issues, we’ll be bringing you a sneak peek into the world of international environmental negotiations through daily video updates right here on the ACE blog!

PECS is a group of around 20 Princeton PhD students who research a range of topics related to energy and climate issues, from climate policy to atmospheric science to solar power and beyond. PECS offers us all an opportunity to come together and learn from each other. We’re building an interdisciplinary network of young researchers who know how to communicate across fields and have a shared goal of solving our planet’s climate and energy challenges—kind of like an ACEspace for graduate students! This trip to the Rio+20 conference is a chance for us to learn about how major international decisions in our field are made and to see the research that we do in our labs and on our computers actually put into practice to address global issues.

The Rio+20 conference marks the 20th anniversary of the UN Conference on Environment and Development, held in Rio de Janeiro in 1992. The original Rio conference was one of the first major UN conferences, bringing more that 150 countries together to discuss the world’s biggest environmental problems. It laid the groundwork for many of the international climate and environmental treaties that we’ve seen since.

The UN Framework on Climate Change (UNFCCC) was drafted at the original Rio conference. It was the first international treaty to state the need to stabilize greenhouse gas emissions at a level that would prevent dangerous anthropogenic climate change, and was the predecessor to the Kyoto Protocol.  Meetings to extend and refine the UNFCCC, such as the Kyoto, Copenhagen, and Durban meetings, have become the international proving grounds for climate change policy. In fact, we young people owe much of the progress in combating climate change over our lifetimes to the groundwork laid at the original Rio conference!

Unlike climate policy negotiations like the Kyoto, Durban, and Copenhagen meetings, though, the Rio+20 meeting is not intended to produce a binding treaty like the Kyoto Protocol. Instead, much like its predecessor, Rio+20 is intended to be a coming together of international leaders to map out the even larger issue of how we continue to thrive as a growing species on a planet with limited resources—a topic that includes climate change, but also poverty, inequality, and health.

The conference will focus on two main themes:
1. A green economy capable of eradicating poverty through sustainable development.
2. An institutional framework for sustainable development.
The conference is expected to produce a “focused political document” that will hopefully pave the way for binding international sustainable development treaties in the future.

In addition to the discussions between heads of state that make up the official conference, there are over 500 side events being run on the conference grounds by NGOs and universities, including PECS!  We’ll be packing both our bathing suits and our business suits for a whirlwind schedule, including our own events promoting the importance of interdisciplinary interactions like PECS for the next generation of sustainable development researchers. Our daily video updates will bring you a sneak peek into the hustle and bustle at the conference grounds, key moments in the lead up to the official conference, and reflections from the next generation of sustainable development leaders. Stay tuned!

Click here to get the scoop on the PECS team heading south of the equator!

The Princeton Energy and Climate Scholars are supported by the Seibel Energy Challenge, the Grand Challenges Program, and the Princeton Environmental Institute. To learn more about us, check out our webpage, or catch us on facebook or twitter (pecsweb).