BERC at Rio +20

This blog highlights energy and sustainability initiatives in which members of the UC Berkeley community in Rio are playing an active role.


Thousands of government representatives, civil society groups, academics, and industry leaders convened last week in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, for the UN Conference on Sustainable Development (Rio+20). The “Future We Want” Text that was approved at Rio + 20 has been widely criticized, particularly by the environmental community, for lacking specific commitments to action. The sections on energy are excerpted here.

While the official UN negotiation process and its outcome disappointed many, one bright spot is the “Sustainable Energy for All”initiative led by Secretary General Ban Ki-moon. In addition, outside the UN process some governments, in collaboration with civil society groups and industry leaders, are undeniably making progress on innovative sustainable energy strategies. For examples, see our post below: “Perspectives on Rio + 20: A Conversation with Professor Dan Kammen.”  

Meanwhile, the UC Berkeley community is well represented in Rio and active in a number of exciting energy and sustainability initiatives, several of which are highlighted below.

Manisha Anantharaman, a Ph.D. candidate in UC Berkeley’s  Department of Environmental Science, Policy and Management, is in Rio to present a paper at the Global Research Forum workshop on Sustainable Consumption and Production. The workshop is part of a new initiative to share sustainable consumption and production research and perspectives from both the north and the south. Her research looks at emerging sustainable consumption practices among the growing consumer classes in the city of Bangalore, India.

Avery Cohn, a Ph.D. candidate in UC Berkeley’s Department of Environmental Science, Policy and Management, is in Brazil to present papers at the ISEE 2012 Conference – Ecological Economics and Rio+20and ATBC 2012: The 49th Annual Meeting of the Association for Tropical Biology and Conservation  as well as to attend side events on related topics. His research, which uses tools from the social sciences, including economics and political sciences, to look at potential solutions to deforestation in Brazil, arose from an interest in biofuels and related land use changes.

Mathias Craig (B.S., Civil and Environmental Engineering, UC Berkeley) attended Rio + 20 to represent WindEmpowermentas part of Siemens’ “Technology in Action” initiative. WindEmpowerment is an association for the development of locally built small wind turbines for sustainable rural electrification. WindEmpowerment was co-founded in 2011 by blueEnergy, where Mathias is the Executive Director and co-founder.  blueEnergy is a nonprofit organization that works for a more equitable, sustainable world by expanding access to basic services in rural communities.  In addition to supporting WindEmpowerment, blueEnergy also co-founded the Nicaraguan renewable energy association, Renovables, which consists of more than 30 member organizations representing over 80% of renewable energy production in Nicaragua.  Mathias can be reached at

Nathan Hultman was in Rio to participate in the conversation on low-carbon technologies, innovation, and green growth for development. Hultman, who received a PhD from the UCB Energy & Resources Group in 2003, is currently Director of the Energy & Environmental Policy Programs at the University of Maryland School of Public Policy and a Fellow at the Brookings Institution. In Rio, he organized a panel event, “Innovation in green growth technology for developing countries.” Commentaries and podcasts from the event include:

“Rio+20 Review”

“The insufficiency of Sustainable Development”

Podcast: Global Progress in Sustainable Development


Alastair Iles, a professor in UC Berkeley’s Department of Environmental Science, Policy and Management, is investigating sustainable food and agriculture, which is a major topic at Rio + 20. Professor Iles is in Rio to participate in various official, academic, and popular events and workshops focused on food, agriculture, and sustainability.

Gustavo Oliveira is a third year Ph.D. student in U.C. Berkeley’s Geography Department. He is researching the impacts of agribusiness on the Cerrado ecoregion of Brazil (highlands savanna).

Sergio Pacca(Ph.D., UC Berkeley Energy and Resources Group) is a professor at the University of São Paulo (USP). He is in Rio in connection with the launch of USP’s new Graduate Program in Sustainability. He also organized a session on carbon footprint analysis at the ISEE 2012 Conference – Ecological Economics and Rio+20.

Heather Rosmarin (J.D., UC Berkeley School of Law, Boalt Hall) is in Rio to participate in the Symposium on Clean Energy Solutions for Brazil’s 21st Century and to attend sustainable energy events. She is also blogging for BERC. The Symposium convened Brazilian and international experts from academia and the wind and solar industries, Brazilian government representatives, and leaders from indigenous communities and civil society organizations to discuss challenges and opportunities in Brazil’s electricity sector, the third largest in the Western Hemisphere. In connection with the Symposium, civil society groups released the following publication authored by energy experts: The Brazilian Electricity Sector and Sustainability in the 21st Century: Opportunities and Challenges (in Portuguese with English executive summary).

Dan Suarez, a Ph.D. student in UC Berkeley’s Department of Environmental Science, Policy and Management, is in Rio to conduct fieldwork for a collaborative event ethnography project. In particular, he is focused on how different groups of actors (corporate, NGO, etc.) are framing such concepts as natural capital, environmental governance, and sustainable development.


Perspectives on Rio + 20: A Conversation with Professor Dan Kammen

From a sustainable energy perspective, the UN meeting process has so far largely lost its way, according to Professor Dan Kammen.

I sat down with Professor Kammen over coffee at Riocentro on the eve of the arrival of world leaders. Bottom line: While the UN’s Sustainable Energy for All initiative has set forth the right objectives, the lack of political leadership from large nations means very little is likely to be accomplished through the official UN process.

This lack of strong unified action on critical energy issues is reflected in the negotiated draft text, which has gotten weaker as the high-level delegates arrive.  Yet, at least the text may provide room for leaders to highlight needs, and there has been discussion of re-inserting more progressive goals on energy efficiency, renewable energy, and energy access.

While large nations are so far failing to agree on what they might be willing to do someday, other nations are thankfully implementing solutions to climate and energy challenges today.

For example, Professor Kammen noted that the government of Grenada collaborated with international experts to produce a Road Map on building a green economy, which aims to demonstrate how Small Island Development States (SIDS) can build – and benefit from – green economy strategies.  There is real hope that these lessons will be studied and expanded upon, as the UN was the sponsor and driver of this project.  At an exciting event on Tuesday, in which the Government of Grenada, including George Prime, the Minister for the island of Carriacou, participated, there was a true buzz around the lessons for carbon-free communities.

In Asia, similar progress is visible.  The Malaysia Province of Sabah, northern Borneo, cancelled a planned 300 MW coal-fired power plant after an NGO coalition, LEAP (Land, Empowerment, Animals and People), asked Professor Kammen’s laboratory to conduct a similar alternatives assessment that found bioenergy, micro-hydro, solar, and an improved grid could more than meet the supply that the coal would have afforded.  At another event on Tuesday, representatives from Sabah and Acre, Brazil, held a joint forest resource conservation event that reaffirmed the role of NGO-government partnerships to find and implement these solutions.

Grenada and Sabah are inspiring demonstrations that sustainable energy solutions can successfully be implemented. Next question: What will it take to replicate and scale up these solutions?


Draft “Future We Want” Text Criticized As Weak

The “Future We Want” draft text presented to world leaders as they arrive at Rio + 20 has been widely criticized as too weak by sustainable energy advocates, environmental groups, and other civil society organizations. For reporting on reactions to the draft text, see hereand here.

Perhaps the most dynamic aspects of the Rio +20 conference are outside the official negotiation process at hundreds of gatherings—large and small—where NGOs, academics, industry experts, government leaders, and community groups are collaborating on solutions to the world’s most pressing energy-related challenges.


Thousands of government representatives, civil society groups, academics, and industry leaders convene this week in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, for the UN Conference on Sustainable Development (Rio+20). “Sustainable Energy for All” is one of the main UN initiatives at the conference, and the UC Berkeley community is well represented. In posts throughout the week, BERC Blog Contributor Heather Rosmarin will highlight energy-related initiatives in which members of the UC Berkeley community in Rio are playing an active role.