By Kelly and Sarlae

Welcome back to our ongoing discussion with Sarlae McAlpine on her experiences, preparations and thoughts on being the ‘scientist’ in the ANU student delegation to Rio+20. This week it’s all about position, what’s hers and what’s ours? When I say ‘ours’ I am making a sweeping hand gesture to include the Australian people as represented by our government. Yes, that kind of ‘ours’.

According to Sarlae there was a special briefing held here in Canberra to explain ‘our’ position at the upcoming UN meeting. At the briefing the United Nations Association of Australia (UNAA) and ‘our’ Department of Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities (SEWPAC) were given the opportunity to update civil society organisations, academics, think tanks and other interested parties about Australia’s preparations for the Rio+20 Conference.

So in case you are wondering, at the largest ever conference on Sustainable Development ‘our’ main priorities are:

1. Oceans and the blue economy

2. Mining for sustainable development

3. Disaster Risk Reduction

4. Sustainable Development Goals

5. Food Security

6. Indigenous land and sea management

7. Gender equality and women’s empowerment.

Unfortunately I am still left wondering how a list of priorities translates into deliverable action. As Australians we will come into this meeting preceded by ‘our’ reputation. ‘Our’ participation, or lack there of, in ratifying environmental treaties is legendary, as is ‘our’ ability to back pedal. Perhaps we have learned from past embarrassment and we now come to the negotiating table with ‘Mining for Sustainable development’ rather than ‘Sustainable mining for Development’. I need to ask more about this…I smell spin (if that is humanly possible). However Sarlae remains optimistic.  ‘Rio+20 is an opportunity to re-direct and re-energise political commitment to sustainable development. This is an important effort but the reality of achievement is a long way off’.

Perhaps it is through the science that I can be hopeful. I find it quite overwhelming to think about the enormity and complexity of this scale of negotiation. Those who respond are not always those who ultimately act responsible. Through science we not only attribute responsibility, but we can provide solutions. Sarlae continues that it ‘is exciting that for the first time in all of the meetings I have participated in I heard that beautiful word…Science. The government representative spoke of ‘science based management plans for fisheries’ and the push for a ‘science based ecosystem plan’. I hope this is not just a buzzword to increase legitimacy but a real action plan with true consultation and dialogue between disciplines. This is something I would want to be a part of.’

I couldn’t agree more with your sentiment Sarlae, and I look forward to continuing updates to ‘The scientist in Rio’ series. If anyone has in questions for Sarlae, like what is a blue economy? Please feel free to ask, or I will!