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Rio+20: have we learned?

16 Jun 2012

The Irish Times

FRANK McDONALD, Environment Editor

It is 20 years since Rio de Janeiro hosted the Earth Summit. Brazil is now much richer. As this year's summit returns to Rio, how far has the country come environmentally

IN 1992, WHEN Rio de Janeiro hosted the Earth Summit, Brazil was a Third World country with huge social problems. Just 20 years later, as the 2012 summit is about to begin, it is the world's sixth-largest economy, having overtaken Britain in March, and part of the Brics group - for Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa - of emerging economies.

The Brazilian economy is now worth €2 trillion, according to the country's finance minister, Guido Mantega, who says it is now among the world's "most dynamic", with "sustainable growth". Despite recession elsewhere, it grew by 2.7 per cent last year, largely because of high oil prices; it is the world's ninth-largest oil producer.

Since 2003 its economic boom has boosted the upper (AB) and middle (C) classes by 48.7 million, which is greater than the population of Spain. Household income has continued to grow, with a significant reduction in inequality over the past 10 years and a decline, by 32.6 million, in the number of people in the D and E classes. A government programme, Brazil without Extreme Poverty, has cut the number of families living in dire straits by 40 per cent, largely due to its Bolsa Familia (or Family Grant) scheme. "To reach the poorest of the poor we have reversed the logic of waiting for people to knock on the state's door," says Tereza Campello, the minister for social development.

Brazil's efforts to balance income distribution have outweighed other Brics countries, where inequality is rising sharply. Brazilians also have an overall higher satisfaction with life than people in the other Brics countries, according to the Gallup World Poll, at seven out of 10. This compares with 5.2 in South Africa and Russia and 4.5 in China and India.

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