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Rio+20: Summit of our ambitions? PDF Print E-mail
Written by David Brunnen & Marit Hendriks   
Thursday, 21 June 2012 12:16

Is this all I am ever going to get?’ is a 1980s quote from a senior executive in the about-to-be-privatized BT as he reviewed the lack lustre plans for ‘innovative’ new ventures.  Small wonder that a few years later the chairman, clamping down on ambition, observed that ‘we sowed many seeds but most turned out to be weeds’.

Independent Newspaper 21 June 2012The cartoon in today’s Independent (London) picturing world leaders as 150 newly discovered varieties of sloth neatly captures the disappointed viewpoints of NGOs refusing to endorse the draft text, ‘The future we want’. The UN’s video of the proceedings shows those objections far more forcibly than a simple reading of their statement urging on the assembly a ‘new political will that would make us stand and applaud you as our true leaders’.

But stepping back from that clip you realize that the NGO spokesperson was just one in a long line of supplicants - Children & Youth, Local Authorities, Workers & Trade Unions, Farmers, Indigenous Peoples, Women, Business & Industry, Science & Technology – umpteen shades of opinion and all confronting the yawning gap between hopes and outcomes.

Was it inevitable that Rio+20 would disappoint? Like the hopes of football fans at Euro2012 it depends entirely on what you expect – and in that particular case the UK Sports Minister is clearly hoping to avoid a conflict between supportive attendance and upholding human rights.  But football is only a game: Rio+20 is altogether a different kettle of fish and here in Brazil yesterday’s rain has done little to cool the heated debate.

But what of our own ambitions in reporting from the summit?  We are there to explore new dimensions for NextGen and sense whether the world has yet woken up to the power of digitalisation.

It is obvious that, in almost every aspect of life and work, everyone needs better connectivity.  We’ve captured several comments that suggest that the policy issues most political leaders (and some businesses) find so difficult to address are rendered increasingly irrelevant as people race ahead to grab hold of the digital access they so desperately need to find solutions.

We’ve also captured views of another global inequality based on the quality and performance of that connectivity.  This is not just an issue for the so-called ‘developing’ nations because, in this rapidly growing digital world, we all live in developing economies.

There are ‘digital divides’ between urban and rural, at home and in business, in attitudes to social media and in access to Open Corporate data – even in countries such as the UK that can sometimes take a lead on these things.  Some are further ahead than others but as the Digital Agenda Assembly conference, will hear in Brussels today, there is no country that can afford to rest on its laurels.

Meanwhile at the G20 meeting in Mexico more world leaders talked of a return to growth and how best to engineer a resurgence of activity after the body blows of financial fiascos.  The standard consensus seems to point to ‘investment in infrastructure’ but whenever that phrase gets interpreted it comes out as roads, rail and energy schemes but digital connectivity rarely takes pole position.

This gap in awareness – the ‘digital deficit’ in understanding the issues – is felt more in some places than others but time and again in Rio we’ve heard calls for politicians and their policies to catch up with practice or get out of the way. However, those who would call for less government and regulation of digital issues tend to overlook not just the massed ranks of the disconnected but the reality that in every country there is a direct link between resolving the ‘digital deficit’ and our abilities to resolve all other deficits – be they economic, housing, education, energy or whatever.

So, at the summit of our ambitions, what have we found? We have found passionate promoters of network-enabled empowerment.  We have found folk who understand the need for better broadband, and we've found rather more who are puzzled by the very idea that the ‘digital deficit’ is as apparent at home as it is in any distant ‘third world’ country.  In a complex and interconnected world ‘if you are not part of the solution, you are part of the problem’.


Marit Hendriks - NextGenCompiled with additional reporting from Marit Hendriks in Rio, filming for NextGenTV.

NextGen 12 (London 8th & 9th October) will address issues of the 'digital deficit' - not just in the challenges of transforming the acces infrastructure but in the way these networks can be used for economic and societal development.

See also NextGen TV with Kumi Naidoo - International Executive Director Greenpeace at Rio+20 expressing disappointment with the outcomes of Rio+20.

 Many visitors to this editorial have also read our previous reports from Rio+20  and the excellent business-focused summary by Tony Webb.

Last Updated on Wednesday, 04 July 2012 15:14

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