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Grupo Ecológico Sierra Gorda Signs the Freiburg Declaration on Rio + 20

The “Freiburg Call for Action” by the 1st International Convention of Environmental Laureates

Martha Ruiz Corzo was honoured to be invited to become a member of the European Environment Foundation’s ‘International Convention of Environmental Laureates’ and to attend the 1st Convention that was held in Freiburg, Germany March 8th-11th 2012.

The Foundation was established to bring together, into a Convention, people from all over the world who have been recognised and awarded for their achievements in environmentally sustainable work and action, to discuss and declare a joint call for action addressed to the forthcoming RIO+20 Conference.

So, I was one of 65 people from 37 countries, from a huge range of disciplines, who gathered in Freiburg last week. We began with little idea of what we might achieve, and finished with a unanimously agreed statement, which was featured on the main German national evening TV news and will be presented at RIO+20.

Countries represented were Germany, Austria, Switzerland, Spain, France, Netherlands, Sweden, Norway, Italy, Czech Republic, Russia, Croatia, Australia, Zimbabwe, Nigeria, Rwanda, Eritrea, Congo, Ivory Coast, Indonesia, Vietnam, Philippines, Laos, Canada, China, Algeria, US, Nepal, Egypt, Japan, UK, Northern Ireland, India, Chile, Brasil, Mexico, and Uruguay.

Areas of work included sustainable design and construction, renewable technologies, carbon capture, nature conservation, habitat protection, anti-nuclear action, human rights, poverty and rural development, water conservation and marine protection, environmental research and protection, and education.

There were four of us from the UK, representing research, NGO/charity, government and private sectors. Simon Trace, the director of Practical Action (formerly the Intermediate Technology Development Group founded by EF Schumacher), Roger WL Liew, a research student from Imperial College who heads the student led humanitarian organisation e.quinox, working on radical energy projects in rural East Africa, Bob Stevens, the Government’s chief scientific advisor at DEFRA, and myself.

Freiburg was a fitting host, being the German city that has lead the way in pioneering environmentally sustainable economic development. Born out of a protest against a proposed nuclear power station 40 years ago, the city’s guiding philosophy has embedded sustainable thinking and environmental technologies as the driving force of economic development.

Today, with a long serving Green mayor, an impressive network of renewable energy generation, an efficient and successful public transport system, booming high tech environmental industry and employment, and large areas of highly sustainable housing (including many Passivhaus projects) it is a thriving and inspiring city. We could all learn from the experience and evidence of Freiburg as we strive to find ways of developing a more sustainable future.

The Convention turned out to be a high profile event and received much publicity. It was launched at a packed public evening lecture by the leading alternative economist Jeremy Rifkin. He challenged current economic thinking and predicted that we are on the threshold of a 3rd industrial revolution based on decentralised energy generation and horizontal political structures, driven by the new communication structures of the Internet and the rapid expansion of individual and community owned power generation.

The first full day saw a wide ranging debate amongst the Laureates, which led to some areas of agreed common ground, but also some big areas of challenge. Not surprising given the geographical and cultural roots of the Laureates, and the breadth of our areas of work and activity.

The day finished with another public event – a series of stimulating lectures by Monika Griefahn (one of the founders of Greenpeace), Prof Moustafa Tolba from Eygpt (formerly Executive Director of the United Nations Environment Programme), Rene Ngongo from The Democratic Republic of Congo (Vice President of the NGO, OCEAN), Dr Suryo Wardhoyo Prawiroatmodjo from Indonesia (environmental campaigner and educationalist), and Dr Gernard Knies (founder of Desertec). A lively debate followed.

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