Nature, Technology and a Sustainable Rio de Janeiro

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During a press conference at COP17 this morning, Edna Molewa – Minister of Environmental Affairs in South Africa – called technological development ‘critical’ for cities to become more sustainable. In this piece, Alistair Mackay of Future Cape Town explores how nature and technology are making Rio de Janeiro more sustainable.

Brazil has a fiery romance with the environment. We’re always reading about how the Amazon jungle – the great green lung of the world – is disappearing faster than fried chicken in a room full of hungover people. And that is true, and the government should do everything in its power to police and protect it from encroaching farmers. But there is another side to the tale that you see when you are there – and that is how nature is reasserting herself onto the city. The jungle enrobes Rio. It covers its mountains and spills into its streets in tropical glory. Buildings sprout ferns from their roofs. And the avenues of Ipanema are lined with lush trees that have orchids growing all over them.

And despite the fact that the city bustles with millions of people, the air is clean. It does not smell like a congested city at all. And that is because many of their cars run on gas. Natural gas is clean-burning, and a lot cheaper to use. It has proven to be incredibly popular in Brazil, where the government will reward you for converting your engine to run on gas with a 75% saving on your annual car registration fee. Many have chosen tri-fuel cars that can run on ethanol, petrol or natural gas. Taxis all run on it, as do all new GM vehicles sold in the country.

Add that to the excellent metro system in Rio and emerging-market excuses for being dirty polluters start to seem a little feeble. Brazil is a signatory of the Kyoto Protocol and is committed to reducing carbon emissions. Thanks to their investments into clean technologies, not only are they well on their way to meeting their emissions targets, but their economy is booming and their cities are becoming more pleasant to live in. They are dispelling the myth that economic growth requires squandering the planet. If only other countries would throw themselves at the climate change problem with such gusto.

17 Sustainable Ideas for COP17 is a collaboration between This Big City and Future Cape Town running alongside the United Nations Climate Change Conference from November 28th to December 9th.