World Symposium on Sustainable Development at Universities (WSSD-U-2012) – post conference reflections

Last week I attended the World Symposium on Sustainable Development at Universities (WSSD-U-2012) which took place in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, on 5-6 June 2012, as an official ‘parallel’ event to the UN Conference on Sustainable Development (UNCSD), also known as Rio+20.  I was chairing the second day’s plenary sessions and presenting two papers (one on Leadership for SD in HE and a co-authored paper, The impact of University policies for sustainable development on students: a comparison of students from two institutions, one in the UK and one in Portugal . Both papers have been accepted for publication.


Further details on the event can be seen at:


A summary of the event and its follow-up activities is available:


  Over 120 participants representing universities from 26 countries -from all geographical regions attended the conference which was organised by the Research and Transfer Centre “Applications of Life Sciences” of the Hamburg University of Applied Sciences and London Metropolitan University.




The conference was great and a good networking opportunity from which further work will follow.


 Disappointed that you are not participating at Rio+ 20? – don’t be.


When the dates were put back (something to do with Heads of State availability and the Jubilee), I was a little disappointed that our event became more ‘antipasti’ than ‘contorno’ but I am now really glad to have been there early.  It will be chaotic! 


Having returned to Rio (after living there 25 years ago) I can say these things:  the hotel prices are ridiculous at any time of year and they are planning a huge uplift for Rio+20 – the hotel experience (and quality) is also more inconsistent than any city I have ever visited.  Attendees will be overcharged, are more likely to get ripped off in all that they do (still very much part of the culture to exploit ‘estrangeiros’) and will certainly find Rio challenging. There are still hotels which look legit but are actually ‘sex motels;’ some areas are still not safe.


Until yesterday I thought the Summit would take place in Centro and then read that it is at Riocentro.  Many attendees will not realise just how far out that is from Centro and Copacabana. If you were to take a bus, it is a gruelling 45 min trip to Barra de Tijuca. But then I guess this will not be an issue for Heads of State, or anyone whose budget extends to private transport!


25 years ago crime was very visible (everyone drove through red lights at night) – it has now been reduced by stronger policing. There was a visible police/military presence on exercise for Rio+20 while I was there; naval vessels were patrolling the beaches. Fortunately they were doing a helicopter patrol, just as some Chinese visitors were attacked with knives on the beach (in daylight). They managed to stop the attackers and return stolen goods.  Rio is much safer than it was but you still need caution. A driver commented to me, Summit ‘attendees offer rich-pickings’.


The strangest observation for me is that the people generally seemed less happy (than when I lived there), despite a huge increase in the middle classes and more disposable income – guess there is something in the Happiness research which intimates a link. The favellas are as big as ever and you can now do ‘favella tourism’ which also seems strange. I guess it’s not very different to when people used to pay to see the ‘bearded lady’.


Returning to the Summit, it is going to be more about review than commitment to exciting actions. Some are already calling it ‘Rio minus 10’. I would not hold out big hopes that much will change.