A day in the life of a UK official at Rio+20

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My alarm goes off at 6.15am. I hit the snooze button and realise I’ve been dreaming about work. I must be nervous. Not surprised really. Today’s going to be busy, despite the fact that the “text” – all 283 paragraphs of it – was agreed by negotiators yesterday. Today is the high level summit – the day that world leaders including Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg arrive.

I shower, dress, and receive a quick call from my husband to wish me happy birthday. First time we’ve spoken in 5 days. I head to breakfast. My colleagues who’ve been negotiating the text into the late hours for the past week stock up. We all check our emails – updates have come in from London overnight. My Director General, Michael Anderson – who has just been appointed the Prime Minister’s special envoy on the post-2015 framework, the successor to the Millennium Development Goals – joins for breakfast.  He arrived late last night, but is fully briefed on the negotiations, so we talk about his plan for the day. We pile into a minibus. The distance between our hotel and the conference centre is only 12 miles but traffic is awful. En route I notice construction for a new bus-rapid-transit system. Good idea, and green. For today, heightened security measures mean a 2 hour journey.

Rio+20 Earth Summit 2012The conference centre is impressive and huge. I’m late and run straight to an event held by the Prince of Wales Charities Trust. They requested a Government official to attend and it’s focused on a topic related to my work at DFID so I’m happy to be there. A few other colleagues head to the main plenary room to monitor what Heads of State and their representatives will say in their national statements. The protocol is that a UK official has to be at the seat all the time, so we’ve prepared a rota. Other colleagues head to the UK office to iron out the diaries for Nick Clegg and the Environment Secretary of State, Caroline Spelman. The logistics are complex. I leave the Prince of Wales event early to meet officials from the World Bank and the Global Canopy programme to go over final details for the UK’s major event at 1 pm today. We’ve met twice and probably exchanged 30 emails over the last 48 hours. The agenda keeps changing.

Ulu Masen forest, Aceh, Indonesia. Around 1.2 billion poor people depend on forests for essentials like food and fuel. Picture: Abbie Trayler-Smith/DFID/Panos

I head back to the UK office which is incredibly busy. Nick Clegg arrives: it’s the first time he’s come to our “nerve centre”. I am called over to brief him about the event along with a Defra colleague. The trick is to impart all the relevant information as quickly and clearly as possible. The brief works – he’s energised by the need for Governments and the private sector to value the natural resources they have – also known as “GDP+”. Yesterday he backed this up with UK announcements – mandatory emissions reporting for FTSE 100 companies and working with the private sector to invest in a ‘knowledge bank’ to protect people living in the poorest forest areas. My Whitehall colleagues have worked hard to make both happen.

We head to the event. It’s packed and security are turning people away. Nick Clegg makes a powerful opening speech and I’m reminded of a few sceptical voices a few months ago that said this was too technical a topic to get purchase. This is one of those moments a civil servant can feel proud.  But there’s no time to enjoy the moment. Work beckons and I’m hungry. I head to the food hall and realise I’m not the only delegate to be having lunch at 3 pm – familiar faces from my previous life working on climate change negotiations are doing so too. I say hello. It’s always useful to maintain these relationships – they help when organising meetings between Ministers and getting past entrenched negotiating positions.

Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg making a speech at the Global Green Growth Institute signing ceremony.

Over lunch I make phone calls about an event tomorrow and arrange a bilateral with the Ethiopian Government.  Suddenly it’s 4 pm and time to join my Director General for a meeting with an organisation that helps developing countries plan for and implement green growth, called the Global Green Growth Institute (GGGI). We’ve been tracking their work for a while and they are keen to demonstrate results and value for money so that the UK can support their work. A couple of hours later the Deputy Prime Minister attends an event confirming that the UK will join GGGI.  We will decide on funding after Rio.  But what’s great to see in all these events is the vision and commitment that many Leaders here have to the major topics of the negotiating text produced yesterday. These events take the text to another level.

With that, it’s almost 9 pm and time to get on the UK delegation bus to go back to the hotel. My colleagues say I look a little tired. But I’m smiling. It’s my birthday and I’ve done my bit to help the UK and others achieve a lot today. It feels good.


An excerpt of this blog post was featured on the Guardian Rio+20 Earth Summit live blog.

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EDMOND BOSILONG

Research Analyst

Edmond is a research analyst who is passionate about sustainable development, innovation, and the environment. Passionate about climate financing, he firmly believe there is a more reliable system to promote equality, growth, and welfare in societies without affecting the ecosystem. Through his skills, knowledge and experienced gained over 7 years, he wants to make an impact in the world of development. Edmond holds a Master’s Degree in Public Policy from Korea Development Institute and a BA Degree (Honors) in Business from University of Derby.

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Hannah Ryder is the Founder & CEO of Development Reimagined. A former diplomat and economist with 20 years of experience, named one of 100 most influential Africans in 2021, she is also Senior Associate for the Africa Program of the Center for Strategic International Studies (CSIS), sits on the Board of the Environmental Defence Fund, and is a member of UAE's International Advisory Council on the New Economy. Prior to her role at DR, Ms Ryder led the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP)’s work with China to help it scale up and improve its cooperation with other developing countries, including in Africa. She has also played various advisory roles for the UN and OECD and co-authored the seminal Stern Review of the Economics of Climate Change in 2006.

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Leah Lynch is Deputy Director of Development Reimagined (DR), and head of the China office. Leah has over 10 years of experience in development and has lived in China for over 8 years. Leah has also travelled extensively around Asia and Africa for research. Leah supports the strategic direction of the team across China, with a mission to deliver high quality research on sustainable development and poverty reduction. Leah is also Chair of the Sustainability Forum at the British Chamber of Commerce in China, providing direction on sustainability initiatives for British and Chinese business. Leah has also consulted on various evaluations on UK aid (ICAI) and is a specialist on development cooperation from the UK and China. Leah has also consulted on various UN projects, including providing support to the UN China team during the COVID-19 Pandemic. Prior to DR, Leah was at the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) China, supporting the UN’s portfolio on communication strategies, China’s South- South Cooperation and the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). Before UNDP, Leah lived and worked in Kenya developing sustainable water policies for the Kenyan government.

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