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The Rio+20 Conference On Sustainability

In this interview, AZoCleanTech talks to Dr. Hans Herren about the sustainability issues tackled in the ground-breaking 'Game Change Rio'.

Could you please give a brief overview of Game Change Rio?

Game Change Rio is a novel way of getting people, the young in particular, into thinking about their future and allowing them to experience that they actually can make a difference. For this we used real data and also our model based on a real model used for the UNEP Green Economy Report released in 2011.

The game’s aim is to allow the player to be the UN Chief economist and through playing out different scenarios (up to 100 million options) inform the best possible way forward, that will assure sustainable and equitable development. This is the key topic at the Rio+20 summit and we thought that a game would be the best way to get the next generation, and the ones that will follow, to influence the decision making process at the summit, by attracting the Media’s attention to the game and the options they would want to see decided “across the road” by the national delegates in the summit meeting room on their behalf.

In brief the game will give the next generation a voice and an option to put pressure on the decision makers to act- as we all know that the time to act is NOW. The basic premise of the game is to allocate in the most optimal way extra resources into a green economy, and check the outcome in terms of a set of sustainability criteria.

The numbers that are being displayed are real, i.e., these are based on global data that the model re-calculates at each round. So if there were a global government and the player the chief economist (minister of finance), the outcomes that the game displays, would be close to reality.

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Who is the game aimed at?

Game Change Rio is aimed everyone from 10 to 100 years old! Obviously there is a bias towards the 15 to 25, given that the game is only available, for the time being, on Facebook. This is for practical and budget reasons; other platforms will be included as soon as financing is available for the adaptation. It is also hoped that it will be used in schools.

So is the game an educational or recreational experience? Or a Mixture of Both?

Yes Game Change Rio has a great educational value, because it is based on a real model with real data, but it is built so as to also have fun. Trying out different options and seeing what the results may be, it is similar to other virtual world games.

Could you please explain what the policy cards are and how they work?

The policy cards are options for investments in 6 sectors, which the players can choose from, one of each at each of the ten rounds for one game. They have different values in terms of costs to implement certain policies and these policies in turn have a different impact on the indicators of sustainability (Footprint). The aim is to make the best possible choices of cards to reach within the available budget the best Green score.

What is a successful strategy on the Game Change Rio?

The successful strategy for the game is to play your cards, and also your available funds to reach the highest level in the three indicators that make up the basic ecological footprint (jobs, food, and environment) while minimizing the resources used, money, energy and water.

The world is an infinitely complex system-how realistic is the Game Change Rio, and where has the game had to make assumptions?

Since the game is based on a very complex system dynamics model that runs in the background, the assumptions that have been made are embedded in that model, which has been used in the per reviewed report on the Green Economy published by UNEP and developed by the Millennium Institute.

Clearly the interface has been strongly simplified for a gaming environment, but the basic functionality of the full model still runs in the background, even though they do not appear as indicators. The full Green economy model has many more indicators, which we hope we will bring to the forefront on subsequent, more complex versions of the game. So in brief, the indicators shown are fully realistic, exactly the point of this educational game.

At the start of the game it says ‘escape to Mars is not an option-how true do you think this is in reality?

It may be a reality in 100 or more years, although I doubt that it actually will be. Even if we were able to do that, we need to make sure that first we have an Earth on which we can survive long enough! Even then not everyone would be able to flee Earth-there nothing like a modern Noah’s arch to escape from our mistakes….

Does the game throw up road-blocks to stop your sustainable success?

Not that I know about, but it’s an interesting thought for the next versions of the game!

The goal of Game Change Rio is to push the world towards sustainability-is this realistic and if so by when?

The question is not if it is realistic; it has to be, since we live in an environment that has limited resources, i.e., water, land, minerals, biodiversity, etc. The earlier and faster we deal with changing the course of the present economy, that is wedded to permanent growth, to a new model that has other criteria of success like the well-being and happiness indexes rather that GDP, we will have made a great move into the right direction.

The other side of the coin is the issue of over consumption and inequality. These too need to be dealt with. Subsequent version of the game will bring to the front these aspects to which are now only running in the background and not featured in the results.

How do you think Game Change Rio makes sustainability a relevant issue to a younger generation?

It shows the different outcomes of different policy choices, in a realistic manner. To know that the results you see are actually what may happen if that were done for real, is extremely powerful for the players as a learning tool.

Is all the data used on the game now publicly available?

Yes all the data is an open source, and so is the model description from which the assumptions are made, in the UNEP Green Economy Report.

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Game Change Rio is linked to the Rio+20 conferences in June-could you give a brief overview of Rio+20?

Rio + 20 is the World Summit on sustainable development. Stockholm 40 years ago was the first global gathering to discuss sustainable development, and 20 years later was the first Rio Conference, which outlined what was needed to move the world towards the needed levels of sustainability. This created three conventions to support the activities that would lead to a more sustainable and equitable world (UN IPCC, UN CCD and UN CBD). I would say that the progress has been too slow in implementing the main points of Agenda 21, which called for engaging all governments toward the realization of sustainable and equitable development.

Then there was the Johannesburg Sustainable Development Summit 10 years ago, at which the basic principles from Rio were reiterated. The assessment of Agricultural Knowledge, Science and Technology was also commissioned by 6 UN agencies and the World Bank to look at agriculture and food systems in the light of the regular food crises and growing number of hungry people.

Rio+20 will now build on these earlier meetings and try to get stronger commitments from Governments to improve governance and institutions (incl. the transformation of UNEP into a full-fledged UN Agency with normative powers). The development and acceptance of a declaration, that would reinforce earlier messages regarding the need to act seriously and urgently on the main tenets of sustainable and equitable development, will also be discussed.

On the table will be the Universal Sustainability Goals (SGDs) tabled by Colombia who would follow the MGDs, or complement them.

Who is organising Rio+20 and who is going?

The main organizers of the meeting are the UN CSD based in NY, with the full participation and support of the Brazilian Government. It will be attended by over 100 heads of State, which may well be a record.

What should Rio+20 aim to achieve? Will it achieve this?

RIO+20 has raised the expectations level very high, and I believe that the world is waking up to the fact that action is needed if we want to avert the triple economic, environmental and social disintegration of what we know as our civilization.

It will require drastic changes in consumption / behaviour patterns, political courage unseen as of yet, and the realization by every citizen of the world that s/he must contribute its part to solving the present problems, seek new solutions and implement these from a personal to a global scale, not more not less.

The game is one piece, one element of helping gain the understanding about the consequences of one’s actions. Our leaders, just like everyone else, need to understand that everything is connected to everything, and that every action has a reaction, immediately, or later.

The game shows this and the next version will show even more. The more people who play, the more they will understand the stakes and so put pressure on the decision makers assembled in Rio.

Time is running out and it’s time for the Governments that supposedly represent the people to take their cues from the people rather than from vested interests

How can people get involved in Rio+20?

By playing the game! That will bring the best players to Rio where there will be the play offs with lots of media attention that will reflect and influence the decision makers. That is one way, but there are many more, for example by signing the many petitions that are circulating around the internet and will be presented in Rio on all possible sustainable development topics.

They should write to their representatives in Government that they want see action in Rio, not only empty talk. The internet and social media certainly allows lots of people to have a voice, so it should be used to its fullest potential.

For more information, please visit:

View An Overview Of Game Change Rio

Game Change Rio

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are those of the interviewee and do not necessarily represent the views of Limited (T/A) AZoNetwork, the owner and operator of this website. This disclaimer forms part of the Terms and Conditions of use of this website.

G.P. Thomas

Written by

G.P. Thomas

Gary graduated from the University of Manchester with a first-class honours degree in Geochemistry and a Masters in Earth Sciences. After working in the Australian mining industry, Gary decided to hang up his geology boots and turn his hand to writing. When he isn't developing topical and informative content, Gary can usually be found playing his beloved guitar, or watching Aston Villa FC snatch defeat from the jaws of victory.


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