RIO+ Talks: Sustainable Solutions for the Urban Bays and Agenda 2030

Author: Aikaterini Tsakanika

The UNDP World Center for Sustainable Development (RIO+ Centre) in partnership with the Post-Graduation Programme Public Policies, Strategies and Development (PPED) of the Institute of Economy (IE) of the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro (UFRJ) exhibited a 20-minute clip from the documentary “Urban Bay” (Baia Urbana) on September 25th, 2017. The documentary was produced by Ricardo Gomes, with support from the RIO+ Centre.

The partial screening of the film was hosted by Mariana Clauzet and Francisco Duarte, both PPED postdoctoral researchers, as a part of the weekly PPED seminars, and as an introduction to a discussion on sustainable solutions for Urban Bays, particularly Rio de Janeiro’s Baía de Guanabara. The conversation featured UFRJ Professor Carlos Eduardo Frickmann Young, documentary producer Ricardo Gomes, as well as Guido Gelli, Director of Environment and Technology department at the Rio de Janeiro Botanic Garden Research Institute.

The main purpose of the event was to discuss further the anthropogenic pressures on the marine ecosystem of Guanabara Bay and its socio-economic consequences, and ultimately to inspire academics, alumni, civil society representatives and locals to stand on the forefront for the protection of the environment and their own well-being. By recognizing the richness and the importance of local ecosystems, as displayed in the documentary for the case of Guanabara Bay in Rio de Janeiro, we can bring awareness and ignite action towards protection.

The spatial dimension is often neglected by policy-makers, dissociating actors from their own territory at a local level. As Professor Young observed the infinite points of cultural, social and economic connection of locals with their territory are lost in realm of the accelerated urbanization that completely changed the local landscape. The city itself is a living testimony of the severe interventions to the coastal ecosystem.  Professor Young, being a born and raised in Rio de Janeiro, witnessed the wild transformations of the neighborhood that took over the bay, including the landfill of Flamengo neighborhood (Aterro do Flamengo in Portuguese). Even the street names such as the Beira do Mar Avenue imply that once the seashore was in proximity. The hosting institution (IE_UFRJ) itself is also part of the highly urbanized coastal neighborhood of Guanabara Bay.

Yet, urban infrastructure and interventions to the natural landscape have historically neglected previsions of climate change. As Professor Young warned the audience, we shouldn’t expect big waves to appear, as dramatically depicted in Hollywood movies, but instead gradual, continuous and unnoticed impacts including the rise of the sea-level.

According to Professor Young only Ricardo Gomes, an artist with scientific knowledge, was able to capture in his documentary the beauty of nature and succeed to bring forward emotional triggers as means to trespass the limited boundaries of scientific knowledge on this complex reality to all possible actors.

Ricardo Gomes has been diving in the Guanabara Bay since 1997, assuming risks society and for his unborn child. Yet, as Ricardo Gomes observed, people only preserve what they are familiar with, and fail to mobilize for life under water, even if it has an immense, rich and resilient biodiversity that surprises for resisting the ecological collapse induced by the current socio-economic model of urban development.  This is why Baía de Guanabara, being a sheltered bay that traps the plastic waste flowing in its surface with lifeless areas due to untreated sewage, is a space that must be recognized before irreversible ecosystem failure.

As the Director of RIO+ Centre, Romulo Paes de Sousa remarked, the 2030 Agenda is a complicated but necessary process to transform the operational norms and the attributed values of all manifestations of modern societies including organization, production, and consumption, through public policies. Yet, in order to effectuate real change in practices that affect the environment, it is necessary to establish a sophisticated and competent dialogue with all citizens to get them on board, and thankfully Ricardo Gomes, one of the champions of sustainability acting locally for more than 20 years, succeeds to produce a competent narrative of the very complex problems of Guanabara bay. The Director acknowledged the documentary as a transformative work that connects and balances the 2030 Agenda by calling for engagement in practice and participation.

Ricardo Gomes pointed out that this moment is the last opportunity for humanity to reflect upon its course and assume a position, knowing that if we keep destroying nature, it’s us that will disappear without traces, but the planet will go on!


* The  VIII Sapis/III Elapis 2017, a seminar on protected areas and social inclusion taking place at the Federal University Fluminense (UFF) in Niteroi in mid-October will feature a full-screening of the documentary Urban Bay. The film will continue to be screened at universities in the state of Rio de Janeiro throughout the end of this year.