Name: Henrietta Elizabeth Thompson – usually called Liz
Nationality: Barbadian (born in UK but lived longer in Barbados)
Country of Residence: USA – New York
Current Position: UN Assistant Secretary General/Executive Coordinator Rio+20
How did you get to the role you are in today and what advice would you give aspiring earth champions ?
Love the earth; see yourself as one of her children and work hard to protect her. My road here has been long and interesting. I was a Minister of Environment for 14 years and did a lot of work nationally, in the Caribbean, and with international NGOs before being recruited for my current position. Many of my policy initiatives and then later work as a consultant has been very developmental and has made a significant difference to society, environment, and economy. Barbados was one of the first countries in the world to have a National Green Economy Policy, the development of which I co-wrote and led when I was Minister in 2007. My career has been a fun journey because I was doing something I genuinely loved.
What is your role in this process?
My role is very broad and encompasses all aspects of the work leading up to Rio and the negotiation process, both in preparation for and at the conference itself. In essence my role is to help to lay the ground work for a successful Rio+20 Conference and build support for its themes and initiatives especially the transition to a global green economy.
What prompted your early interest in the environment?
Actually I am ashamed to admit that until I was appointed as a Minister of Environment in 1994/95, my only interest was in going to the beach. I really had no understanding of the issue, its interconnections or importance. I soon became passionate about environment and its link to development.
“When you fall do not lay there waiting for traffic to run over you, get up, dust yourself off and continue on your journey.” My school principal told me this when I was 16 and it has become the philosophy by which I lived my personal and professional life.
Describe your first attempt to ‘save the planet’:
Well as I said I did not really consider myself an environmentalist. Yet I was doing various things
like trying to rescue animals as a child; doing the recycling; organising relevant events; or yelling at people who litter and having them threaten to do me serious injury for not minding my own business! There have been many ways that I have been trying to ‘save the planet’ both formal and informal.
What do you believe should be achieved at Rio+20?
When I was a Minister I co-wrote and led the development of the Barbados National Green Economy Policy in 2007. We had to have been one of the first countries in the world to formally have such a policy. I truly believe that we need to transition to a global green economy and that the business sector must be engaged to be part of that effort. Rio must serve as the platform from which that global transition is launched.
How important is the RIO+20 process?
In building consensus amongst member-states, reaching out to non-state actors, especially the business sector, and demonstrating to people all over the world who are hurting from social, economic or environmental problems; those who had national uprisings calling for a greater stake in the way they are governed and a sustainable quality of life and hope for their children’s future – for these people Rio should be a platform for change which will help to deliver a new sustainable system and better manage consumption. The process for getting us to agreement at Rio is critical.
What do you think the priorities for action should be in 2012 in the run up to RIO+20?
The priorities in the run-up are: to persuade the disbelievers in the green economy, get convergence on the issues particularly the framework for Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) around which concerted action can be galvanized and improvements effected, in much the same way that the MDGs were able to accomplish. And after Rio, we just have to get the job done. All of us!