Press Office


Reporting from Rio


A Newcastle University student will travel to Rio de Janeiro next week to attend the Rio +20 Earth Summit and report back live on the debates that could shape the future of our planet.

Ed Byers, a 25-year-old Civil Engineering student, won his place after coming first in a competition organised by the University’s Newcastle Institute for Research on Sustainability (NIReS) as part of the Sustainability Societal Challenge Theme launch year.

His competition entry – a thought-provoking essay ‘I grew up under Thatcher’ - touches on some of the themes to be discussed at the Rio +20 Earth Summit including whether aid is bad and whether only rich nations can afford to be sustainable.

His visit - from June 20-22 - is being sponsored by Northumbrian Water and he has been tasked with writing a blog about the debates and giving his views on the discussions as they happen.

“Sustainability is a subject close to my heart,” says Ed, who was born in São Paulo but moved to London when he was five.  “I feel very passionately that environmental sustainability has to go hand in hand with social development rather than one being to the detriment of the other.  This is what I hope the Earth Summit will address.

“I feel very honoured to have been chosen to attend the event – it will be an amazing and educating experience, I expect.”

Sponsored by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC), Ed’s PhD focuses on the water-energy nexus – understanding the long-term dynamics of their interactions across the UK.

Northumbrian Water’s head of corporate responsibility, Louise Hunter, said: “Environmental sustainability is at the core of all Northumbrian Water does. Our anaerobic digestion and hydro electricity and water and energy campaign are just three examples of how we demonstrate this. Our business has the responsibility not only to help manage the country and region’s water supply, but to also protect it.

“Natural resources are becoming ever scarcer and we all have a responsibility to work together to meet the challenges that this presents. The research Ed is doing as part of his PhD and by attending events like the Earth Summit is invaluable to companies such as ourselves and Newcastle University. This is a wonderful opportunity for him and we look forward to sharing his experience and new-found knowledge on his return.”

Also supported by the Planet Earth Institute and the School of Civil Engineering and Geosciences, funding has also been secured to send the second- and third-placed students to Rio - James Robinson and Claire Chisholm. Along with Ed, they will report back on the week’s events and provide a unique insight into key discussions taking place.

In addition, Newcastle University Business School marketing student Henrietta Smylie, who finished fourth, will be travelling separately to São Paulo to visit Brazil’s leading PR firm and work with them and some of their clients, including the Planet Earth Institute.

She said: “The Rio +20 competition was a great opportunity to discuss some of the main themes of earth summit with fellow students from many different degrees, and really made me think about the role that each of us can play in sustainability issues."

“There’s a lot of uncertainty with respect to climate change, the impacts it will have and the adaptations that will be required for our water and energy systems,” explains Ed.

“Overall, pressures on water and energy will increase and this will expose the vulnerabilities in and across systems, particularly agriculture.

“We need to holistically evaluate some of the alternatives – such as desalination and shale gas – which are respectively energy and water intensive, have negative environmental effects but may offer security of supply.  It’s a problem that affects the whole world, not just the UK.”

The United Nations-organised event, to be held in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, marks 20 years since the 1992 UN Conference on Environment and Development and 10 years since the World Summit on Sustainable Development in Johannesburg.

The trio will be in Rio from 18-24 June and will be blogging live from Rio as well as on their preparations for their trips.  To read Ed’s winning entry and to access the winning entries and live debates go to or follow him on Twitter at @EdwardByers.

published on: 14 June 2012