Rio+20: Suspicion or Sustainability?

After my earlier blog post, I realized that a lot of people might not really know exactly what Rio+20 is and the significance it can play for the world of international development. As you read on, think about what Rio+20 can and will bring us, think about international development and can bring about solutions, think about your opinion and if this conference shares that or contradicts it. Just think.

Rio+20 is the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development that is currently underway (June 20-22 2012) and it is taking place exactly twenty years after the Earth Summit in Rio, Brazil. The Earth Summit in 1992 was where Agenda 21 was signed and ratified, making commitments to changing the ways that economic growth, social equity, and environmental protection are approached. The Earth Summit was essentially a landmark conference in raising awareness and making commitments for sustainability, environmentalism, and equality.

This year, Rio+20 is reviewing some of those former commitments and seeing where nations need to be headed for a sustainable future without poverty. This conference has thousands of participants from governments, non-governmental organizations, private sector representatives, and even concerned citizens.

Rio+20 has two focus areas: ‘a green economy in the context of sustainable development poverty eradication’ and the ‘institutional framework for sustainable development’. The first area – green economy for sustainable development and poverty eradication – works towards having a holistic, sustainable approach to all business, government, and other decision-making. To do this, it means taking social, economic, and environmental concerns, and the ways in which they interact, into account prior to making any decision and using the most beneficial decision to those concerns. The second concern – institutional framework for sustainable development – means taking the same decision making process and ingraining into to all levels of government and governance. It recognizes that current governmental decision-making often neglects sustainability and that through ingraining sustainability into their frameworks they can have longer lasting decisions, policies, and, ideally, a more equal world.

In addition to the themes for the conference, Rio+20 has also identified seven priority areas to focus on for the conference; which include ‘decent jobs, energy, sustainable cities, food security and sustainable agriculture, water, oceans and disaster readiness’. These priorities highlight some of the biggest concerns for sustainability now and in the future and with significant progress and international cooperation on these topics the outlook for the future would be greatly improved.

Wednesday, June 20th marked the start of Rio+20 despite protests and nations have agreed on a draft discussion. Understandably, many people and organizations are skeptical on what results Rio+20 will actually bring, but there has still been progress. United Nations Secretary-General, Ban Ki-moon, acknowledges that in the past sustainable development has not the attention or effort dedicated towards it that it deserves and needs and that they have not met their commitments or goals. While a draft document has been made and agreed upon, titled “The Future We Want,” this draft document is still vague. It holds no requirements or commitments for nations, no real forms of measurement, or targets, and fails to meet the needs or hopes of many international non-governmental organizations. While many nations agreed that between 30 and 100 billion dollars would be required for sustainability initiatives, only 30 billion dollars are drafted and required in the text, which also does not include where the funds will come from.

What was hoped for and what may still transpire are the creation of Sustainable Development Goals, which would replace the Millennium Development Goals in 2015 when they expire. Another hoped outcome of Rio+20 would be the creation of a new index to measure human development. The current model is the Human Development Index, which ranks nations with regards to the quality of life; it takes life expectancy, literacy, and GNI/GDP into account. The proposed model would be the Sustainable Human Development Index that would use the pre-existing Human Development Index but add a measure of sustainability that would have to be determined and quantified at Rio+20.

Personally, I find it most interesting that even nothing transpires directly out of Rio+20, there have still been major commitments in the public and private sector outside of government. As of 12 noon on Thursday June 21st, there were 517 voluntary commitments to sustainability from the private and public sector, these commitments must be concrete goals, with detailed timelines, and will be subject to periodic reporting. This gives us clear goals, with measurable impacts that we can see and watch grow.

A second positive impact is the Rio for People conference that culminated on June 20th at the same time as Rio+20 began. This conference focused on ‘strengthening people’s capacity for genuine sustainable development’ and featured 200 groups from civil society, including environmental non-governmental organizations, unions, religious parties, and representatives from indigenous populations. This conference chose to go beyond the set agenda for Rio+20 and look for sustainable, alternative options for biodiversity, poverty elimination, and climate protection. This conference was an opportunity for grassroots workers on sustainability to meet and share ideas and models, as well as to critique the larger top-down models and ideologies.

Rio for People, resulted in distrust towards the larger Rio+20 conference which can be summarized with the words of one Vietnamese activist, “We are suspicious of this talk of a green economy. It seems like another attempt by the rich powers to impose a model on poor countries.”

Which brings us back to the original questions, what will Rio+20 bring the world? Is there hope for international development? Are these conferences the answer? Or do they promote the top-down model of development? Can policy create sustainability?

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7 responses

  1. Love the post!

    Sometimes I feel that these big conferences are a facade put on by big organizations to praise themselves. A lot of good initiatives have come out, but my main concern is that how do we get countries to implement it?

  2. It’s amazing how slow governments are to catch on to the reality that nature actually hold the power. I love how the NGOs are stepping up! Great to read your blog! And thanks for liking mine. :-)

  3. Thanks for the informative post Steph. I didn’t know about all of the private and public sector entities that are stepping up – hopefully that can continue to gain momentum!

    I am very interested to see what the Sustainable Development Goals look like. Have you had an opportunity to research this at all? I did a quick google search, and apparently nations committed $513 billion to them today – wow! http://www.4-traders.com/news/Nations-Commit-$513-Billion-To-Sustainable-Development-Goals-At-Rio-20-UN–14383370/

    • Its incredible how many non-governmental groups have stepped up! I think its the best part!
      I sincerely hope that they have committed that much and would be interested to read about EXACTLY how those funds will be used and allocated! Actually, I’d also like to know which governments have committed how much as well! I’ll be following up on this soon.
      Thanks!

  4. Thank you for keeping us all updated with the Rio+20 conversations. I am very disappointed to hear that there have been no concrete targets or measurements decided upon with the new draft. There does seem to be a lot of great discussion around some new positive tools for improving development though! The voluntary commitments seem to be a good step forward for the private sector, and the sustainable development goals sound fascinating as does the new sustainable development indicator. Although it is highly unlikely (some may say impossible) for us to complete the MDG’s by 2015, there have been important progress in a number of the categories since they were created. I just hope that the potential Sustainable Development Goals can be just as (hopefully more) successful.

    • I sincerely doubt (but still hope!) that the MDGs make amazing progress in the next 3 years, but the sustainable development goals would ideally have some element of follow-up or responsibility attached.. I hate to say it, but I don’t think anything will be successful unless there is a clear and marked consequence for not doing our part. I really loved the voluntary commitments (they gave me hope).

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