To frown or smile at Rio+20
“The Future We Want” was the slogan for the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development that took place in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil (Jun 20-22, 2012). On the first day of the high-level segment of the conference, three authoritative figures shared their views on sustainable development, the green economy and various other issues. The main vibe on this day was of urgency, optimism and hope.
The sense of urgency emanated from the speech by UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon. In his words, “we gather in Rio to shape the future of humankind” and “we are here to face an existential reality” twenty years after the Earth Summit in Rio that placed sustainable development on the political agenda. Since then, the world population has increased by 1.5 million people reaching over 7 billion now. “For too long, we have behaved as though we could indefinitely burn and consume our way to prosperity. Today, we recognize that we can no longer do so,” the UNSG continued. It is time for humankind to adopt a new model for growth – one based on the interdependence of economic development, an inclusive social system and the natural environment.
Mr. Ban’s message was also clear on the finite resources at our disposal – not only scarce metals and fossil fuels, but also fresh water, clean air and affordable food. The supply of all these precious and necessary resources has been and continues to be taken for granted. Still, there is one critical resource which is scarcer and more precious than the rest – time. “We are running out of time. We no longer have the luxury to defer difficult decisions,” stressed Ban Ki-Moon with a strong sense of urgency. Political leaders should act now on the UNSG’s call and make Rio+20 the legacy they are to be remembered for, instead of economic crises and military conflicts.
There was also a note of optimism emanating from a much unexpected source. François Hollande, President of France, traveled directly to the Rio+20 from the G20 Summit in Mexico. Upon his arrival, he stated that he is at the UNCSD to show France’s commitment to sustainable development and to show that all world leaders are there to prepare for the future. In his opinion, the outcome of the Rio+20 should be a roadmap for true sustainable development and aim to enhance the United Nations processes for development, protection of the environment and eradication of poverty. This can only be achieved through the political commitment of all nations, together with the active participation of civil society organizations and businesses.
Mr. Hollande did voice some concerns and point out shortcomings of Rio+20. Mainly, he was disappointed with the fact that his call for a UN Agency to cover all aspects of sustainable development – from the environment and economic development to poverty eradication – was not taken into consideration. Currently, too many resources are used-up by UNEP, UNDP, UNFCCC and other programs and conventions, which could easily be grouped into one UN agency of sustainable development and be a pillar for coordinated and targeted action towards a more efficient and sustainable future.
The third important speaker offered a sense of hope to all participants and strengthened both the sense of urgency and optimism. Ms. Dilma Rouseff, President of Brazil, thanked the participants and then stated that the final decision is in everyone’s hands. The responsibility outlined by Rio+20 is not of political leaders alone, but of all the people in the world, and it revolves around three key elements – growth, inclusiveness and protection. The tasks surrounding them are present-day and a number of structural reforms are needed to make them all-inclusive. This was a reference to the general plea to include a wide range of participants in the decision-making process, especially the poor.
Ms. Rouseff acknowledged that fiscal transfers from the North to the South have been a major challenge since the Earth Summit in 1992 and much of the money has not yet materialized where it was promised even though some of the most polluting industries have been physically relocated to developing countries. She also pointed out that many commitments made in Rio in 1992 were still only existent on paper without material realization, and added that countries have not taken their task seriously to fulfill their obligations when it comes to the Kyoto Protocol for example. Many leaders came to Brazil to defend their national interests, especially at this time of global crisis, but the Brazilian President was hopeful that an agreement could be established on “a new vision of the future”.
The Heads of State and Government thanked the Brazilian hosts for the organization of a successful, all-encompassing and globally inclusive summit. One of the clearest messages emanating from the speeches of our leaders was that we all have to take responsibility for our planet and its resources. The UN Secretary-General made it clear that “nature does not communicate with human beings” but the message is nevertheless there. The sense of urgency, optimism and hope emanating from world leaders should make everyone realize that the future we want is in our hands.
Click here to read the digital version of Revolve’s country supplement on sustainability in Brazil