The outcome of the Rio+20 Sustainable Development ConferencePosted on Wednesday, July 4th, 2012 in Hot Seat Comments
The United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development (Rio+20 Conference) took place from 20 to 22 June 2012 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. This marked the 20th anniversary of the Rio de Janeiro United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED) of 1992 and the 10th anniversary of the 2002 Johannesburg World Summit on Sustainable Development (WSSD).
The conference agenda was divided into two main themes: (a) a green economy in the context of sustainable development poverty alleviation; and (b) the institutional framework for sustainable development. The seven areas identified for priority attention at the conference were decent jobs, energy, sustainable cities, food security and sustainable agriculture, water, oceans and disaster readiness. The expected outcome of the conference was the adoption by all participating governments of practical measures to implement sustainable development. Although a lengthy document was drafted at the conclusion of the conference, various participants were disappointed with the outcome, criticising the lack of progress made since the Earth Summit in 1992 when conventions were adopted on climate change, biodiversity and desertification (the complete outcome document is available here (http://www.uncsd2012.org/thefuturewewant.html)
The outcome document, titled ‘the future we want’ focuses on:
a) The common vision of the parties, renewing their commitment to sustainable development and the promotion of an economically, socially and environmentally sustainable future.
b) The renewal of political commitments, including reaffirming the Rio Principles of 1992 and past action plans. The parties also renewed their commitments to advance the integration, implementation and coherence of previous commitments and action plans and reaffirmed the importance of all levels of government and civil society to promote sustainable development.
c) The green economy and poverty eradication. The parties see the green economy as an important tool for achieving sustainable development, contributing to poverty eradication, sustainable economic growth, enhanced social inclusion, improved human welfare and an opportunity for employment and the creation of decent jobs. Green economy policies must be supported by an enabling environment, promote sustainable and inclusive growth, foster innovation, take into account the needs of developing countries, ensure equal contribution, enhance welfare, increase international cooperation and promote sustainable consumption and production patterns.
d) Institutional framework for sustainable development. It is important to strengthen the institutional framework for sustainable development to ensure a coherent and effective response to future challenges and to fill the gaps in the implementation of the sustainable development agenda. This requires effective governance at the local, sub-national, national, regional and global level.
e) Framework for actions and follow-ups according to the thematic and priority areas, including food security, water, energy and sustainable tourism.
f) Sustainable development goals. Currently the achievement of specific goals is evaluated according to the Millennium Development Goals. However, there is a need to draft sustainable development goals which are action-orientated, global in nature and universally applicable.
g) Means of implementation. The following are needed for the efficient implementation of commitments and action plans: significant financial resources from different sources; technology transfer to developing countries; enhanced capacity-building and international trade. Trade is seen as an important vehicle for development and sustainable economic growth. A universal, rules-based and equitable multilateral trading system plays an important role in stimulating economic growth and development. In light of the importance of meaningful trade liberalisation for growth and development, parties remain focused on addressing trade-distorting subsidies and achieving progress in trade in environmental goods and services.
Critics of the outcome of the Rio+20 Conference have labelled the conference as an ‘epic failure’, stating the conference has only been a conference to decide to have more conferences with a result being a reaffirmation of that which was achieved 20 years ago. However, those who do not view the conference as a complete failure have hailed voluntary commitments by individual countries, including the US, Indonesia, Australia and Colombia, as proof of a successful outcome. Currently 718 voluntary commitments by governments, civil society and major groups have been registered on the website of the Rio+20 Conference. These include commitments to recycle 800 000 tons of PVC per year by 2020, establishing a Master’s programme on sustainable development practice, planting a 100 million trees by 2017 and saving 1 Megawatt-hour of electricity a day (a list of all the voluntary commitments is available at (http://www.uncsd2012.org/allcommitments.html). However, the challenge now is whether parties will abide by their voluntary pledges and promises to implement sustainable development initiatives.