Before looking to the future it may be worth reflecting on the past to see what happened after the last two major conferences in Rio and Durban.
This is one comment from Cicero Lucena (president of GLOBE Brazil):
Since 2000 alone, forests equivalent in size to the landmass of Germany have been lost; 80 per cent of the world’s fish stocks have collapsed or are on the brink of collapse; and the Gobi desert is growing by roughly 10,000 square kilometres every year. The list of environmental pressures grows by the day, and there can be little doubt that the unsustainable use of natural resources will be the biggest challenge facing mankind in the 21st century.
So why haven’t we done better since 1992, and what needs to be done to achieve a course correction now?
Crucially, it is not that leaders committed to the wrong objectives at Rio 20 years ago and in Johannesburg 10 years later. These summits led to the creation of the UN conventions on biological diversity, climate change and desertification, the principles on sustainable forestry and Local Agenda 21.
By any standards, these are remarkable achievements that have set in train some key advances. Examples include the significant decrease in deforestation seen in Brazil, and the qualified success of the recent climate summits in Durban and Cancun.
Instead, the major problem in the past 20 years has been the failure of Governments to implement properly their commitments from Rio and Johannesburg. Three particular parts of the jigsaw puzzle have been missing since 1992.
First, there has been a lack of domestic legislation to underpin the Rio principles and conventions. Second, there was a lack of credible and independent international scrutiny to monitor delivery. And finally, the international community failed to convert the original Rio agenda into a language that would hold sway in the most powerful Departments in each Government: the Treasuries and Finance Ministries.
These are three critical omissions and, if Rio+20 is to be a success, they must be addressed by the current generation of world leaders.
We are delighted that the Brazilian government, the Mayor of Rio and the UN Secretary-General have recognised this. And that is why The Global Legislators’ Organisation (GLOBE), supported by the UN, will convene the first World Summit of Legislators immediately before the Rio+20 meeting of world leaders.
The World Summit of Legislators will involve more than 300 Speakers of Parliaments, Presidents of Congresses and Senates, and senior legislators. It marks the beginning of a new international process for legislators dedicated to strengthening delivery of the original Rio agenda and the conventions on climate, desertification and biodiversity, as well as new commitments made at Rio+20.
The World Summit of Legislators has three objectives. First, it will provide a platform to advance laws and share good legislative practice to underpin the Rio commitments. Second, it will establish a mechanism at the international level to monitor the implementation by Governments of commitments made at the original Rio Earth Summit, Johannesburg and Rio+20.
The third objective is about incorporating the valuation of natural capital into government accounting. Perversely, we still focus on GDP as the indicator of national wealth, when clearly it is only a partial measure of income that does not take into account the stock of natural capital on which we all depend and our economies rely.
A country can expand its GDP, creating the illusion of increased wealth, while becoming ‘poorer’ as it destroys the natural capital on which its long-term prosperity depends. Recognising the role of many national Parliaments in approving budgets and national accounts, the World Summit of Legislators will examine how the value of natural capital can be integrated into our national economic frameworks.
The Summit participants will agree a Rio+20 legislators’ protocol. Legislators will be asked to commit to take the protocol back to their legislatures to seek support, or formal ratification. Legislators will then be asked to reconvene every two years to monitor progress in implementing the Rio outcomes, as well as to share good legislative and scrutiny practices.
The World Summit of Legislators is thus just the beginning of a long-term, global process for delivering transformational change that addresses the weaknesses of the original Earth Summit. If parliamentarians are properly engaged, we are confident we can help create the foundation for genuine sustainable development, and secure the prosperity of future generations, not just our own.
It is critical we do so.
* Cicero Lucena is First Secretary of the Senate of Brazil and president of GLOBE Brazil.
Unfortunately, recent reports such as GEO 5, do not paint a good picture of the history of turning objectives into actions that succeed:
“If current trends continue, if current patterns of production and consumption of natural resources prevail and cannot be reversed and ‘decoupled,’ then governments will preside over unprecedented levels of damage and degradation,” said the Executive Director of the UN Environment Programme (UNEP), Achim Steiner.
The fifth edition of the Global Environmental Outlook (GEO-5), launched ahead of the UN Conference on Sustainable Development (Rio+20) in Brazil later this month, assessed 90 of the most important environmental goals and objectives and found that significant progress had only been made in four.
The four goals entail eliminating the production and use of substances that deplete the ozone layer, the removal of lead from fuel, increasing access to improved water supplies, and boosting research to reduce pollution of the marine environment
According to the assessment, while some progress was shown in 40 goals, including efforts to reduce deforestation, little or no progress was detected for 24 of them, including climate change, desertification and drought. In addition, there were eight goals which showed no progress and instead further deterioration, such as the state of the world’s coral reefs.
The assessment emphasizes that countries can still meet sustainability targets if current policies are changes and strengthened and provides examples of successful policy initiatives to this end.
GEO 5, which was produced over a period of three years and with the collaboration of over 600 environment experts, also highlights that when international treaties and agreements have tackled goals with specific, measurable targets they have demonstrated considerable success.
“GEO-5 reminds world leaders and nations meeting at Rio+20 why a decisive and defining transition towards a low-carbon, resource-efficient, job-generating green economy is urgently needed,” said Mr. Steiner. “The scientific evidence, built over decades, is overwhelming and leaves little room for doubt.”
“The moment has come to put away the paralysis of indecision, acknowledge the facts and face up to the common humanity that unites all peoples,” he added. “Rio+20 is a moment to turn sustainable development from aspiration and patchy implementation into a genuine path to progress and prosperity for this and the next generations to come.”
More than 100 heads of State and government, along with thousands of parliamentarians, mayors, UN officials, Chief Executive Officers and civil society leaders are expected to attend Rio+20 to shape new policies to promote prosperity, reduce poverty and advance social equity and environmental protection.
The gathering follows on from the Earth Summit in 1992, also held in Rio de Janeiro, during which countries adopted Agenda 21 – a blueprint to rethink economic growth, advance social equity and ensure environmental protection.
And from the Rio+20 newsletter:
“We need to invent a new model – a model that offers growth and social inclusion – a model that is more respectful of the planet’s finite resources. That is why I have made sustainable development my number one priority.”
– UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon
Samples of UN portals offering stories and facts on sustainable development
- Stories on sustainable development, gender equality and women’s empowerment (UN Women)
- Green Economies: Developing Countries Success Stories (UNEP)
- UNDP’s Rio+20 portal
- 100 facts making the link between people, food and the environment (FAO)
- UNESCO’s Rio+20 portal