RIO+20…or RIO – 20? …UN Conference on Sustainable Development 2012

It has begun -but will the biggest UN event, also be  the biggest failure in terms of real global commitments?


Three newspapers provide a little optimism but mainly relate to the gathering storm clouds:

The Hindustan Times -20th June 2012

The biggest divergences lies in four areas. They include action on climate change, protecting the oceans and achieving food security, and whether Sustainable Development Goals should replace the Millenium Development Goals when these objectives expire in 2015.

The concept of common but differentiated responsibility reflects what developing nations consider their right to catch up with the rich world and as such have more leeway on emissions and other environmental concerns.

The Bangkok Post -20/06/2012

UN members on the eve of a global summit backed a plan on Tuesday for nursing Earth’s sick environment back to health and tackling poverty through greener growth.

But relief at avoiding a repeat of the deadlocked 2009 Copenhagen climate summit mingled with disappointment for many who thought the deal was a sad compromise.

“Nobody in that room adopting the text was happy. That’s how weak it is. And they all knew,” the European Union’s commissioner for climate change, Connie Hedegaard, said in a tweet.

After haggling that went deep into the night, national delegates gave provisional approval to a 53-page statement designed to act as a compass for sustainable development for the next decade and beyond.

It identifies measures for tackling the planet’s many environmental ills and lifting billions out of poverty through policies that nurture rather than squander natural resources.
and from John Vidal of the Guardian (19/06/2012)

The excuse is that the summit is overshadowed by the deepening global financial crisis. The real reason may be that the days of hope and idealism are over. Rich countries have little new to offer, and China,Brazil, India and other rapidly emerging economies are now in the development driving seat.

Instead of the ambitious, legally binding conventions on offer in 1992, countries have only been asked to lay the foundations for the next 20 years.

The UN wants Rio to endorse a UN “green economy roadmap” with environmental goals, targets and deadlines. Developing countries, led by Colombia, prefer new “sustainable development goals” to better protect the environment, guarantee food and power to the poorest, and alleviate poverty.

But with negotiations now effectively over there is still no political consensus; the poor are mistrustful of the rich, and groups like Oxfam fear that new goals could get mixed up with the existing millennium development goals.

Getting any agreement at all has proved hard. UN chiefs and the Brazilians are upbeat but squabbling governments have fought bitterly over the lead that the rich should give and the money the poor should receive to help them out of destitution.

Just as in 1992, when Bush declared that “the American way of life is not negotiable” and reduced the aid package to developing countries to a paltry £6bn, so in 2012 US negotiators, backed by the EU and the G20, have told developing countries to accept the “new global reality”, and have refused to give way.

But no one in Rio doubts that the talks are even more urgent than in 1992. The director of UNEP, Achim Steiner, has warned that pollution is killing millions of people a year, that ecosystem decline is increasing, that climate change is speeding up, and soil and ocean degradation is worsening.

Steiner said: “If [the] trends continue … governments will preside over unprecedented levels of damage and degradation. Earth systems are being pushed towards their biophysical limits.”

Dame Barbara Stocking, Oxfam’s director, said: “This is urgent. As the people with the least struggle to survive, the consumption habits of the richest are stripping the Earth of its resources. The situation is dire. We cannot go on living beyond the Earth’s boundaries. The people suffering are the poorest. These are issues that will affect us all for ever.”

But in the absence of government action, any ambition and optimism is expected to come from the parallel “People’s Summit”, the myriad non-governmental groups and many business meetings that have already started.

According to Marina Sylva, former Brazilian environment minister and presidential candidate, Flamingo park in the centre of Rio, where thousands of peasants and social movements are now camping and meeting, should become “the Tahrir square” of NGOs, the dispossessed, the indigenous communities, and human rights, ecological and other social justice activists, all wanting more radical change to the world’s economic systems to protect the Earth.

For them, the world leaders in the Rio centro meeting halls only offer green capitalism, nature for sale and more of the same inequality.

Sylva said: “They cannot lower expectations in the face of a crisis worsening every day. I hope that Rio+20 will become the Tahrir square of the global environmental crisis and that public opinion will be able to tell leaders that they cannot brush off the science.”

RIO+20 : optimistic or are we on the road to failure?

There are mixed comments on the potential of the UN conference on sustainable development (Earth Summit 2012) beginning tomorrow (20th June) in Rio de Janeiro.

Here are some points raised in the latest DEVEX newsletter

Expectations are high for the upcoming U.N. Conference on Sustainable Development in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. But with various groups pushing different agendas, pundits fear Rio+20 won’t produce positive results.

Apart from sustainable development, groups have been advocating for women empowerment and food security. Others are concerned about the increasing role of multinationals in U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s Sustainable Energy For All Initiative.

The draft outcome document, which has been in the works for months now, remains contentious.

African negotiators are working hard for certain paragraphs to remain in the outcome document, such as the transfer of technology to developing countries. The United States, however, is reportedly against it, and insists on “deleting” paragraphs dealing with the topic, a Ghanian negotiator said in an Economic Commission for Africa press release.

Brazil, which now heads the negotiations, is optimistic the outcome document will be finalized before the conference kicks off Wednesday (June 20). But skeptics such as Oxfam International’s Tricia O’ Rourke argue it may just be an agreeable document that is “less likely to deliver sustainable development.”

Is Rio+20 on the road to failure? Thomas Lovejoy, science and public policy professor at George Mason University, seems to think so. But, John Biers of Dow Jones Newswires writes in The Wall Street Journal, Rio+20 supporters can seek some “solace from the past.” The 1992 Rio conference, which was seen as a “triumph for the environment, was initially greeted with plenty of negative headlines, too.”

(extracted from an article by Jenny Lei Ravelo -DEVEX)


More than 130 world leaders are meeting in Rio de Janeiro this week for Rio+20, the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development. Few experts believe these presidents and prime ministers will come to any groundbreaking international agreements.

It may not matter.

The real progress on the themes of the conference — a green economy in the context of sustainable development and poverty eradication, and the necessary institutional framework — could happen at the side events, the cocktail parties, even the chance meetings in hotel lobbies. After all, at least 50,000 stakeholders – corporate and civil society leaders, environmentalists and aid officials among them – will also be attending the summit, reinforcing old relationships and forming new ones, as they look for ways to align their interests with the conference goals.

While formulating international agreements is never easy, the current global economic problems are making the attempts at Rio+20, which is scheduled for June 20-22, even tougher than usual. Countries are hoping growth will pull them out of the doldrums, with its unsavory consequences being of secondary concern. Then, there are the distracting effects of debt crises in Europe and national elections in the United States, which many believe are behind U.S. President Barack Obama’s decision not to attend. The U.K.’s David Cameron, Germany’s Angela Merkel and Japan’s Yoshihiko Noda have also sent their regrets.

Still, at Rio, the United Nations will push sustainable growth — and its economic, environmental and social benefits — to the forefront of global planning. The declaration world leaders will sign at the end of the three-day gathering is expected to include a call for sustainable development goals that could pave the way toward a global framework to replace the Millennium Development Goals, which expire in 2015.

Although Rio+20 may not turn out to be the watershed moment for sustainable development that some have hoped it would be, what is ultimately decided at the summit could shape the work of the aid community for years to come.

As expected, it is difficult for nations to cooperate and look for common proposals that will help all, vested and national interests, will come first. Governments are often in power for 5 years -this is too short to plan for environmental and economic sustainability -20 year plans must be in place.

The main difficulties lay in prioritizing among the many issues that countries care about: food security, water, oceans, energy, gender. Some wanted to emphasize the inclusion of groups that haven’t traditionally been given equal power: women, minorities, indigenous peoples and the youth. Others championed the use of technology to hasten progress on all fronts.

And every nation looked out for its own perceived best interests.

“The small island developing states wanted a segment on their particular problem. And so did the mountain states, and the least developed countries,” explains Melinda Kimble, who focused on the draft as part of her work for the U.N. Foundation, where she is senior vice president and oversees the International Bioenergy Initiative.

Developed countries resisted the concept of technology transfer as part of the summit declaration. And even terminology became problematic. Though “green economy” is one of the conference themes, countries continue to argue over its definition. Developing countries seem concerned that green growth is code for protectionism, and may be used to stifle the progress they anxiously need to lift their citizens out of poverty.


The post-MDG agenda

The conference will provide guidance to the United Nations and its partners on a global development accord to succeed the Millennium Declaration.

“The world community seems to be coalescing around the idea of sustainable development goals to follow the MDG-period,” says Jeffrey Sachs, the economist and director of Columbia University’s Earth Institute in New York.

Indeed, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has suggested countries should focus on SDGs in the years ahead. But skepticism remains: Some aid experts are adamant that the MDGs should not be retired before its targets have been reached. Others worry about the burden two sets of development goals would place on the international community. And some simply question whether world leaders will be able to agree on a set of global SDGs that is as ambitious as it is workable.

Ban’s recent appointment of Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf and U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron to a high-level panel that will craft a set of goals for the post-2015 world adds a wrinkle to the hopes for Rio. Will the leaders there set up a negotiating process, or wait for the panel’s draft recommendations, which could come in within a year?

Negotiating processes are expensive and slow, and as Rio+20 reminded us, agonizingly difficult. Keep in mind that the MDGs were not independently negotiated, but pulled from previously agreed-upon goals. Though Rio+20 comes very early in the process of developing the post-MDG agenda, it could play a significant role in it.

What the leaders at Rio+20 ultimately agree on in the outcome document — on energy and water, city planning, unemployment or any of the other issues on the table — will be a concrete step towards “the future we want,” which is the slogan for the summit.

 (These ‘snippets’ were taken from an  article written by Rebecca Webber who is a Devex correspondent based in New York City)

….and from the pre-conference meetings:

RIO+20 – Earth Summit -countdown to the conference

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:

Despite agreed environmental goals, world still on unsustainable path – UN
The United Nations environment agency today warned that the world “continues to speed down” an unsustainable path in spite of hundreds of internationally agreed goals to protect the planet, and stressed that drastic actions and big-scale measures are needed to reverse this pattern.

“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

RIO+20 – Earth Summit 2012 – Where do we begin? (rio+20 brief 1)

RIO+20 – Earth Summit 2012

United Nations Conference on  Sustainable Development

The week of the conference has finally arrived and there are many preparation meetings, some threats if decisions are not made,and everyone living in hope.

From the conference web site

Why is the conference so important?

The objective of the Conference is to secure renewed political commitment for sustainable development, assess the progress to date and the remaining gaps in the implementation of the outcomes of the major summits on sustainable development, and address new and emerging challenges

The Conference will focus on two themes: (a) a green economy in the context of sustainable development and poverty eradication; and (b) theinstitutional framework for sustainable development.

However look at the areas of concern within these broad themes:

If you want to get up to date on the conference there are a range of documents on the site, such as :

 Chair?s Summary: National and Subregional Activities and Processes in Preparation of the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development (Rio+20) 1.  (Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP))


 A/66/302 Report of the Secretary-General Harmony with Nature
[Arabic] [Chinese] [English] [French] [Russian] [Spanish]
The present report is submitted pursuant to General Assembly resolution 64/196, in which the Assembly invited Member States, the United Nations system, and other stakeholders to transmit to the Secretary-General their views, experiences and proposals on promoting life in harmony with nature. The Assembly requested the Secretary-General to submit a report on the subject to it at its sixty-fifth session. Drawing on the inputs received, the present report addresses how sustainable development approaches and initiatives have allowed communities gradually to reconnect with the Earth. Concrete recommendations are provided to facilitate further consideration of the theme by Member States.

There are a range of issue briefs such as :

There are also journal documents:
There is also information on learning courses -an example is shown below:
One Planet Living: a practical framework for achieving sustainable consumption and production

BioRegional Development Group
We are consuming too many resources on the planet globally while many do not have enough. If everyone in the world lived the global middle class lifestyle that everyone aspires to, then we would need three planets to support us. That?s why we need One Planet Living, a positive, appealing and easy to understand vision of a world in which we live happy, healthy lives within the natural limits of the planet, wherever we live in the world, and leave sufficient space for wildlife and wilderness.

This is a people centred approach based on equity, ecological and carbon footprint, clean production and ten principles for achieving sustainability:

1. Zero carbon
2. Zero waste
3. Sustainable transport
4. Sustainable materials
5. Local and sustainable food
6. Sustainable water
7. Land and wildlife
8. Culture and heritage
9. Equity and local economy
10. Health and happiness

10 One Planet Living principles

This session will provide basic training so that participants will be able to use the One Planet Living framework at different scales and be supported by an on-line knowledge sharing network, One Planet Open Source.

So if you are interested in the conference -a good starting point is the website
More tomorrow…..

Vote on Rio+20 Priorities

The Rio+20 Dialogues have reached the stage where citizens of the world get to vote for the top priorities in the sustainable development agenda. The popular votes will inform the recommendations for sustainable development that are presented to the heads of state at the Rio+20 Conference in Rio de Janeiro at the end of June.
Among the top 100 recommendations, there are several education-related recommendations that you can support with your vote. See below for our suggestions of the recommendations to vote for, and feel free to vote for others as you wish. It’s as easy as clicking a few buttons on the Rio+20 Dialogues site.
Be quick, voting closes June 15th 2012.
Sustainable Cities and Innovation
  • Promote opportunities for direct dialogues among government, citizens, enterprises, NGOs, and schools.
  • Cities and schools should develop networks to learn and work together toward sustainable development.
  • Improve water and sanitation facilities to ensure the education of children
Unemployment, Decent Work, and Migrations
  • Create a strategy for jobs and employment leveraging the green economy for investment, training, and retraining for employability.
  • Put education in the core of the Sustainable Development Goals agenda.
  • Improve human capital by promoting access to health, including reproductive health, investment in education, and empowerment of women.
Sustainable Development for Fighting Poverty
  • Promote global education to eradicate poverty and to achieve sustainable development.
Sustainable Development as an Answer to the Economic and Financial Crisis
  • Educate future leaders about sustainable development.

RIO+20 – action?

There is a lot of behind the scenes activity going on in preparation for the Rio+ 20 Earth Summit, so perhaps we should widen the participation and do something ourselves.Here are some ideas from  the TckTckTck newsletter  :

It’s only a few short weeks before the Rio Earth Summit, where world leaders will gather in Brazil to decide the future of our planet. But what kind of future will it be? Will it be one where resources like food, water and energy are scarce? Or will it be a world with clean air, clean water, affordable resources and abundant jobs for everyone?
Will the future we want include a global agreement to reduce fossil fuel emissions and protect the most vulnerable nations from the severe impacts of climate change? We believe there is a way forward, but it requires bold action without delay. More than ever, it is time for our leaders to lead.
Together with our partners, the TckTckTck team has worked hard to create opportunities for you to participate in Rio+20 and to let the world’s leaders know about the Future We Want. Wherever you are in the world right now, here are a few ways you can make your voice heard in advance of this historic gathering:
  • A  Date with History:  After a global search with hundreds of video entries and thousands of online votes, a diverse jury selected 17-year-old Brittany Trilford of Wellington, New Zealand to deliver a three minute speech at the Rio Earth Summit. Follow her journey to Rio and send her a message of support. Send a Message >>
  • Elders + Youngers:  The Elders — esteemed thought leaders including Desmond Tutu, Gro Brundtland, Fernando Henrique Cardoso and Mary Robinson — have joined four young activists to discuss new ways of taking on the most urgent issues facing our world today.  Join the discussion >>
  • Stop Polluter Payouts:  One thing is certain — unless we stop government aid to wealthy fossil fuel corporations (an estimated $630 Billion in 2011 alone) and start providing desperately needed funds for accessible, clean energy we will never achieve a sustainable future. 750,000 people worldwide have signed the petition to end these subsidies. Add Your Name >>
  • Our Future Earth:  A collaborative initiative sponsored by TckTckTck in cooperation with over 20 NGO’s from around the world, Our Future Earth provides slideshows on the core issues around sustainable development — Food, Water, Energy, Jobs — and ways you can take action on these key issues. Explore Now >>
  • Rio+20 News Hub: > The UN Conference on Sustainable Development (UNCSD) officially begins on 20 June, but there are many events leading up to the summit and now you can follow all the latest news on the road to Rio and beyond. Read More >>

Earth Summit 2012 -Rio +20…..Green Jobs?

Attempting to put sustainable development into practice will mean that ordinary people all over the world must benefit. This will change attitudes and encourage more investment in innovation and job creation. All countries have a responsibility but developing countries , in particular could benefit greatly by not making the same mistakes as others.
Here is a publication which focuses on the potential for creating ‘green jobs’
Assessing Green Jobs Potential in Developing Countries- A Practitioner’s Guide, ILO

This book provides guidance on how to estimate the actual and potential level of economic activity and number of jobs related to the environment in a developing country context. It is intended to be generic in its application (i.e. relevant to a wide range of countries) and therefore flexible enough to accommodate different sets of economic and environmental conditions. The guide has been developed as part of an ILO-funded project led by GHK that mapped green employment in Bangladesh. That study will be published as the first of a series of papers, each looking at a different country. These country studies should be seen as companions to this guide. They give detailed information on how methods set out here have been applied. A researcher who is considering a study for her or his country should therefore consult the country studies as well as this document. The project process involves agreeing a detailed working definition of “green jobs”, and quantification of the direct and indirect employment linked to green growth (e.g. through input–output (I-O) coefficients and modelling). It is intended that further testing and development through application in other countries will help to improve the depth and breadth of the guidance over time. Download Publication