On the road to Rio+20
Sébastien Duyck, from RioPlusTwenties, reflects on the history of and recent developments in the Rio process and Wendy Stephenson, TCW's CEO, discusses the importance of the Rio+20 summit
Sébastien Duyck: Where did the road start and where is it going?
The Rio+20 conference, officially called UN Conference on Sustainable Development, is approaching rapidly, with just over two months before representatives from 190 countries and thousands of NGOs meet in the vibrant Brazilian city.
Just twenty years ago, the city of Rio hosted a major international conference dedicated to environment and development. During this Rio 1992 conference, governments recognised a set of principles, such as the polluter pays principle and the precautionary principle. They also negotiated three major international agreements dedicated to biological diversity, climate change, and desertification. In addition, Agenda 21 was adopted, a work program expected to guide governments and local communities towards a more sustainable development pathway.
This year, Brazil will host another international summit to provide the international community with a chance to find collective solutions to common crises. The conference will be the tipping point of a longer conversation among states and civil society, with two main themes. First, discussions on the transition to a green economy will focus on how development can simultaneously deliver environmental, social and economic benefits, which is a fairly controversial topic. The second track of discussions addresses the question of how to reform the UN and other levels of governance so that they can deliver better decisions that would better integrate the three dimensions of sustainable development (the environmental, social and economic dimensions). Finally, some states have proposed to develop new Sustainable Development Goals, perhaps as a follow-up to the Millennium Development Goals.
It is still very unclear whether governments will provide the political will that is required to ensure that concrete outcomes and effective solutions are adopted in Rio, instead of this conference simply becoming another talking shop. There is still much uncertainty as to what to expect, and at least two meetings are scheduled for the coming months for all governments to prepare the conference. However, perhaps more importantly, Rio+20 offers a unique opportunity to mobilise all stakeholders, from governments to NGOs and the science community, to focus their attention on sustainable development. It is hoped that the conference in June can stimulate, and perhaps inspire, all actors involved to re-engage in discussions on how to develop a model of society that would leave a healthy planet for the generations to come.
About the author: Sébastien Duyck is a passionate environmental advocate, working to support the active participation of young people in intergovernmental conferences related to sustainable development. He has been involved in UN negotiations in various capacities and is also writing a PhD dissertation on human rights and climate change at the University of Lapland, Finland.
Wendy Stephenson: More practitioners please!
It is 20 years since the Rio Earth Summit and 20 years since I took the decision that I wanted to work in this field. I was first inspired by a picture of a wind turbine and thought that it just made sense. Twenty years later, I see some changes, some of these quite significant, such as the development of a carbon market, or the introduction of feed-in-tariffs to stimulate the deployment of renewable energy. Yet, although the mechanisms themselves are significant, progress on the ground, like implementing projects and social change, has been frustratingly and worringly slow.
Will another round of conferences, another round of talks deliver much more? Policies, regulations and schemes take time to develop and even longer when they need international agreement. Progress has undoubtedly been made and we must acknowledge that, but it has taken far too long to deliver far too little.
Everyone is talking about doing something. We have strategies and policies, conferences and networks, but can we find a way to convert this energy to action? Can we use this summit not just for reflection but as a call to action? Plant a tree, buy a woodstove for a family in a developing country, support a water project, or provide loans or donations to all those wonderful organisations that are doing stuff on the ground, often through volunteers, and making a difference!
Here is something really radical: Can we stop talking and start doing?