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Is Rio+20 the epiphany of our sustainable development efforts?

July 19, 2012


Lets try and sustain these


I was waiting for all the excitement to settle down a little before I wrote about my take on the Rio+20.

I discussed with a lot of people around me about the Rio+20 and realized that they do not know about its history and how it all began. This is my attempt of compiling all the information at one place for a speedy recap in the simplest manner possible. Hope this helps.

How it all began?

The term of “sustainable development” was used for the first time by the “Brundtland Commission”, which is formally known as the World Commission on Environment   Development set up in and headed by the former Prime Minister of Norway Gro Harlem Brundtland.  In 1987, the Commission published the report “Our Common Future”[1], which introduced the concept of “sustainable development” and defined it as following:  “sustainable development is not a fixed state of harmony, but rather a process of change in which the exploitation of resources, the direction of investments, the orientation of technological development, and institutional change are made consistent with future as well as present needs”. The report called for both action at national and international level   and deep changes in human attitudes regarding the relation between human world and the planet.

Why Rio+20 and not 25,30 or so on:

Rio+20” or “Earth Summit” is the short name for the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development which took place in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, from June 20 th-22nd, 2012, to mark the 20th anniversary of the 1992 United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED), in Rio de Janeiro, and the 10th anniversary of the 2002 World Summit on Sustainable Development (WSSD) in Johannesburg.

The objective of the Conference were decided in December 2009 at the UN General Assembly in Resolution 64/236 and they aimed 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.

Rio +20 focused on two themes:

  1. How to build a green economy to achieve sustainable development and lift people out of  poverty, including support for developing countries that will allow them to find a green path for development;
  2. How to improve international coordination for sustainable development.

Ahead of the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development (Rio+20) the UN General Assembly called upon United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) to contribute to the Rio+20 Conference and to participate in the preparatory processes and UNEP organized the World Congress on Justice, Governance and Law for Environmental Sustainability on 18th and 19th June in Rio de Janeiro.

The Congress sought to contribute to the Rio+20 process by promoting global consensus among environmental law and governance decision-makers in order to not only shape the interpretation and enforcement of environmental laws and policies within their jurisdictions, but also develop institutional frameworks and regulations focusing on environmental governance and accountability issues as well as the role of law in protecting natural resources and promoting sustainable development.

Where do we go from Rio+20:

Learning institutions out-committed governments and NGOs by far at the Rio+20. Governments only made 50 pledges, representing a mere seven percent of the overall tally. Outside of the SE4All commitments, the only developed countries to make additional promises were Japan, the Netherlands and Lichtenstein, according to the conference organizers.

Donor money will of course be used to further many of the announced initiatives over the coming years. And we can’t assume that the number of commitments is a fair representation of a country’s support for the sustainable development goals. The U.S. endorsement of SE4All, for instance, can be seen as a significant step in itself. Mauritius made the most commitments out of any country present, with ten on the books; that was a surprise for all.

Mauritius committed to reducing its greenhouse gas emissions by 300,000 tons by 2020, increase the share of renewable energy to around 35 percent by 2025, and develop national water resources to ensure an uninterrupted supply of potable water for everyone by 2050. It also pledged to increase its forest tree cover, and declare at least a quarter of its land as protected areas, among other deliverables. Many of the commitments were directly aimed at bolstering the Mauritian economy at the same time.

We can hope that Rio+20 can make the governments and organizations to realize that people should be at the forefront of all future interventions. This is nothing new. Lets hope that this is put in perspective after the Rio+20 in a more formalized and institutionalized manner.


This write up has been adopted from YPLD, DevEx and TNC. To read on, please click on the names.

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