RIO+20: Suspicion or Sustainability?

This blog post is brought to you by Guest INDEVOUR blogger Stephanie Higgs on her blog Finding Development.

After my earlier blog post, I realized that a lot of people might not really know exactly what Rio+20 is and the significance it can play for the world of international development.  As you read on, think about what Rio+20 can and will bring us, think about international development and can bring about solutions, think about your opinion and if this conference shares that or contradicts it. Just think.

Rio+20 is the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development that is currently underway (June 20-22 2012) and it is taking place exactly twenty years after the Earth Summit in Rio, Brazil. The Earth Summit in 1992 was where Agenda 21 was signed and ratified, making commitments to changing the ways that economic growth, social equity, and environmental protection are approached. The Earth Summit was essentially a landmark conference in raising awareness and making commitments for sustainability, environmentalism, and equality.

This year, Rio+20 is reviewing some of those former commitments and seeing where nations need to be headed for a sustainable future without poverty. This conference has thousands of participants from governments, non-governmental organizations, private sector representatives, and even concerned citizens.

Rio+20 has two focus areas: ‘a green economy in the context of sustainable development poverty eradication’ and the ‘institutional framework for sustainable development’. The first area – green economy for sustainable development and poverty eradication – works towards having a holistic, sustainable approach to all business, government, and other decision-making. To do this, it means taking social, economic, and environmental concerns, and the ways in which they interact, into account prior to making any decision and using the most beneficial decision to those concerns. The second concern – institutional framework for sustainable development– means taking the same decision making process and ingraining into to all levels of government and governance. It recognizes that current governmental decision-making often neglects sustainability and that through ingraining sustainability into their frameworks they can have longer lasting decisions, policies, and, ideally, a more equal world.

In addition to the themes for the conference, Rio+20 has also identified seven priority areas to focus on for the conference; which include ‘decent jobs, energy, sustainable cities, food security and sustainable agriculture, water, oceans and disaster readiness’. These priorities highlight some of the biggest concerns for sustainability now and in the future and with significant progress and international cooperation on these topics the outlook for the future would be greatly improved.

Wednesday, June 20th marked the start of Rio+20 despite protests and nations have agreed on a draft discussion. Understandably, many people and organizations are skeptical on what results Rio+20 will actually bring, but there has still been progress. United Nations Secretary-General, Ban Ki-moon, acknowledges that in the past sustainable development has not the attention or effort dedicated towards it that it deserves and needs and that they have not met their commitments or goals. While a draft document has been made and agreed upon, titled “The Future We Want,” this draft document is still vague. It holds no requirements or commitments for nations, no real forms of measurement, or targets, and fails to meet the needs or hopes of many international non-governmental organizations. While many nations agreed that between 30 and 100 billion dollars would be required for sustainability initiatives, only 30 billion dollars are drafted and required in the text, which also does not include where the funds will come from.

What was hoped for and what may still transpire are the creation of Sustainable Development Goals, which would replace the Millennium Development Goals in 2015 when they expire. Another hoped outcome of Rio+20 would be the creation of a new index to measure human development. The current model is the Human Development Index, which ranks nations with regards to the quality of life; it takes life expectancy, literacy, and GNI/GDP into account. The proposed model would be the Sustainable Human Development Index that would use the pre-existing Human Development Index but add a measure of sustainability that would have to be determined and quantified at Rio+20.

Personally, I find it most interesting that even nothing transpires directly out of Rio+20, there have still been major commitments in the public and private sector outside of government. As of 12 noon on Thursday June 21st, there were 517 voluntary commitments to sustainability from the private and public sector, these commitments must be concrete goals, with detailed timelines, and will be subject to periodic reporting. This gives us clear goals, with measurable impacts that we can see and watch grow.

A second positive impact is the Rio for People conference that culminated on June 20th at the same time as Rio+20 began. This conference focused on ‘strengthening people’s capacity for genuine sustainable development’ and featured 200 groups from civil society, including environmental non-governmental organizations, unions, religious parties, and representatives from indigenous populations. This conference chose to go beyond the set agenda for Rio+20 and look for sustainable, alternative options for biodiversity, poverty elimination, and climate protection. This conference was an opportunity for grassroots workers on sustainability to meet and share ideas and models, as well as to critique the larger top-down models and ideologies.

Rio for People, resulted in distrust towards the larger Rio+20 conference which can be summarized with the words of one Vietnamese activist, “We are suspicious of this talk of a green economy. It seems like another attempt by the rich powers to impose a model on poor countries.”

Which brings us back to the original questions, what will Rio+20 bring the world? Is there hope for international development? Are these conferences the answer? Or do they promote the top-down model of development? Can policy create sustainability?

Stay tuned for another post about the results of the Rio+20.

Peace & Love,
INDEVOURS

FUN FACT: In November 2011 many International Development students attended a one-day symposium at the University of Waterloo, titled ‘Sustainable Development: Possibility or Pipe Dream.’  And Elizabeth Thompson, the Executive Coordinator for the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development (Rio + 20) and UN Assistant Secretary-General, was the keynote speaker!

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s