Monday, February 6, 2012

A Bold and Ambitious Vision for Rio+20

By Stakeholder Forum, Think to Sustain (February 3, 2012)

Negotiations were held last week (25th-27th January) on the Zero Draft of the outcome document to be put before leaders at the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development (UNCSD), also known as Rio+20, happening in Brazil 20-22 June 2012. This first round of negotiations have been extremely encouraging, with consensus emerging between developed and developing countries alike, as well as civil society, on the need for the greater urgency, ambition and detail required to use Rio+20 for the opportunity it presents.

Taking the lead in ensuring that the opportunity of Rio+20 comes to fruition is the United Nations Secretary-General’s High-Level Panel on Global Sustainability (GSP). The Panel, co-chaired by Tarja Halonen, President of Finland, and Jacob Zuma, Prime Minister of South Africa, and including many other renowned world figures in sustainable development and related fields, published its report at the negotiations, entitled, “Resilient People, Resilient Planet: A Future Worth Choosing”. The report maps out the extent of the challenges that we face, and outlines a plan of what needs to be done nationally and internationally to bring about a green and fair transformation to a sustainable future.

While the Panel’s report is meant to be used beyond Rio+20, it should be read as a blueprint of what could be achieved in Rio – and as a wake-up call for action. Government negotiators would do well to take all of the Panel’s 56 recommendations as a guide in their efforts to put more substance on the positive framework of the Zero Draft. The Panel’s vision ‘to eradicate poverty, reduce inequality and make growth inclusive, and production and consumption more sustainable, while combating climate change and respecting a range of other planetary boundaries’ is both inspiring and intellectually robust. To take the world closer to this vision, the Panel identified the need for concrete actions in three areas:

- empowering people to make sustainable choices;
- moving towards a sustainable economy; and
- strengthening institutional governance.

The Panel’s recommendations on issues such as economic and fiscal reform, poverty inequalities, the integration of science into decision-making, education, gender equality, and ecosystem health represent a full and rounded assessment of the issues and the solutions. But now all of us – scientists, civil society, business executives and most notably politicians – must show the fortitude and courage to realize this vision.

However, these changes must start with true leadership. Last week, it was told that 30 world leaders have already committed to attend Rio+20. There is still time for David Cameron to join these ranks and show national leadership in sustainable development. Almost 20 years ago, John Major showed just this leadership when he was one of the first world leaders to commit to the Rio process and then spearheaded the first national sustainable development strategy. Moreover, the Brazilian hosts have courteously put back the date of Rio+20 so as to allow Commonwealth leaders to attend Queen Elizabeth’s Diamond Jubilee first. The Panel’s call to action is clear, articulate and persuasive; it must now met by equally inspiring action from our political leaders to create the sustainable future we need.