By Open Forum for CSO Development Effectiveness blog
CSO colleagues active in the Rio+20 working group of the Beyond 2015 campaign share their insights on the importance of the event for civil society and how to get involved.
The United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development, or Rio+20, on the 20 - 22 June 2012, is a hugely important opportunity for global civil society. With just a month to go, many CSOs have been involved and many more are coming onboard as momentum builds. But will all this hard work deliver for the poorest people while securing environmental sustainability?
A once in a generation chance
The Rio Earth Summit of 1992 set an ambitious agenda for global change. 20 years later, future problems have become global crises; the world needs to think once again about ‘the future we want’, and the ideas and policies needed to deliver it. That’s the task for Rio+20: shaping the global agenda for years, if not decades, to come.
But building the future we want must be a participatory process, calling on the abilities and ambitions, skills and experiences of everyone. The environmental problems and social issues at the heart of the Rio+20 agenda often affect the poorest first and worst. Civil society can amplify the voice of the marginalised, neglected and powerless and the vehicle through which this silent majority can create change.
For these reasons, civil society has to engage strongly with Rio+20, even if the Rio process has been slow and painful. The Rio Principles recognise this unique role, and enshrine the right of global civil society to engage in these debates.
Building a green and fair economy
Rio+20’s discussions turn on two issues: the ‘green economy’ and the institutional framework for sustainable development. Civil society is best placed to bring the concerns of the poorest people, as well as ideas for action, to the debate, in critical partnership with the state and the private sector.
As Nanette Antequisa, of CSO ECOWEB in the Philippines, says, " It is very important for civil society to influence the Green Economy framework, otherwise it may become more centred on the economy and growth component than the green side. The Green Economy framework seems to be so centred on technologies that are largely controlled by big business than by the people ".
She continues: “ Without civil society, growth and environmental benefit of green technology might become the major concerns only of Green Economy while food security, sustainable livelihoods, safety and disaster-resiliency benefits from bio-diversity and natural resources might not be given much value. With the focus on green economy, it is worrying that important provisions of the conventions during the 1992 Earth Summit like the Convention on Biological Diversity may end up neglected or totally abandoned. Civil Society could put forward the people’s agenda on the Green Economy framework and may ensure better enforcement of the Rio Earth Summit conventions ."
The institutional framework for delivering sustainable development relies on building and maintaining political will at all levels, another vital function of civil society. “ Rio+20 is an important part of the process to renew political will for sustainable development and to highlight poverty and other global social ills in a world that has the capacity to respond effectively to them ,” argues Kimbowa Richard, of the Uganda Coalition for sustainable Development (UCSD).
While the outcomes of Rio+20 are being downplayed, civil society has the knowledge and experience to ensure what’s on the table really can work for the poorest. “ It’s an opportunity for making sustainable development and poverty reduction an inter-phasing agenda and an opportunity to put forward civil society’s perspective on the real challenges in achieving the MDGs and the proposed Sustainable Development Goals ,” Richard says.
Many of the most innovative, imaginative and ambitious policy solutions have come from civil society and this input has been essential to help move the discussion onwards. Many CSO are engaging through the Major Groups represented at Rio+20, or through networks such as Beyond 2015 which unite northern and southern CSOs with a common agenda.
These networks are using Rio+20 as an opportunity to raise sustainable development and the environment up the international agenda, and using it to catalyse energy and enthusiasm globally to ensure action for sustainable development continues for the long term.
“ It’s important for us to engage with civil society from around the world to have stronger influence on the outcomes so they’re more reflective of people’s agendas for sustainable living, and ensure that engagement with government delegations locks in progress ,” Antequisa says.
Just the beginning
Sustainable development has to be the concern of a new generation beyond Rio+20 itself. This means continuing the conversation locally to mobilise support for sustainable development, particularly highlighting the challenges and opportunities for both people and the environment. It means taking forward the debates about how development aid can and must create more impact towards sustainable development that reduce poverty and ensures environmental sustainability. And it means building a global platform to ensure sustainable development is the responsibility of all.