After Rio, it’s up to us to shape the Future We Want

While the UN and government representatives have tried their best to portray the rather timid political commitments in the best light possible, the outcomes of Rio+20 have been greeted with a wave of unveiled disappointment by NGOs and other civil society groups. Rio+20 brought together close to 30 000 participants from across the world, making it the most attended conference in the history of the UN. However, the agreed Rio+20 declaration has been heavily criticised for the lack of concrete new actions and timelines, and concerns were raised over the seemingly increased focus on sustainable growth instead of sustainable development in the text. 

As well as the declaration to renew commitments made in and since 1992, it was agreed to complement the existing Millennium Development Goals with a set of new dedicated goals for sustainable development to be established with the green economy understood principally as an important tool for achieving sustainable development. The rather meagre global political outcomes and lack of support for a more ambitious approach have led to a common consensus that future progress on sustainable development will largely depend on actions taken by individual countries, blocs (like the EU), companies and civil society networks. 

Fortunately, beyond the tortuous inter-governmental negotiations there is a wider interest in taking concrete actions towards a more sustainable future: hardly any companies and businesses were present in the first UN conference in 1992, but 20 years later they were a prominent part of the conference crowd, responsible for organising several of the over 500 side events. Over 50 countries and close to 90 private companies committed to the World Bank initiative on developing natural capital accounts. All and all, the Rio+20 process resulted in close to 700 voluntary commitments for sustainable development, mobilising more than 513 billion USD worth of funding from government, business and civil society groups, for a range of areas including energy, transport, green economy, disaster reduction, desertification, water, forests and agriculture.

The true key to Rio+20’s success will be whether such commitments will be realised on a sufficient scale, and whether ‘leading by example’ encourages others to follow suit and develop partnerships to help address the inter-linked environmental, social and economic challenges. The transition to a green economy in the context of sustainable development and poverty alleviation has not stalled at Rio, but neither has it been catalysed and accelerated sufficiently. What is needed is more conviction, more commitments and more implementation.

For further information on the Rio+20 outcomes (including the agreement on green economy), reactions and analysis, see IEEP’s briefing:

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