This year, 20 years after the first Earth Summit of the United Nations (UN), the international community is meeting again in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil – from June 20 to 22 – for a major conference focusing on sustainable development.
The Rio+20 conference is meant to further develop the issues and ideas of the 1992 Earth Summit. Many of the results that were achieved then are now seen as milestones of sustainability: the Framework Convention on Climate Change, the Convention on Biological Diversity, the Convention to Combat Desertification and the developmental action programme of Agenda 21, all of which are considered ground-breaking.
After the Rio+5 and Rio+10 conferences, the third UN follow-up conference is to give new impetus to the debate and the search for solutions to the urgent questions of our time: How much growth can the earth tolerate? How can the problem of hunger be solved in a world of surplus? How can we realise the sustainable and fair management of natural resources?
Heads of State and government from all over the world will be deliberating at the highest level on these and other questions about our global future.
The subject matter of the Rio+20 summit has already been decided. The UN General Assembly has identified three key areas: the development of a greener economy, the fight against poverty and the institutional framework for sustainable development. This will involve integrating the principle into the political systems of the UN member States and at international level.
Further, Rio+20 will assess the extent to which Agenda 21 has been put into practice and what it has achieved.
German Federal Minister Norbert Röttgen strongly believes that the UN conference must become another mile- stone. “Rio 2012 will have to set standards for the global path towards a sustainable economy. The conference will only be a success if it manages to improve the structure of international cooperation.”
UN Environment Programme executive director Achim Steiner adds: “The role of industry is key. Many people do not realise that, on average, worldwide, the public sector is responsible for roughly only one-fifth of the economy; the [rest] is managed by the private sector.”
To those who say that the market will put most of the problems right, Steiner retorts: “We don’t want to replace the market in some way. We don’t want a centralised system of State planning. We do, however, very much have a responsibility to intervene and take corrective action where the market doesn’t pass on the true costs to consumers – for example, the price of overfishing or high carbon dioxide emissions.
“My optimism about the success of sustainable policy comes from the diversity of projects and initiatives worldwide and I would like to mention some examples. There are the green economy strate- gies passed by South Africa’s President Jacob Zuma or the climate policy measures taken by the Mexican government in the last three to four years, for example, in the field of reforestation.
“Another example is India, where the connection between the social and ecological dimensions is becoming clear and the Rural Employment Guarantee Act is guaranteeing work for the poorest of the poor – 80% of this work serves to preserve the ecosystem. Three years ago, Kenya anchored a national energy policy in law that has led to the country achieving the expansion of the electricity supply entirely with renewable energies.”