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Looking ahead

March 31, 2012

No legally binding agreements are expected to come out of Rio+20 but it is expected to pave the way for future agreements, writes Abbas Reza

We need sustainable development for this planet to survive for our future generations—of that there is no doubt. How to get there is an entirely different question. A step in the right direction is the RIO+20 United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development (UNCSD). This conference, to be held in Rio de Janiero, Brazil in June 2012, is going to provide an opportunity to define the path leading to sustainable development.

This conference, organised by the UN, is designed to bring together governments, international institutions and various other groups to “agree on a range of smart measures that can reduce poverty while promoting decent jobs, clean energy and a more sustainable and fair use of resources.”

According to the Brundtland Commission (1987) sustainable development is “development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.”

In December 2009 the UN General Assembly adopted a resolution (A/RES/64/236) agreeing to hold the UNCSD in 2012. This conference follows 20 years after the 1992 Earth Summit inRio (hence the Rio+20 moniker) where countries agreed on blueprints to eradicate poverty and environmental protection amongst others. That conference established the Climate Change Convention (UNFCCC), the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) and Agenda 21. Critics agree that many of the fundamental goals of Rio 1992 like poverty eradication and environmental protection have not been realised.According to the official conference website,Rio+20 has two main themes: 1) Green economy in the context of sustainable development and poverty eradication. 2) Institutional framework for sustainable development. The conference is also being held to renew some key agreements, reassess the progress of previous efforts and get some momentum going on key issues.

No legally binding agreements are expected to come out of this summit but it is expected to pave the way for future agreements. Achim Steiner, the Executive Director of UN Environment Programme answers some questions on the official website that give us an insight as to what to expect from Rio+20.

The organisers of the conference and the participants are aware of the ground realities of the economic times we live in and are working from within the system and with the system to bring about change. Steiner in his answers admits that the way the world economy works, the system would rather have a forest fire that destroys a whole system so that emergency services can be employed and homes built. The conference is a chance to change this way of thinking and start a green economic movement.

The optimism of Steiner and co. is slightly warranted based on several successes that they cite on their website. For instance, in Kenya green projects for renewable energy based on innovative finance mechanisms have not only done well for the environment but also created jobs that have helped towards eradicating poverty in that country. There are several such projects cited in the conference brochure that highlight successes around the world.

People and corporations realise the need for addressing sustainable development is paramount and if beneficial for the survival of our planet. In the words of the Secretary-General of the Rio+20 conference: “Sustainable development is not an option! It is the only path that allows all of humanity to share a decent life on this, one planet. Rio+20 give’s our generation the opportunity to choose this path.”