Rio+20 must succeed

Inclusive Economy04 Jul 2011Evert-jan Quak

Today, less than one year ahead of the Rio+20 Earth Summit, 13 eminent international experts on sustainable development governance from seven countries released a joint statement entitled: ‘Now is the Time! Why Rio+20 must succeed’.

The joint statement is an explicit call to seize the historic opportunity of the Rio+20 UN Conference on Sustainable Development that will take place on 4-6 June 2012. The key messages from the experts are:

  • World leaders should rise to the occasion and agree upon an ambitious green economy strategy that gives equal emphasis to sustainable development and poverty eradication.
  • The UN require stronger authority and better instruments if they are to tap their full potential in advancing sustainable development.
  • The UN need to improve their performance on sustainable development, whether by establishing an organizational ‘umbrella’ for the UN’s environmental and sustainable development policies or by creating a UN specialised agency that builds on the UN Environment Programme (UNEP).
  • Governments are called to prioritise the Rio+20 conference to brace their societies for a transition to a green economy in the context of their respective country’s particular situation, and to finally enable the UN to act as a global advocate for sustainable development.

Where are we now on the long road to Rio? At present, governments are in the process of drafting an outcome document for Rio+20. For example, last week I attended the start of the Dutch Platform Rio+20 that brings together specialists to give input to the Dutch government in preparation of their draft outcome document. At the meeting there was a positive feeling that we’ve achieved a lot during the past twenty years on environmental and sustainability governance since the Rio summit in 1992: for example, the increasing role of civil society and multi-stakeholder initiatives that have flourished all around the world.

I understand that during the launch of such a platform the emphasis is on the good news, but it felt strange that the messages from the Dutch side were all positive notes and that the critical notes came from the summit organizer Brazil, by their ambassador in the Netherlands José Artur Denot Medeiros.

He also stated that significant results had been realised in twenty years, but added that lots of promises had never been delivered. Furthermore, he stated that developed and developing countries are a long way away from working out a common agenda for the summit. For the ones who want to know more about the history of the United Nation’s Earth Summits I would recommend the background article ‘Keeping the sustainable development flame alive‘ written by Karoline Van Den Brande, Sander Happaerts and Sofie Bouteligier on the website of The Broker. They stress, for example, that it was the developing countries that insisted on the need for a new Earth Summit and not the Western countries. This brings me to the question: are we in the West more positive on sustainable development than developing countries now that we have outsourced our most polluting industries to the developing world?

One year ahead of the important Earth Summit the intergovernmental run-up hardly warrants great expectations. Therefore it was the right moment for the 13 experts to make their statement public. A business-as-usual-approach to ‘global summitry’ isn’t going to help the global economy to become a really sustainable and inclusive one. Now is the moment to act. That was the key message of Denot Medeiros and now also of the joint statement of the 13 international experts. The good news in their message is: ‘It is now or never also means that it is not too late – yet!’