Rio+20 Opens Door for Green Economy
Dr. Mohamed Abdel Raouf
Research Fellow Environment Research Program Gulf Research Center
In June 2012, the Rio+20 UN Conference on Sustainable Development took place in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil 20 years after the 1992 Earth Summit in Rio, and 40 years after the Stockholm Conference on the Human Environment. The world of 2012 is completely different and faces many challenges such as increasing population, the global financial crisis, energy crisis, climate change, and water shortage.
World leaders, government officials, experts, international and regional organizations, civil society and major groups (such as NGOs, women, youth, farmers, indigenous people, and the science and technology community) gathered in Rio again, to take stock of what was agreed upon in that city 20 years ago and draw the way forward for the years ahead.
The Rio+20 Summit resulted in a final document entitled “The Future We Want” which was adopted by the summit. Unfortunately, this document contains hardly any new commitment by governments. It consists of 253 paragraphs of statements, affirmations, and appeals that aim to lay the groundwork for a green economy as well as Sustainable Development Goals that will replace the UN’s Millennium Development Goals from 2015.
While the document contains many reasonable statements of consensus, it is neither transformational nor visionary. It contains no clear measurable goals or targets, no timelines, and no c lear indication of how the transition to a green economy will be funded. In short, the delegates missed a once-in-a-generation chance to move towards a sustainable path in order to achieve a real victory for humanity.
This proves that the world leaders are not capable of getting to any agreement on world environmental issues or taking practical steps to implement a new paradigm of economy. They are defending national interests rather than working together on a common global agenda and they are locked in the old ways of doing things. These ways have proved to be unsustainable and inequitable and have resulted in recent years in economic crises in addition to driving people – from the Arab world to Wall Street – into the streets to protest. This also means that the top-down approach to solving the world s problems is no longer an option.
Arising from the failure of the political leadership, the anger and frustration of many environmentalists must be turned into action. In fact, our hope is in people. People everywhere have to take responsibility and mobilize themselves. People can make sure that the world we pass on to our children and grandchildren is healthy, equi table, prosperous, and sustainable.
Happily, the lack of political leadership was countered by the very innovative ideas, enthusiasm and determination of civil society and major groups – from youth, women, trade unions, and indigenous people, to the science and technology community and others.
It is worth mentioning that while government delegations are calling the text a significant achievement, until now more than 2,000 NGOs, institutions, and individuals have signed a petition calling it “The Future We Do Not Want” – citing, among others, the failure to remove fossil fuel subsidies and failure to protect oceans.
To be fair, the picture is not all that dark. Some progress has been achieved and the document provides a firm foundation for social, economic and environmental well-being. But it is now our responsibility to build on it. One of the major breakthroughs of the summit is the admission that a green economy can be used as a tool to achieve sustainable development. This is a step forward. A year ago, many governments were suspicious of the concept. Now that the idea of a green economy as a tool for sustainable development has been accepted, details such as the challenges of a green economy, how to green an economy, and how to finance the transition towards a green economy are left for future talks and for every country to explore.
Rio+20 has affirmed fundamental principles and put us on the first step in a new direction. In that context, the document calls for a wide range of actions. These include:
– Beginning the process to establish Sustainable Development Goals. These will be universal and replace the UN’s Millennium Development Goals from 2015 onwards. Details remain to be determined in future talks, a process that is likely to be long. Many challenges lie ahead, but this is one of the little victories of Rio+20;
– An agreement to improve the “Institutional Framework for Sustainable Development.” This will involve restructuring some of the internal bureaucracy in the UN’s Economic and Social Council; phasing out the commission of sustainable development; strengthening the UN Environment Programme, establishing new procedures for budgeting and a decision to establish a “universal intergovernmental high-level political forum” that could undertake a number of convening activities;
– Taking steps to go beyond gross domestic product (beyond GDP or green GDP) to assess the well-being of a country;
– Promoting corporate sustainability reporting measures;
– Developing a strategy for sustainable development financing;
– Adopting a framework for tackling sustainable consumption and production. It also focuses on improving gender equality, recognizing the importance of voluntary commitments on sustainable development, and stressing the need to engage civil society and incorporate science into policy.
In all cases, only after some years will we be in a position to really judge if the outcome was a success or failure. If the current momentum is used positively and we manage to build upon what we have in our hands and put the green economy and governance on the right path, it can definitely be a success. Otherwise, if the correct procedures, actions and policies are not adopted, it might turn into a total failure.