Rio+20 – A Time To Move Forward
Guest blog by Deirdre Carolan
In our world over one billion people live in extreme poverty. One sixth of the population is undernourished. The frequency and scale of weather related disasters is increasing. Our natural resources are being pushed to their limits. In Ireland, what we saw as progress is now failing around us. We have high unemployment, severe budget cuts and tax hikes. Across the country, expensive property sits idle.
We have flaws, fundamental flaws in our world. The current economic system is just not working. In this model we place values in GNP. The economy is prioritised over other aspects of life. Success as profit is socially and environmentally unsustainable. With the current global financial crisis, it’s even economically unsupportable. Where is well-being? Where is equality? Where is longevity? Let’s be honest, we need somewhere else to go.
This June presents an opportunity to address this. World leaders, representatives of governments, the private sector and civil society organisations will come together at the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development. Also known as Rio+20, held in the Brazilian city twenty years after the 1992 Earth Summit, where for the first time, environmental and development issues were highlighted at an international level.
Re-affirming global commitment to Sustainable Development
Central to this year’s conference is securing renewed political commitment to international agreements on sustainable development, made at and since 1992. Progress that has been made so far and gaps in implementing these commitments will be examined. The conference will also address new challenges that exist in our world; the current economic, energy and food crises.
The way forward, presented at Rio+20, is “the green economy”. This is seen as an economy that is low in carbon dioxide output, resource efficient and socially inclusive. A green economy however, with a focus on linking economic growth and environmental responsibilities, is not a significant departure from our current economic model. In itself, a green economy does not take into consideration the core principles of sustainable development, such as human well-being and social equity. It’s simply not enough.
What is crucially needed is a sustainable development model that respects not just environmental boundaries, but also promotes social justice, reduces poverty and inequality, encourages inclusive and participatory decision-making and is based on clear principles and mechanisms for accountability.
Our world is interconnected. The environment, economy and society, in what we call the first and the third worlds are not isolated. We can’t prioritise success one over the others. We need a model that grasps this. Surely it’s time for an economy that can secure growth and development, while improving human well-being, tackling poverty and inequality. One that functions within the limits of the planet, with a fair distribution of resources among all countries and social groups- and between men and women. We need our progress indicators to value global economic, environmental and social sustainability. Basically, development that actually is sustainable.
It’s essential that what’s on the table in June adequately reflects the urgency of the issues
Rio+20 is an opportunity to secure political commitment to dealing with environmental and development challenges. However, there is a real need to strengthen the urgency towards addressing these issues. The acknowledgement that there are limitations in the use of the Earth’s resources needs to feature centrally at the conference and in the outcome document. Key in this is the fact that urgent action must be taken to end inequality and to protect those in extreme poverty. As the world’s most vulnerable, these are the people to feel the severest impact of unsustainable development, yet are those that have contributed the least to its cause.
Given this urgency, one of the most crucial contributions of Rio+20 is a strengthening of the institutional framework for sustainable development. As it stands international coordination is weak. Global initiatives on interlinking areas such as climate change, biodiversity or food and nutrition, have all operated separately. While there is much cross over, there has not been a coordinated, joined up approach across all UN agencies and indeed with international financial institutions. It is imperative that the UN itself integrates sustainable development as a key element of its overarching framework and mainstreams it throughout all programmes. Targets decided at Rio+20 should also be incorporated into regional, national and sub-national plans and policy decisions. At national levels, governments must provide the direction and resources required to implement these. Critical in this is active participation and dialogue with civil society at all levels. Public ownership, and the encouragement of this through interest, awareness and participation is also key.
A risk does exist that commitments made at Rio+20 will remain empty promises without effective monitoring and accountability. It is essential to enhance international governance and establish adequate mechanisms for ensuring the implementation of agreed commitments. The formation of a Sustainable Development Council, one of the proposals at the conference, could, among other mandates, serve in a much needed progress monitoring capacity.
As Rio+20 is a chance to harness political will, it needs to result in an achievable agreed outcome document that serves as a set of actions on sustainable development. In this outcome, there should be a specific set of measurable goals, a clear pathway for implementation and an agreed time-line for achieving targets. With the potential on the table to reach a set of Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), the outcome has also the prospect to contribute to formulating a post 2015 framework. These SDGs offer the possibility for redefining and building on the experience of the Millennium Development Goals, while taking imperative action towards economic, social and environmental sustainability.
Rio+20 is an opportunity
Rio+20 is an opportunity to secure political commitment on where we want to go. It’s a chance to improve our institutional framework and implement sustainable policies at local, national and international levels. We can reform our structures to centre on well-being and values that mean so much more than financial profit. The conference can succeed if it adequately addresses these issues.
If so, we then have the possibility this June to pave the way for a world – and for an Ireland- that’s more equal, just and sustainable. To present ourselves with a progressive and indeed brighter future. If we have learnt anything from the days of our boom, it’s that measuring success by economic profit is not progress. And it’s certainly not here for the long haul.
- Dóchas submission to the Dept. of Environment on Rio+20 (Sept. 2011)
- Trade, Growth and Development (blog)
- Can the world feed 7 billion people? (blog)
- The Changes we Need for the Future we Want (CIDSE, May 2012)
- People & Planet First – Alternative ideas about Development (CIDSE, 2011)
Entry filed under: MDGs. Tags: 1992, Climate change, Development Effectiveness, Floods, Green Economy, Irish Aid, Irish NGOs, Overseas aid, policy coherence, Political Commitment, Rio, Rio+20, Smart Aid, Sustainable Development, UN, United Nations.