Rio+20: The UN Conference on Sustainable Development

Updated On: Jun 19, 2012

On the eve of the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development, The "Rio+20" conference, which will meet between 20-22 June, prospects for real progress lags as countries face divergent priorities, while the role of the private sector increases.

A vision of a shared future

The Rio+20 conference will bring together world leaders, along with participants from governments, the private sector, NGOs, and other groups to discuss issues of poverty, social equity, and environmental protection. It marks the 20th anniversary of the 1992 United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED) in Rio de Janeiro, and the 10th anniversary of the 2002 World Summit on Sustainable Development (WSSD) in Johannesberg.

While the global economic system is concerned with the European financial crisis, the upcoming US elections, and the divide between rich and poor countries, the Rio+20 conference gives states the opportunity and obligation to consider longer term issues that they are all facing. The conference will focus on the two themes of a green economy in the context of sustainable development poverty eradication and the institutional framework for sustainable development.

Civil dialogue in preparation for the conference began in November 2011, with the launch of a campaign called “The Future We Want” by the United Nations Secretary-General and the Rio+20 Secretary. The campaign was designed to engage citizens around the world in imagining how societies can build a future based on prosperity, equity and improved quality of life, while respecting the environment and the planet’s ecological systems.

Different visions for the conference

The proposed outcome of the conference is the adoption of a series of universal sustainable development goals (SDGs), rather than the creation of legally binding treaties. The purpose of the SDGs is to address the issues of poverty eradication, environmental protection and sustainable consumption and production, in complement to the UN’s Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).

However, the states attending the conference are already facing challenges, as the pre-conference negotiations have been stalled by disagreements over the direction of the conference.

Divisions between developed and developing countries are centered on issues of burden sharing, monitoring, and whether to focus on environmental protection or poverty alleviation. Furthermore, any measures addressing burden sharing and monitoring carry a heavy infrastructure and administration requirement that would have to be addressed by the conference.

The Asia Pacific Rio+20 declaration decries the role of corporations in perpetuating practices damaging to people and the environment as well as the role of powerful states in attempting to lessen state responsibility in human rights obligations and norms.

The increasing role of the private sector

The debate over the role of the private sector continued in the pre-conference negotiations, as the question of corporate sustainability was raised. States emphasized the importance of reporting and the development of best practices and capacity building to support the efforts of the public sector.

The role of the private sector was also highlighted by a statement made by a group of business leaders, NGOs, trade unions and scientific groups, calling themselves the Friends of Rio. The group called on states to envision collaboration with businesses and civil society to share costs and risks. The group also expressed its strong support for the SDGs, but emphasized the importance of clear targets, timelines and indicators.

Official Website: The Future We Want [The Future We Want, 2012]

Report: Asia Pacific Rio+20 declaration [June 14 2012]

Report: Rio+20: The Earth Summit diaries [The Guardian, June 18 2012]

Report: Rio+20: 'Extraordinary' coalition warns government can't go it alone [The Guardian, June 18 2012]

Report: Sustainable Development Goals [Earth Summit, 2012]

Report: About the Rio+20 Conference [UNCSD, 2011]

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