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Rio+20 Summit – Any Outcomes?


Rio+20, also known as The United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development (UNCSD), Rio 2012 or Earth Summit 2012 was the third international conference on sustainable development. It was hosted in Rio de Janeiro from 13 to 22 June 2012. It took place twenty years after the 1992 summit held in the same city, and ten years after the 2002 World Summit on Sustainable Development (WSSD) in Johannesburg.

The conference had three main objectives:

  • Getting renewed political commitment for sustainable development
  • Assessing the progress and implementation gaps in meeting previous commitments.
  • Addressing new and emerging challenges.

The primary result of the conference was the document, ‘The Future We Want’. The heads of state of the 192 governments present renewed their commitment to sustainable development. The document appears to largely reconfirm previous action plans such as Agenda 21, with few new initiatives.

Some of the more interesting outcomes include:

  • Support for the development of Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), a set of measurable targets aimed at promoting sustainable development globally. It is expected that the SDGs will eventually blend with the current Millennium Development Goals. However it should be noted that the SDGs have yet to be agreed on and developed.
  • The UN Environment Programme (UNEP) will be the leading global environmental authority with increased financial resources coupled with the strengthening of its links with other UN bodies.
  • There was agreement to explore alternatives to GDP as a measure of wealth which would take environmental and social factors into account.
  • An urgent need to return ocean stocks to sustainable levels by implementing science based management plans.
  • A recognition that people are at the centre of sustainable development.
  • A statement of deep concern that one in five people on the planet still live in extreme poverty and that one in seven is undernourished.
  • Inclusion of a clear reference to the importance of food security and nutrition.
  • A reiteration of the Polluter Pays Principle. In other words richer countries that caused most of the environmental damage should pay most of the remediation costs.

One of the major flaws of the summit was a general lack of recognition that current standards of consumption are unsustainable.

When richer countries talk about sustainable development, they focus mainly on environmental protection, pushing for specific targets for air, water, resource use, energy etc. Poorer countries rightly want to focus on poverty reduction, keeping people at the centre of their vision for sustainability.

So in summary the outcomes from Rio+20 have focused on recognising issues to be addressed, but global agreement on targets, or even on what sustainability really means, appears to be some way off. So for the foreseeable future it looks like the sustainability agenda in Ireland will be driven at EU level, with of course polite references to what happened in Rio this year.

To review the sustainability of your organization contact Gerard Kelly on 058-51155.