RIO+20 Earth Summit Summary
Twenty years after the historic first Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro, world leaders, government representatives, NGOs, business leaders, environmental specialists and academics gathered once more for the Rio+20 United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development in order to discuss current environmental and economic issues.
At the 2012 Rio+20 Summit, heads of state and government from 191 countries participated in discussions addressing climate change and sustainable development. Around 12,000 delegates contributed to a total number of 45,381 summit participants. 592 world leaders and representatives were present, and were represented by 57 Heads of State and 31 Prime Ministers. However, heads of government from the most influential countries were absent. The summit in Rio lacked the UK and German prime ministers and the president of the US. Unlike the summit two decades earlier, this time business sat at the table willing to participate in the discussions.
Two decades after the initial Rio+20 meeting the environmental problems addressed are still valid. During the Rio+20 Conference two main topics dominated:
1) The transition to a green economy as a key to achieve sustainable development and poverty eradication and;
2) Working towards strengthening the institutional framework for sustainable development on all levels: local, regional, national and global.
The seven most debated themes during the summit were: green job creation, sustainable land use in order to ensure food security, clean energy, sustainable cities, clean water access, marine life protection and disaster-resilience. Due to the current economic situation the conference focused on the economic aspect of environmental protection leaving less time for the climate change issue.
The most important and discussed document was The Future we Want, which was debated and eventually agreed on by Member States. The document promotes corporate sustainability, supports sustainable development on all levels, encourages engaging stakeholders, and stresses the importance of sustainable development in the context of poverty eradication. Delegates agreed to accept new Sustainability Development Goals (SDG) which will replace existing Millennium Development Goals (MDG). The SDG aims to be a logical continuation of the MDG and will replace the existing system after 2015. Unlike the MDG mechanism, SDG addresses holistically social, economic and environmental aspects of sustainable development in order to eradicate poverty but with particular stress on protection of resources and the importance of the environment.
The Future we Want text of the Rio+20 Outcomes Document became the conference's main formal declaration. The paper stresses the growing demand for energy and highlighted the importance of clean energy development. Also discussed in Rio was the Sustainable Energy for All initiative, which was launched in September 2011 and aims to engage the private sector to invest in clean energy to tackle world poverty. The initiative project highlights three main objectives, which need to be achieved by 2030:
- To provide energy access to all
- To double global energy efficiency
- To double the share of renewable energy in the global energy mix
During the summit the UN Global Compact and the Sustainable Energy for All initiatives have received over 700 voluntary commitments available on-line, including private and public sector, governments and NGOs, to achieve sustainable development. Of these more than 150 commitments were submitted via Sustainable Energy for All. Over $500 billion were pledged at Rio by governments, major groups and all other organisations, including civil societies and business to achieve sustainable development.
Moreover, fourteen countries made voluntary commitments via Sustainable Energy for All, of which half were received by the government of Brazil. This included investment of $235 billion US dollars in renewable energy over the next ten years. Other commitments included projects such as planting 100 million trees by 2017.
The UK was represented in Rio de Janeiro by Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg. The UK announced that all UK businesses listed on the London Stock Exchange are required to submit a mandatory report on their level of greenhouse gas emissions. The regulations will come into force from April 2013. The UK is the first country to introduce obligatory reporting for levels of greenhouse gas emissions disclosed in annual reports. The new regulations will help companies to deal with and to reduce emissions as well as reducing future costs due to energy efficiency and encouraging businesses to reduce their carbon footprint. The decision was welcomed by the Carbon Disclosure Project (CDP), the not-for-profit organisation which works with 655 investors to drive greenhouse gas reduction and sustainable water use by business and cities. According to research made by DEFRA, the majority of businesses welcomed mandatory carbon reporting.
Although the Rio +20 on Sustainable Development Conference did not result in any significant agreements or set targets for pressing issues such as climate change, food security and water scarcity, there are some positive outcomes from the meeting. Primarily, world leaders agreed on The Future we Want text and an outcome document has been signed. Secondly, the protection of the environment is perceived in a wider dimension where whilst world poverty elimination is deemed the most important issue, there is a more holistic approach with social, economical and environmental aspects taken into account in order to achieve sustainable development. Moreover, the importance of a green economy has been recognised and acknowledged as significant by the business community.
Climate Connect. (2012) Rio20+ Summit 2012, Summary Note
Green Alliance. (2012) Rio+20: Where it should lead. Green Alliance publication
Guardian. (2012) http://www.climatespectator.com.au/commentary/forget-rio-green-boom-looming (Accessed on 29 June, 2012)
The Future We Want. Rio+20 Corporate Sustainability Forum 15-18 June 2012.(2012) A report produced by Oxford Analytica for the United Nations Global Compact.
Defra.(2012) SD in Government.(online) Available from: http://sd.defra.gov.uk/2012/06/compulsory-greenhouse-gas-emissions-reporting-for-listed-businesses/ (Accessed 1st July, 2012).
Rio+20 United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development (online) Available from: http://www.uncsd2012.org/objectiveandthemes.html (Accessed 29th June, 2012).