By Luisa Cristini, PhD. University of Hawaii at Manoa.
In a month, on 20-22 June 2012, the countries of the United Nations (UN) will gather at Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, for the Conference on Sustainable Development. The conference is a historic opportunity to define a safer, cleaner, greener and more prosperous future for all the people living the Planet. The meeting is taking place 20 years after the 1992 Earth Summit, in Rio as well, where the member states first adopted a development agenda (Agenda 21) to rethink economic growth, advance social equity and ensure environmental protection.
Indeed, economic development, social development and environmental protection are the three pillars upon which long-term global sustainable development can be built. Sustainable development meets the needs of the present without compromising the possibility of future generations to meet their own needs.
Two main themes will be discussed by the thousands of participants from governments, non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and private sector:
(a) a green economy in the context of sustainable development and poverty eradication, i.e., how can we build a green economy to achieve sustainable development and lift people out of poverty;
(b) the institutional framework of sustainable development, i.e., how to improve the international coordination of sustainable development.
In the context of theme (a), sustainable development emphasizes strong economic performance as well as intragenerational and intergenerational equity, that is, equity among people of the same generation and of different generations. Sustainable development rests on integration and a balanced consideration of social, economic and environmental goals and objectives in both public and private decision-making. The concept of green economy focuses primarily on the intersection between environment and economy.
The discussion around theme (b) aims at fostering coherence of implementation, initiatives and partnerships among the nations towards global sustainable development. Progress in the implementation of Agenda 21 and in the implementation of the commitments will be examined.
Seven priority areas have been identified as in need of particular attention and will be considered in the meeting:
(1) Jobs. Economic action and social policies to create gainful employment are critical for social cohesion and stability. It’s also crucial that work is geared to the needs of the natural environment. “Green jobs” are positions in agriculture, industry, services and administration that contribute to preserving or restoring the quality of the environment.
(2) Energy. Energy is central to nearly every major challenge and opportunity the world faces today. Sustainable energy is needed for strengthening economies, protecting ecosystems and achieving equity.
(3) Cities. Many challenges exist to maintaining cities in a way that continues to create jobs and prosperity while not straining land and resources. Common city challenges include congestion, lack of funds to provide basic services, a shortage of adequate housing and declining infrastructure.
(4) Food. Agriculture, forestry and fisheries can provide nutritious food for all and generate decent incomes, while supporting people-centered rural development and protecting the environment. But right now, our soils, freshwater, oceans, forests and biodiversity are being rapidly degraded. Climate change is putting even more pressure on the resources we depend on.
(5) Water. Due to bad economics or poor infrastructure, every year millions of people, most of them children, die from diseases associated with inadequate water supply, sanitation and hygiene. Water scarcity, poor water quality and inadequate sanitation negatively impact food security, livelihood choices and educational opportunities for poor families across the world. Drought afflicts some of the world’s poorest countries, worsening hunger and malnutrition.
(6) Oceans. The oceans drive global systems that make the Earth habitable for humankind. Careful management of this essential global resource in order to decrease human-induced pressures on the marine ecosystem is a key feature of a sustainable future.
(7) Disasters. Disasters caused by earthquakes, floods, droughts, hurricanes, tsunamis and more can have devastating impacts on people, environments and economies. But resilience, i.e., the ability of people and places to withstand these impacts and recover quickly, remains possible. Resilience depends on the choices we make relating to how we grow our food, where and how we build our homes, how our financial system works, what we teach in schools and more.
During Rio+20, participants are expected to adopt clear and focused practical measures for implementing sustainable development, based on the examples of success seen over the last 20 years. A more sustainable future is possible and is in our hands.
Rio+20, the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development: http://www.uncsd2012.org/rio20/index.html