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Heather Allen’s Blog

First Steps Down the Road to Rio: Earth Summit 2012

Heather Allen

Posted May 18, 2010

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This morning the room was packed at the United Nations in NY for the first preparatory meeting of the 2012 UN Conference on Sustainable Development. Planning for the 2012 Conference (also termed Earth Summit 2012 and Rio +20) comes at a time when there is even more critical need for action to protect the environment, reduce poverty and build equality.

The conference will also mark the 20th anniversary of the historic Rio Earth Summit which brought more than one hundred Presidents and Prime Ministers together to sign the Framework Convention on Climate Change, the Convention on Biological Diversity and to agree to Agenda 21, - a detailed blueprint for sustainable development.  It will also be forty years since the 1972 Stockholm Conference which initiated the United Nations Environment Program.

The outcomes of the Summits in 1972, 1992, and 2002 have shaped international dialogue and debate on how to balance the needs for economic development and environmental protection.

The Earth Summit in 2012 will be an important opportunity to assess the progress that has been made to move the world towards a more sustainable future and to create renewed political will to take action to build a new green global prosperity.

There is much to be done.   Today many of the speakers highlighted how much further we need to go.

UNEP’s Executive Director Achim Steiner said (paraphrased):

We need to be honest.  The balance sheet on progress is uneven and many of the challenges we faced decades ago have worsened. 

The newly released Global Biodiversity report shows things are getting worse.  The collapse of fisheries and food and water crises are deepening challenges.  The consequences of inaction to address these problems are harmful for both environmental sustainability and equity.

Yet the Earth Summit 2012 provides an opportunity.

The Green Economy  – is a further evolution of the sustainable development agenda –focused on social concerns.  When forests disappear and fisheries collapse it is not the corporations that suffer (they move on to the next endeavor).  Yet it is the poorest and most vulnerable dependent on natural resources who suffer.

We must be more efficient, pollute less, and equity must drive the sustainable development agenda.  We must take action on the ground.  The green economy is the place to make changes on the ground and affect real people’s lives. 

As the meetings here in the UN continue to define the goals of Earth Summit 2012, representatives of many countries are aptly reminding each other that we do not need to debate sustainability.  Countries have agreed to the vision of sustainability decades ago.  In fact here is a statement from Agenda 21 from 1992.   Its as relevant now as it was then:

A point has been reached in history when we must shape our actions throughout the world with a more prudent care for their environmental consequences. Through ignorance or indifference we can do massive and irreversible harm to the earthly environment on which our life and well being depend. Conversely, through fuller knowledge and wiser action, we can achieve for ourselves and our posterity a better life in an environment more in keeping with human needs and hopes.  [...]

To defend and improve the human environment for present and future generations has become an imperative goal for mankind-a goal to be pursued together with, and in harmony with, the established and fundamental goals of peace and of worldwide economic and social development.

What is needed between now and Earth Summit 2012 is action in every nation to move to a low-carbon green economy. NRDC is committed to engaging with the United States and other governments, with citizen groups, communities and corporations to make the Earth Summit 2012 a turning point in the quest for a more sustainable future.


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