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Fulfilling the Rio+20 Promises: Reviewing Progress since the UN Conference on Sustainable Development

John Romano

Posted October 2, 2013

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NRDC has just launched a new report highlighting significant progress on many of the key “voluntary commitments” made at the June 2012 Rio+20 UN Conference on Sustainable Development. In the report, NRDC calls for recognition of these non-globally-negotiated commitments as the critical “means of implementation” in the current UN process to define the post-2015 development agenda and for the strengthening of transparency and accountability around these commitments.

Rio20cover.jpgWritten with Stakeholder Forum, our report, entitled “Fulfilling the Rio+20 Promises: Reviewing Progress since the UN Conference on Sustainable Development”, represents a first-of-its-kind civil society assessment of progress toward some of the key commitments made at Rio+20. The report features two sections: one written by Stakeholder Forum on progress toward key negotiated outcomes of the conference, and the other written by NRDC on some of the “cornerstone” voluntary commitments made at the conference.

At Rio+20, NRDC launched the Cloud of Commitments website to call attention to various commitment registries and platforms where Presidents, Prime Ministers, Mayors, CEOs, and civil society leaders made pledges to take action on a full range of sustainability challenges. Our report highlights the significance of the more than 700 voluntary commitments launched at the conference worth more than $500 billion. We found that the UN has made progress in creating a framework for these commitments, which now includes more than 1,400 commitments worth more than $630 billion — the equivalent of nearly 1% of yearly global GDP in total.

NRDC found that there has been encouraging progress made toward a number of the most significant voluntary commitments made at Rio+20, including:

Other Rio+20 commitments covered in the report include Bank of America’s promise to invest USD$50 billion in renewable energy, energy efficiency and energy access projects over ten years; the Tropical Forests Alliance 2020, public-private partnership with the goal of making member partner’s supply chains deforestation-neutral in less than a decade; and the U.S. commitment to increase access to maternal and child healthcare through President Obama’s Global Health Initiative.

As noted earlier, the UN has begun to develop a structure around its growing number of non-globally-negotiated initiatives to take action. In a July 2013 status report, the UN identified seven “Action Networks” to support the implementation and accountability for these commitments, including the UN Global Compact, Sustainable Energy for All, Every Woman Every Child, Sustainable Transport, Sustainable Cities, Small Island Developing States and the Higher Education Sustainability Initiative.

Yet the UN recognizes that civil society still has a critical role to play here. Nikhil Seth, Director of the UN Division for Sustainable Development, wrote in a forward to our report that:

“For the voluntary commitments and partnerships to maintain their long-term value to all stakeholders, we need accountability… Reviews by third parties such as the Natural Resource Defense Council (NRDC), who are not bound by political correctness, can enhance the public perception of accountability through bold and critical feedback of voluntary commitments and partnerships.”

We conclude our review with a call for intensifying the conversation about a new global architecture for the post-2015 development agenda. It is critical to begin to integrate these types of commitments and voluntary initiatives with globally-negotiated outcomes going forward. These commitments are the critical “means of implementation” essential to achieving results on the ground and stimulating real progress in meeting global development goals.


Download the full report here.

Press Release

Be sure to visit the Cloud of Commitments website and follow us on Facebook and Twitter for updates on our advocacy for even more action and accountability as the world deliberates the post-2015 development agenda.

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Switchboard is the staff blog of the Natural Resources Defense Council, the nation’s most effective environmental group. For more about our work, including in-depth policy documents, action alerts and ways you can contribute, visit

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