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Reflections on the Race to Rio: Crowdsourcing Sustainability at Earth Summit 2012

Jacob Scherr

Posted May 14, 2012

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It is easy to feel depressed about the state of the Rio+20 preparations after the recent two weeks of “informal informal” negotiations at the United Nations in New York. The governments managed to reach agreement on less than two dozen paragraphs and have agreed to return for another week of talks at the end of May to tackle the remaining 400. The likelihood of 190+ governments agreeing to anything of great ambition for Rio appears to be very small.    

Yet we believe that this Earth Summit can be a success – indeed historic and transformative. But first we need to recognize that it is impossible to negotiate – let alone implement - a single business plan for the entire planet. We have tried that approach before in Rio, Johannesburg, Copenhagen, and elsewhere. We need instead to create new platforms to encourage and facilitate governments and stakeholders to take actions to meet the numerous globally-negotiated goals and to hold them accountable for their commitments. In other words, we need to crowdsource sustainability.

crowdsourcing sustainability.png

During the Rio+20 preparatory meetings, we were encouraged by the increased discussion among governments and civil society of this new approach to global summitry. Gustavo de Fonseca of the GEF recently blogged that “the dream for Rio – ‘The Future We Want’ – will most likely emerge from the realization that groups of committed people, organizations, businesses and states can indeed make a difference in the time frame that the planet and our society require,” but not from another conference text.  My colleague Michael Davidson calls it the “potluck” approach, which involves all the stakeholders bringing something worthwhile to the party and not trying to mix it up all into one dish.  Finally, an environmental reporter with fresh eyes contrasted the futility of the negotiations with the potential of “individual countries, communities, companies, and nonprofit organizations” taking concrete actions to move us towards a more sustainable future.

Even with crowdsourcing, we still need leadership and we hope that each and every president and prime minister comes to Rio with commitments to concrete actions. You can help us track their plans for Rio+20 at Visit our blog and follow us on Twitter for more frequent updates.

NRDC Views

You Can't Make Sushi With Lasagna: A Potluck Approach to the Rio+20 Earth Summit - If you are trying to come up with the perfect recipe for a summer solstice party you're hosting with 193 friends, the best way is to do a potluck of sustainable development commitments.

The World is Watching: Will G20 Countries Lead this June at the Earth Summit? - This June, we need to turn pledges made by heads of G20 to phase out environmentally harmful subsidies into real actions starting at the G20 summit in Los Cabos, Mexico, and continuing through to the Rio+20.

Global Highlights

Political Will and Urgency for Action

Where the Rio Action Is: Behind the Earth Summit Bureaucracy - It may be that the best we can hope for from the Earth Summit is a broad set of goals for building a more sustainable world. The actual doing will fall to individual countries, communities, companies, and nonprofit organizations long after all the bracketing is finished. (Grist)

Why Rio Will Succeed – Fonseca of the GEF believe that the gathering could be one of the most important and forward-looking environmental conferences yet. And ‘the Future We Want’ – will most likely emerge from the groups of committed people, organizations, businesses and states. (The GEF Greenline)

The Future We Want (But Won't Get Unless You Pull Your Socks Up!) - Kelly Rigg asks if the presidents, PMs, Kings and Queens of the world are up for the task to step outside their national mindset and collectively figure out how to safeguard the planet and all its inhabitants. (Huffington Post)

Hollande, Putin to Attend Rio+20 - French President-elect Francois Hollande and his recently-inaugurated Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin informed Brazil that they will attend next month's Rio Summit. (AFP)

Environmentalism Has Failed - Twenty years after the Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro, environmental protection is seen as little more than an impediment to economic expansion, declares famous environmentalist David Suzuki. (The Mark)

Political Shift Will Make or Break Rio+20 Summit - “What is happening in the negotiations reflects what is happening in geopolitics in general.” (Reuters)

High Noon for the Oceans – Showdown in Brazil - Many scientific studies point to all of today’s commercial fisheries being wiped out by 2048 if business-as-usual continues. Many believe Rio+20 is the last chance to turn the tide. (Ecology Global Network)

Green Economy

Energy Access Entrepreneurs Seek $500 Million from World Bank at Rio +20 - Twenty of the world’s leading off-grid clean energy entrepreneurs sent a letter to World Bank requesting $500 million financial commitments to help deliver on the world’s energy access goals. (Sierra Club)

A Green Economy without Poverty - Rio+20 will be an opportunity to discuss national sustainable development models that take an integrated approach to economic growth, social inclusion and environmental protection at the highest level, writes Brazilian Minister of Foreign Affairs. (China Daily)

'Business As Usual' Is the Wrong Economic Advice for the Global South - Inclusive growth in developing countries will depend on creating domestic demand and providing a favourable investment climate. (Guardian)

Innovative Approaches to Sustainable Development

New Rio+20 Facebook Video Game- You Are the New Superhero - You have just been appointed Chief Economist of the United Nations. You are charged with exploring the options available that might save our planet. Game on!

Youth Involvement Surges for Rio+20
Youth groups are getting increasingly involved on the road to Rio+20, as the negotiations run stale and stakes get higher. (Think Progress)

Club Of Rome Climate Change Report Predicts 2 Degree Celsius Warming By 2052
Governments and markets are unlikely to do enough against climate change to prevent the planet from warming 2 degrees Celsius. (Huffington Post)

Secure and Sustainable Food - the Rio+ 20 Challenge
Food and drink supply chain stakeholders from across the UK are invited to attend FDF’s “Secure and Sustainable Food, the Rio +20 Challenge” event on 21 May in London. (Scotland)

Picture: A screen shot of the Rio+20 - Pictures of the World at

Thanks for Yiting Wang for her assistance in preparing this blog.

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Kaj EmbrenMay 20 2012 12:11 PM

I spent three days this week attending the Stockholm+ 40 conference. We were a pretty eclectic group, formed of politicians, business people, young thinkers and legislators from many countries but with one common goal: to try and progress in this very complicated and difficult process to establish concrete changes to secure a sustainable environment changes that will prevent the globe from a melt down. Read more at

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