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Michael Davidson’s Blog

Can the Earth Summit deliver an Action-oriented "Rio for twenty-somethings"?

Michael Davidson

Posted January 27, 2012

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Over the last three days here at the UN in New York City, I have heard a lot of criticisms of the “zero” draft outcome document for the June Rio+20 Earth Summit. Countries have passionately lambasted its lack of “vision”, “ambition”, “balance” and “action-oriented outcomes”; yet, few are able to propose anything beyond copy-and-pasting what has been going through the UN system for two generations. The Future We Want – the title of the zero draft itself reflecting the world’s best intentions to make this a “Rio for twenty-somethings” – has ballooned once again into a long litany of principles and vague, far-off goals. As Rio+20 may be the largest event in the history of the United Nations, these last five months prior to meeting in June need to be used more wisely.

Last November, NRDC, Road to Rio+20, SustainUS, We Canada, MobilizeUS and others helped deliver a Citizens Petition to the UN calling for “world leaders to recognize the urgency of the current situation” by “specific commitments to real actions from governments at all levels, corporations, communities and civil society groups.” Almost 7,000 global citizens made their voice heard in the petition, amplifying the voices of thousands more who have called out weak implementation, corruption, and lack of accountability of the current approach to sustainable development. The education and employment for the growing billions of young people are essential, as well as ensuring that the development patterns we inherit are sustainable.

What “action-oriented outcomes” will live up to this challenge? First, if you haven’t read it yet, our brief submission to the UN includes a set of around 40 achievable commitments that have short- to medium-term impacts. We’ve laid out how we must go forward during these negotiations on clean energy and fighting climate change, and oceans protection. We’ve also put forward sensible proposals for delivering green jobs for youth. This June, I hope that our very top leaders in government and the private sector come to Rio prepared to deliver on:

  • Phasing out environmentally-harmful subsidies
  • Scaling up renewable energy and energy efficiency
  • Reducing wasteful plastic pollution that ends in our oceans
  • Stopping destructive fishing practices
  • Implementing national green economy transition plans
  • Training and equipping the next generation of green jobs holders

What remains, of course, is following up on these commitments and measuring progress toward global targets such as the proposed Sustainable Development Goals. We’re committed to making this the Summit that makes promises stick. The zero draft document calls for a registry/compendium of commitments – taking ideas from position statements of the U.S. and G77/China. We want countries, corporations, and communities to publish their commitments on a web-based registry, promise to report on their progress, and be accessible and responsive to the publicWe are proposing a web-based registry that would turn the power of the internet generation into effective grassroots governance at a global level.


St. Vincent and the Grenadines commented yesterday, “If the Rio+20 document is simply plagiarized from previous UN conferences, we will have failed to recognize this historic opportunity.” We completely agree. Let’s try something different. For example, last November, young people from 118 countries came up with a simple five-page statement of the urgency and need for action. Surely, world governments can as well – and match their words with action now.



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