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Turning Rio+20 into Kony 2012: Sustainable Development for the Facebook Generation

Michael Davidson

Posted April 9, 2012

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Turning Rio+20 into Kony 2012

Unless you have been living under a rock for the past few weeks, you probably have seen or heard about the Kony 2012 video. People posted the video on Facebook and tweeted it to their followers, generating a staggering 40 million views in only two days. If we are to succeed at creating global awareness and engagement at Rio+20 in June, we need to embrace this power – of the internet and social media technologies – to ensure that Earth Summit 2012 is truly ground-breaking and transformative. We need to look ahead twenty years, to the possibility of linking the world’s young people for greater change – not back twenty years to the old way of doing things.

A central NRDC objective at Rio is the creation of a Global Registry of Sustainability Commitments: an online, user-friendly platform that will highlight both local and global commitments toward sustainable development. It would build on a number of existing efforts to encourage and aggregate promises and actions toward sustainability, and begin to track our progress toward meeting globally-negotiated goals such as the proposed Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). But the Global Registry should be more than just another database; it needs to inspire millions of people around the world, particularly young people, to get involved in speeding the transition to a sustainable future.


Why do we need a registry?

For decades, the international community has negotiated hundreds of treaties and goals to address global sustainability challenges.  In response, governments, corporations, and other entities have made repeated commitments to take actions towards sustainability. Many have been successful, but there still exist huge gaps in implementation. For the government official, non-governmental researcher or interested citizen, it is difficult to find and aggregate these commitments, and even harder to determine to what extent they have been achieved.  

The Global Registry should not only showcase the many initiatives going on around the world; it should also incorporate social media and interactive user tools to create a truly collaborative platform. For example, someone from Japan could tweet about the benefits of a commitment made in Honduras, or an Indian corporation could respond to a Facebook petition urging for greater commitments in renewable energy. Its easily-navigable interface would motivate citizens to contribute public comments and local knowledge, and encourage commitment-makers to increase their ambition. And the data would be freely accessible to encourage further follow-up and analysis. Here's a mock-up of what you see for a Japanese commitment to increase biological diversity (full brief here):

A registry of registries

One thing we’ve found is that with the proliferation of registries designed to address specific sustainability issue, we still do not have a common method for tracking these initiatives, for assessing and reporting on their progress, nor an effective accountability mechanism. From the Global Compact to the Clinton Global Initiative, there is a wealth of positive activities. The challenge for the Global Registry and for Rio+20 in general is to capture and aggregate them all in a meaningful way, then to scale these up to meet identified global challenges. We see the Global Registry as a way to build on this momentum and demonstrate the vitality and potential of the multilateral system.


How can we get mobilized?

Just as Kony 2012 exemplified the power of effective communication in support of a cause, if we are to truly succeed at Rio in June, then we must effectively communicate to the world the once-in-a-generation opportunity that Rio+20 presents. On March 27, NRDC hosted a side-event at the UN entitled, Meeting the Challenge of Communicating Rio+20: Engaging the Global Public in the Transformation to A Sustainable Future (watch an interview with New York Times correspondent Elisabeth Rosenthal).  It is our hope that the Global Registry will drive people all over the world to become engaged in the global sustainability movement, instilling a new sense of hope and optimism that we can achieve real results toward sustainability in our cities, countries, and planet.

During this week's visit to the U.S. by Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff (#DilmaintheUS), we hope that attention on Rio will not only surround the Olympics and World Cup, but the other historic opportunity that this city presents in just a few months time. 

Read more background on accountability at Rio+20 here:

Join us on twitter @NRDCRio: NRDC Race to Rio

This post was co-authored by NRDC's Philip Goo.

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