Rio+20: Where do we go from here?

By Carla Fernández-Durán and Irene Vergara*

Where do we come from?

Today, more than twenty years after Gro Harlem Brundtland was appointed to chair the World Commission on Environment and Development (WCED) in order to unite countries to pursue sustainable development together, there is general agreement that “Sustainable development is development that meets the needs of the present without jeopardising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs”.

We have come to understand that the world we live in has limits, and so do the natural resources we need to maintain a growing population.

And there must be a right to develop for the current and future generations, covering basic needs and ensuring that the level of poverty diminishes drastically.

These principles were agreed internationally in Rio de Janeiro in 1992, and today, the world has not reached the point we had hoped 20 years later. How long will it take to agree on the actions that need to be undertaken to build a safer and better world?

Beyond the already agreed traditional definition, sustainability and sustainable development are fundamentally also issues of justice. A holistic definition that has to embrace human rights, social justice and climate justice.

Where do we stand today?

Although progress towards sustainable development has been made since the Rio Summit in 1992, there are still important implementing challenges that need to be faced.

Agreements under international law imply the recognition of a common interest above the particular interests; and in the case of Sustainable Development, recognition of common but differentiated responsibility.  And we should not forget that Human Development needs a holistic perspective since every human action has a consequence in the world.

Today, we stand at a crossroad, and all nations must agree on a document that not only spells out principles. We need action, concrete solutions that seek a global movement towards a better world from both intra-generation and intergeneration perspectives.

We must see the next meeting in Rio as an opportunity to bring to the table solutions linked to the economic recovery and development, a sustainable use of our natural resources and better social conditions. We are all in the same planet, and therefore, in the same boat, we must agree on the need to help us each other in cooperation, and not to develop ourselves against the others.

Where do go from here?

Women waiting to receive food aid, children drinking un-clean water, farmers hit by drought, wildlife declining due to poaching in protected areas… the future of Humanity is being played here, today. We cannot spend 20 more years to realise that the future is now! The time has come to go for the future we want, for us, for our children and for our grandchildren.

Last but not least, we would like to highlight the critical window of opportunity that the States have today to scale up political and financial response to the environmental, social & economic challenges of this period of crises.

Acknowledging political will is required in order to advance and start building a better world for all, there is no other solution than a joint exercise of check and balances leaving aside individual and short-minded interests. We need action, and we need it now:

  • The adoption of strong mechanisms to reduce food price volatility and curb speculative tendencies, including data disclosure, coordinated regulation of derivative markets and stabilizing stocks
  • A commitment to the effective implementation of: i) international financial transaction taxes and ii) an international carbon tax, as the most promising means to secure the resources necessary to effectively address development and climate change challenges
  • Ending fossil fuel subsidies and invest in non-nuclear Renewable Energy for All- An integrated approach of what we call “Shared Societies” in Rio+20: addressing equality from an economic, and gender point of view, particularly looking at the rights of minorities.

These are just examples of needed actions towards a better future in the world with boundaries we live today. We all need to keep in mind that steps have been taken forward, but not enough, and time to reverse the consequences we are already experiencing such as the climate challenge, is coming to an end. Therefore, there is a need for a strong political will in Rio towards an ambitious outcome, and we call for it!

*Carla Fernández-Durán is Program Officer at the Club de Madrid for the Shared Societies Project and Irene Vergara is Program Officer at the Club de Madrid for the Energy and Climate Change Project.

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