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sustainable development

Despite 1992 Rio Earth Summit being the birthplace of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, climate change doesn’t have a major place on this year’s official Rio+20 agenda. But we shouldn’t assume that it’s a forgotten issue. In fact, climate change cuts across nearly all of the other sustainable development topics.

However, news on the climate front is not good. Global emissions levels have reached record highs, according to the latest data from the International Energy Agency. We continue to see unusally warm temperatures, like the extraordinarily hot spring we just experienced in the United States. Extreme weather events, such as heat waves and droughts, continue to wreak havoc around the globe, reminding us of what the world will look like if emissions continue to rise.

The 1992 Earth Summit was a bright moment for the environmental movement. For the first time, presidents and prime ministers—more than 100 in all—were “coming together to save the earth,” as a headline on the cover of Time magazine put it. What’s more, the U.N.-led conference in Rio de Janeiro yielded some genuine results. Among them were major global treaties on the climate and biodiversity. Rich and poor countries alike also made a broad new commitment to sustainable development— as spelled out in the Rio Declaration and an accompanying “action plan."

Was it too much to hope that humanity had turned a corner?

Unfortunately, the answer to that question appears to be yes. Despite some progress, the world is still waiting for the global response that the original Earth Summit seemed to promise— a promise that will now be revisited, as thousands of representatives of government, civil society, and business return for the Rio+20 conference.

This post was originally published in Portuguese on

As world leaders gather to address global sustainability at Rio+20, the summit’s host city, Rio de Janeiro, just undertook its own green initiative—it launched its first Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) corridor.

The lives of millions of cariocas, Rio de Janeiro residents, have already started to change with the opening of the Transoeste, the city’s first BRT corridor. The public transit system, developed with assistance from EMBARQ – WRI’s Center for Sustainable Transportation, expects to help hundreds of thousands of Rio residents, providing them with safer transport, shorter commutes, and less pollution.

With the first meeting of the Green Climate Fund (GCF) fast approaching, two regional groups – Asia-Pacific and Latin America and the Caribbean – have yet to nominate their Board members. Negotiated over the last two years, the GCF is expected to deliver large-scale finance to developing countries to address climate change. Without completing the nominations, though, the Board cannot begin the important task of making the “main global fund for climate change finance” operational.

Earlier this year, WRI and Climate Analytics facilitated a meeting in New York City of representatives from prospective Board member countries and others involved in the Fund’s design (see summary note). Participants exchanged ideas and perspectives on the Board’s program of work for 2012 and priorities for its first meeting. In addition to the basic administrative arrangements – like selecting a host country and establishing a secretariat – the Board needs to do the following in 2012:

As the global summit in Rio approaches, negotiations are still in flux, but some ideas that could advance the global sustainability agenda are gaining momentum.

One such idea is the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), which are emerging as a potentially significant outcome with global policy implications for the post-2015 development agenda. With the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) set to expire in 2015, the idea is for governments to launch a process in Rio to develop broader SDGs that would complement or succeed them.

The MDGs have had a laudable impact on reducing the proportion of the world’s people living in extreme poverty. But they have also been criticized– fairly – for failing to address some key drivers of poverty. These include environmental issues—such as climate change and resource scarcity—that disproportionately impact the poor and most vulnerable, as well as the inequitable distribution of wealth, income, and opportunity.

This is a two-part series on expanding access to clean energy in developing countries. Check out the first installment.

Accessing reliable energy is one of the greatest obstacles the developing world faces. Globally, about 1.3 billion people go without electricity, while 2.7 billion lack modern energy services. Providing these populations with energy is difficult—ensuring that generation occurs in environmentally sustainable and cost-effective ways makes the task significantly more challenging.

Expanding clean energy access has been a big part of the conversations during this week’s Asian Clean Energy Forum, organized by the Asian Development Bank and USAID in partnership with WRI. The talks mirror discussions that clean energy project developers and financiers had at a March 2012 workshop that was organized by WRI and the DOEN Foundation. Knowledge from this group and demonstration of their business models showcase the key elements to in implementing successful clean energy projects.

This is a two-part series on expanding access to clean energy in developing countries. Tune in tomorrow for the second installment, which will highlight specific ways institutions can implement successful clean energy projects.

This week, key leaders from the policy, industry, government, NGO, banking, and civil society sectors are gathering in the Philippines for the 7th annual Asian Clean Energy Forum (ACEF). The event, organized by the Asian Development Bank and USAID, aims to foster discussions about how to scale up clean energy initiatives and curb climate change in Asian nations.

One the forum’s key themes is access to clean energy. In March 2012, the World Resources Institute and the DOEN Foundation also organized a workshop focused on innovative practices in providing access to clean energy in developing countries (check out the new video about this forward-thinking event). The workshop brought together an inspiring group of practitioners, project developers, and financiers who are all successfully implementing clean energy access projects in communities across the world. These practitioners are bringing efficient cook stoves to Africa, solar home systems to India, and small-scale hydro to Indonesia – reaching poor rural communities who are in great need of clean energy solutions.

As government leaders prepare for next month’s UN Conference on Sustainable Development (Rio+20) in Brazil, one issue is conspicuously absent from the agenda: land rights. Strong property rights—the rights for people to access, control, transfer, and exclude others from land and natural resources—create incentives to invest in sound land management and help protect land from expropriation.

Strengthening land rights has not featured prominently in Rio+20’s first two Preparatory Committee (PrepCom) meetings or the “Informals” that preceded them. In fact, only one line in the 29 March draft of The Future We Want, the principle outcome document for Rio+20, touches on land rights. That reference—“avoid creating food and water insecurities and limiting access to land, particularly for the poor”—has already been opposed by a number of developed nations, including the United States and the European Union.

Last week, experts from the World Resources Institute (WRI) and our colleagues from Brazilian businesses and organizations gathered at the Botanical Garden in Rio de Janeiro. While the scenery was beautiful, none of us were there to smell the flowers. We were launching a new initiative designed to help Brazilian and international companies incorporate ecosystem services into their business strategies.

WRI, the Brazilian Business Council for Sustainable Development (CEBDS), and the Center for Sustainability Studies at the Getulio Vargas Foundation (GVces) launched the Brazilian Business and Ecosystem Services Partnership (PESE) with assistance from the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID). PESE partners Brazilian companies with sustainability institutions to develop business strategies that improve both corporate performance and stewardship of Brazil’s ecosystems, most notably in the Amazon.


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