More than 50,000 international experts and leaders from government, NGOs, business, and other sectors are flocking to the United Nations' Rio+20 Conference in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Taking place 20 years after the first Earth Summit, Rio+20 aims to address two major, globally important themes: building a green economy and establishing a framework for sustainable development that will decrease poverty, boost social equity, and protect the environment.
Rio+20's informal sessions kicked off last week and will continue right up until the official conference on June 20th-22nd. WRI's experts in business, climate, energy, forests, governance, transportation, and more are on the ground for all the action. (Check out a full list of official WRI events at Rio+20).
Before WRI's staff headed to Rio, I asked our experts the following question: What is significant about the Rio+20 conference, and what do you hope will come out of it?
Re-Thinking the Way We Move
We can’t talk about sustainable development without talking about sustainable transport. It affects everything—from poverty to pollution, from public health to climate change. The Rio+20 Conference presents an opportunity for us to re-think the way we move in cities. Decision-makers—including national governments and multi-lateral development banks—can take the lead on policies that encourage people to avoid unnecessary travel through better integration of land use and transportation planning; shift to more environmentally friendly modes, such as public transport, cycling, and walking; and improve vehicle and fuel technology for better energy efficiency. The outcomes from Rio+20 will provide a framework to ensure that we improve quality of life in cities for future generations.
Rio+20 is a chance for governments to reaffirm commitment to sustainable development and the governance reforms that work for them. WRI would like to see Rio+20 give a mandate for a global convention to strengthen the public’s rights of access to information, public participation, and access to justice. These essential rights would greatly strengthen the average citizen’s ability to protect the environment and their livelihoods.
Brazil as the host of the conference has the opportunity to lead the approval of the Sustainable Development Goals, an urgent step needed towards a better future and a safer planet. As the safeguard of the largest remaining forest in the world, Brazil is expected to show leadership in the combat against climate change and reversion of habitat and species destruction. Action is needed now!
--- Rachel Biderman, Senior Adviser to WRI in Brazil
Building a Global Green Economy
For the past several decades, our global economic model has been riddled with market and institutional failures that have made it an ineffective and counterproductive force for sustainable development. At Rio+20, nations of the world will convene to offer a vision of how this global model can be reformed. Our hope is that under the banner of the Green Economy, a series of reforms ranging from the redirection of harmful subsidies to major investments in green infrastructure to new indicators of progress will be embraced.
--- John Talberth, Senior Economist, People and Ecosystems Program
Strengthened Land Rights
Across Africa, poor rural people are losing their land and natural resources—assets that they depend on for their livelihoods and well-being. Strong property rights help people protect their land from loss of access and expropriation. They also create incentives for sound land and environmental management because landholders are confident they will reap the benefits from those investments.
Despite the importance of secure tenure to sustainable development and poverty reduction, land rights figure only once in the March draft of The Future We Want, the principle outcome document for Rio+20. This one mention – “avoid creating food and water insecurities and limiting access to land, particularly for the poor” – has already been opposed by several developed nations.
Rio+20 provides nations with an opportunity to come together as a global community to recognize the role of secure tenure in poverty reduction and promote strong property rights over land and natural resources. Without such attentions, it will be difficult to achieve sustainable development
--- Peter Veit, Acting Program Director/Project Manager for the Equity, Poverty and Environment Initiative
Addressing Climate Change
Twenty years ago, thousands of people, driven by a common understanding of the threats and opportunities we face, came together in Rio and resolved to start a host of new sustainable development initiatives. Among other successes, many of those efforts have helped drive the renewable energy boom we see in countries like Denmark and Germany. WRI’s Open Climate Network will soon launch a report showing what has worked to advance wind and solar energy in key economies and the benefits such technologies bring.
My hope is that Rio+20 – by again convening business, civil society, governments, and other stakeholders around a common challenge – will drive greater ambition around the world to tackle some of our most pressing sustainability problems. My further hope is that formal negotiations on items like the green economy, transparency in decision-making (Principle 10), and sustainable development goals are successful and support greater implementation of green strategies and policies worldwide. Although climate change is not formally on the Rio+20 agenda, many of the discussions will have a direct impact on how fast the world addresses this critical threat.
--- Jennifer Morgan, Director, Climate and Energy Program
Enhanced Access Rights
The Rio+20 conference is not just an opportunity to reform the international agenda. It really is the chance for a number of governments to make credible commitments to improve international cooperation and domestic governance while enhancing access rights—that is, the right to information, public participation, and access to redress and remedy.
Perhaps most exciting, a regional convention for Latin America and the Caribbean that would enhance citizens’ rights of access is a desirable outcome. WRI, as the leader of the Access Initiative, has been working tirelessly to educate delegates on policy solutions. At the national level, TAI partners have been requesting government commitments and pushing for global and regional conventions on access rights through the “Three Demands Campaign.” We hope to see governments step forward using these as the basis for their commitments.
--- Joseph Foti, Senior Associate, Institutions and Governance Program
Scaling-Up Sustainable Transportation
Urbanization not only poses great challenges, but enormous opportunity. At the international level, institutions can collaborate on policy and finance to link climate change, public health, road safety, and economic development with transport—a key driver of sustainable development. Countries like India, Brazil, and China are well-poised to lead this transformation. Gatherings like Rio+20 provide the perfect platform for the cooperation necessary for scaling up transport solutions worldwide.
Measuring GHG Emissions in Cities
As Rio+20 takes a fresh look at the sustainability agenda, one key element revolves around cities and urban development. As centers of demand for goods and services as well as significant producers of wastes and pollutants, cities are major contributors to global greenhouse gas emissions. Their environmental impacts spread far beyond their geographic boundaries. In recent years, cities around the world have taken proactive actions to become more sustainable, including by addressing their greenhouse gas emissions. To effectively manage these emissions, cities must first be able to accurately measure them. To that end, WRI’s Greenhouse Gas Protocol team is working with partners to develop an international standard to help cities measure and manage their greenhouse gases in a comprehensive and consistent manner. We will highlight this effort, among others, at the Rio+20 conference.