Rio+20: Background, Issues, Objectives

20 years after the UN Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED) held in Rio de Janeiro in 1992, at which environmental and development issues were jointly discussed in a broad international framework for the first time, the UN Conference on Sustainable Development (UNCSD), or “Rio+20”, will be taking place from 20 to 22 June 2012. 20 years ago, the so called “Earth Summit” marked a milestone, establishing an integrated approach to “sustainable development” which takes into account the three dimensions of economic, environmental and social sustainability as a universal political principle – at least on a normative level. Developments since this first summit have been sobering, though: a growth model based on finite, carbon-intensive resources has led to surging energy prices, dwindling resources and severe damage to the environment and climate in many countries. On top of this, the environmental crisis has been joined by a financial and economic crisis as well as a structural crisis of equity and justice over the last few years, which has helped push the issue of sustainable growth and development models to a prominent position on national and international political agendas, but also on the agenda of scientific research.

Starting from the realization of the urgent need to translate the idea of sustainable development into political praxis, Rio+20 has set out the objective of reaffirming and renewing the guiding principle of sustainable development and forging international agreements. As Sha Zukang, General Secretary of the UNCSD, put it, “the aim of Rio+20 is not to invent new principles. The aim is to ensure we stay true to the promises we made and move ahead on implementation at an accelerated pace.” The two leading topics at the 2012 Summit will be “a green economy in the context of sustainable development and poverty eradication” and “the institutional framework for sustainable development”.

The FES has engaged in a three-year preparatory process for Rio+20, aiming to

  • inform actors and draw attention to the issues to be addressed at the Summit,
  • intensify the dialogue between industrial, emerging and developing countries through the provision of appropriate structures,
  • strengthen positions, in particular those of developing countries, civil society actors and trade unions,
  • link debates in the fields of policy, business and civil society, and
  • strengthen the social dimension of the strategy of sustainability.

The Future We Want?

The idea behind Rio+20 is to mobilise the world to embrace a sustainable future. Without broad support from civil society, however, the project will fail. In the run up to the summit the FES is bringing together representatives of politics and civil society around the same table.

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