• What does Rio+20 mean for sustainable development? | Helen Clark

    21 Aug 2012

    Solar stove in front of cottage in Sudan
    The challenge arising from Rio+20 is how to advance economic, social, and environmental objectives simultaneously, lifting integrated policy-making to new levels. Photo: UNDP Sudan

    The significance and relevance of global summits like Rio+20 lie in their ability to connect people and influence what they are doing on the ground around the world to “think globally while acting locally”. 

    “The Future We Want”, the Rio+20 outcome document concludes that, for development to be effective, it must be sustainable. It highlights how environmental protection and economic development are linked, and gives equal emphasis to the social – or people-centered - dimension of sustainable development.

    The challenge arising from Rio+20 is how to advance economic, social, and environmental objectives simultaneously, lifting integrated policy-making to new levels.

    In some quarters, economic growth is looked at as antithetical to environmental protection. Rio turns such thinking on its head – encouraging us all to identify how entrepreneurship, job creation, and social protection can be generated through and linked to environmental protection.

    The voluntary commitments made by businesses, development banks, cities and regions, UN agencies, and NGOs and civil society activists were among Rio’s most significant outcomes. More than 700 formal commitments were registered, and more than $500 billion dollars were pledged.

    These commitments suggest that motivated leaders from across the economic and social sectors and subnational governments can help accelerate sustainable development. Many of these are well ahead of many governments at the national level, and certainly well ahead of what UN member states can agree on. They are not waiting for governments to act – nor should they. The need to act is urgent.

    Social media engagement on a global scale – the “Rio Dialogues” engaged 60,000 people around the world in voting for the specific sustainable development actions which were most important to them - conveyed the message that the capacity to expand peace, freedom, and sustainability does not rest in the hands of diplomats in meetings alone but with all of us - the citizens.

    The outcome document from Rio+20 is a solid foundation on which to build.  It does not mince words on the seriousness of the challenges our world faces. It challenges us all in our various capacities to act to put our world on a more sustainable course.

    Talk to us: What can we learn from Rio+20 for global challenges and the advancement of sustainable development worldwide?


Leadership
Helen

Helen Clark became the Administrator of the United Nations Development Programme in 2009, and is the first woman to lead the organization. She is also the Chair of the United Nations Development Group.

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