Helen Clark became the Administrator of the United Nations Development Programme on 17 April 2009, and is the first woman to lead the organization. She is also the Chair of the United Nations Development Group, a committee consisting of the heads of all UN funds, programmes and departments working on development issues.
Helen Clark: The Road to Rio: recommitting to sustainable development
UNDP Administrator, Helen Clark for the Humanitas 2012
Visiting Professorship in Statecraft and Diplomacy
The Road to Rio: recommitting to sustainable development
At the University of Cambridge, Centre for Research in the Arts, Social Sciences and Humanities
Tuesday, 17 April 2012
CHECK AGAINST DELIVERY
In my lecture yesterday I spoke on the centrality of resilience to development. I asserted that resilience is development and that sustainable development must also be sustained development.
This evening my focus is on the concept of sustainable development itself, what progress is being made on it, and, what it will take to put it into practice, moving it from a sound and generally agreed concept to a day-to-day practical reality.
This theme is timely. In around two months from now, representatives of member states will meet in Brazil at the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development.
The decisions reached there must take into account the short and long term needs and aspirations of people, the relationships and interdependence of neighbouring and far-flung countries, the stress and degradation of the environmental commons, the lingering fallout from the global recession, growing inequalities, and the anticipated and present impact of climate change.
As interdisciplinary research teams here at CRASSH appreciate, decision-makers do struggle to navigate these and other complex multi-faceted issues. Highly divergent perspectives, fragmented institutions, and abundant rivalries in our increasingly multi-polar world, don’t help. We might well ask whether we as human beings have the collective capacity and will to deal effectively with these challenges.
Brazil’s President Dilma Rousseff said in a recent speech that “Not only is it possible to grow and to include, protect, and conserve at the same time, but also truly sustainable development requires that we do so.” I entirely agree.
But to do so, our understanding and solutions must increasingly come from the intersection of disciplines and sectors, and from the collaboration of scientists, innovators, decision-makers, activists, and practitioners.
It is appropriate therefore that we have this discussion in this Centre in Cambridge where the arts, humanities and social sciences collaborate.
1. Evolution of United Nations thinking about development
The United Nations in 1945 was born from the conviction that through collective action the world could overcome human misery, avoid bloodshed, and lay the ground for a more prosperous and peaceful world. Its charter established its three overarching and interlinked objectives: “to save succeeding generations from the scourge of war, to reaffirm the faith in fundamental human rights, and to promote social progress and better standards of life in larger freedom.”
In 1951, the UN called for international action to accelerate the rate of development in poor countries. It set up the forerunners of UNDP, the Expanded Programme of Technical Assistance and the United Nations Special Fund for Economic Development in the 1950s.
There is little in the discourse from these times which suggests that the environmental sustainability of established development models was a concern.
But, over the past forty years, United Nations Conferences have systematically made those connections, beginning with the UN World Conference on the Human Environment - initiated by Sweden and held in Stockholm in 1972. Its preparation was met with criticism and suspicion from countries which viewed environmental protection as a threat to their ‘industrialization’ and ‘economic modernization’.
The outcome of the Stockholm Conference turned that on its head by presenting development as a cure for and not the cause of environmental problems. It connected the problems of poverty - including unsafe drinking water, inadequate housing, and ill-health - with environmental degradation. These interlinked problems are development challenges to this day.
Following the Conference, many countries established specialist institutions, like Ministries of the Environment, to address environmental concerns. The outcome from Stockholm also paved the way for new international environmental law, and created the UN Environment Programme as the first multilateral agency concerned exclusively with the natural environment.
In 1987, the UN Secretary General asked Gro Harlem Brundtland to chair a World Commission on Environment and Development, citing her experience as Norway’s Prime Minister and Environment Minister. The Report of the Brundtland Commission gave us the concept of sustainable development we use today.
It defined sustainable development as “development which meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs”. In other words, it made the case that people born today should not have a greater claim on the Earth’s resources than those born a hundred years from now. Thus, we need to find ways of creating human progress which do not fundamentally undermine the ecosystems of the one planet on which we dwell.
For me, achieving sustainable development is not about trading economic, social, and environmental objectives off against each other. It is about seeing them as interconnected objectives which are best pursued together.
The act and consequences of reducing environmental degradation, for example, can stimulate employment and reduce poverty. The reverse is also true: in degrading the environment, a country can undermine the long term prospects of its economy and society.
Such ideas shaped discussions at the first Rio Conference – the UN Conference on the Environment and Development of June 1992. Known as the Earth Summit, it attracted more heads of states and governments than any previous UN meeting had, addressed an unprecedentedly broad set of concerns, and attracted record numbers of actively involved and newly empowered non-governmental organisations.
Although the tensions seen in Stockholm were at play again in Rio, the Conference outcome attempted to balance developing and developed countries’ priorities, stating that “human beings, at the centre of sustainable development, are entitled to a healthy and productive life in harmony with nature.”
This suggested that sustainable development was already merging with another evolution in development thinking taking place at around that time. The human development approach was initiated by the organisation I head, UNDP, and by distinguished collaborators, in an effort to put people firmly at the centre of development. It defined development as the process of enlarging people’s choices to live lives they value, and argued that it must be about much more than just the expansion of income and wealth.
The first global Human Development Report in 1990, two years before Rio Summit, began with the words: “People are the real wealth of a nation.” It introduced the Human Development Index (HDI) to move the measurement of development progress beyond reliance on GDP alone, and to assess a broader concept of human well-being. The HDI incorporated indicators for a longer and healthier life and for education, alongside GDP per capita.
In 1990, that was ground breaking. Today, the human development paradigm forms part of mainstream development discourse.
Efforts began to tie the concepts of sustainability, equity, and human development more firmly together. In 1994, Amartya Sen, one of the seminal contributors to the human development paradigm, and Sadhir Anand wrote that “safeguarding future prospects has to be done without giving up on rapid human development and the speedy elimination of widespread deprivation of basic human capabilities which characterize the unequal and unjust world in which we live.”
The Brundtland Report noted that unless inequity and injustice were tackled, “industry may be able to get away with unacceptable levels of water pollution because the people who bear the brunt of it are poor and unable to complain; forest may be destroyed by excessive felling because the people living there have no alternatives or because timber contractors have more influence than forest dwellers.”
Yet, so often, discussions about sustainable development seem to focus on its environmental pillar, and neglect its connections to the nature of economic and social development. All three dimensions need to be addressed at Rio +20. The Report of the Secretary General’s High Level Panel on Global Sustainability is helpful in this regard, as is the 2011 UNDP global Human Development Report on sustainability and equity.
2. Moving sustainable development forward following the Earth Summit
The Earth Summit in 1992 accelerated agreement on international legal instruments relating to the environment. More than 900 now exist, including the landmark conventions spurred on by Rio on climate change, biological diversity, and combating desertification.
The Global Environment Facility (GEF) was also established as an independent entity at the Rio Summit, to finance projects which protect the global environmental commons. Today, the GEF funds well over 2,000 projects, in over 168 countries, related to biodiversity, climate change, international waters, land degradation, the ozone layer, and persistent organic pollutants.
GEF’s overall investment in UNDP’s current portfolio of environment and development projects represents around one-fifth of the total investment in them of $5.2 billion, and is crucial in leveraging funding from national governments and other partners.
Over the years, UNDP with the support of GEF funding has helped governments and communities establish 67 new Protected Areas, covering an area roughly the size of Austria. Proposals to protect areas covering an area slightly larger than the UK are now in the pipeline.
The ambitious Agenda 21 programme of action adopted at Rio has also guided governments, including at the subnational level on the range of issues to be tackled in pursuing sustainable development.
The High Level Panel on Global Sustainability believes however that, “sustainable development has undoubtedly suffered from a failure of political will and the lack of incentives to put it into practice.” It asserts that this is in part because “our policies, politics and institutions disproportionately reward the short term.”
A recent review by UNDP found that, “there is little challenge to the idea that integrating development and environmental policy can result in cost-effective policy options, with benefits across policy areas, from local to national, from urban to rural” (DFID, EC, UNDP, WB, 2002; TEEB, 2010).
Nonetheless, governments can be reluctant to integrate poverty and environment policies, because doing so may mean having to make politically risky and fiscally costly shifts in resources, and/or dedicating a lot of the time of their most talented public administrators to the complex task of identifying a wide range of policy options and the best combination of them to pursue.
Lack of progress on integrated decision-making may also stem from the concept of sustainable development not yet being fully incorporated in mainstream decision making. On occasions which do bring economists, environmentalists, and poverty and social-cause activists together, the High Level Panel Report suggests that it is “almost as if they were speaking different languages or at least dialects.” That needs to change – and fast.
3. The Urgency of the Sustainability Challenge
Sir John Beddington, science adviser to the British government told 3000 experts and decision-makers at the “Planet-Under-Pressure Conference” in London a few weeks ago that, given the seriousness of the near-term challenges posed by a rapidly increasing population, urbanization, and climate change, governments will be forced to act. They will need to do so, he suggests, if only to meet the needs of constituents for adequate food, water, and economic prospects, even as they resist taking steps to address the longer term question.
At the expert level there is broad agreement that, without urgent action, the world will move beyond what scientists have termed its ‘planetary boundaries’. Beyond that point, there is risk of ‘irreversible and abrupt environmental change’ – to climate, biodiversity, the supply of freshwater, and more. As was pointed out at the London conference, there are “risks intensifying economic, ecological, and social crises, creating the potential for a humanitarian emergency on a global scale.”
The recent report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change notes that increases in extreme weather are already a discernible trend. That, together with depletion of natural resources and more frequent natural disasters pose a real and increasing threat to development progress. The recurring severe drought in Sahel countries and flooding in Pakistan are cases in point.
All nations are vulnerable, but the world’s one billion people living in extreme poverty face disproportionate risks, and have the least capacity to reduce those risks. Environmental disaster for their communities inflicts loss of life and livelihoods, and can put development into reverse gear.
Degraded ecosystems take an on-going toll of human life too. The World Health Organization estimates that 23 per cent of all deaths world-wide could be prevented through improvements in areas like water and sanitation and indoor and urban air quality. Preventable diseases directly linked to contaminated water and polluted air claim the lives of around three million children under five years of age each year, with these fatalities concentrated in Africa and South Asia. It is sobering to think that this number equates to the size of the entire under-five population of Austria, Belgium, the Netherlands, Portugal, and Switzerland combined.
More extreme climate exposes women to greater risk than men, because, overall, they are poorer, receive less education, and are more likely to be excluded from political and household decision-making processes which affect their lives. Women tend to possess fewer assets and depend more on natural resources for their livelihoods. As those resources are depleted, poor women may be forced to spend more time fetching water and fuel from further away. The effect of that may be that girls are taken out of school to help carry the burden of chores, and that women’s options for economic empowerment are closed off further.
Pursuing environmental sustainability, therefore, becomes essential for tackling the vast and unfinished agenda of ending extreme poverty and inequity. When the environment is harmed, so too is the potential to lift human development.
The converse is also true: to protect natural resources and reduce environmental stress, the world will need to reduce inequity and poverty. That is a tall order in the face of the economic and other crises of recent years.
Using information on trends in environmental degradation and on inequality, the 2011 global Human Development Report constructed three scenarios of what our world could look like in 2050. The “base case” scenario assumes limited changes in inequality and environmental threats and risks, and anticipates that the global HDI could be nineteen per cent higher by 2050 than it is today. That would represent a rate of progress in lifting human development similar to that achieved between 1990 and 2010.
Then, an “environmental challenges” scenario was constructed, taking into account, among other things, the impact of global warming on agricultural production, challenges related to water, sanitation and pollution, and growing inequality and its consequences – such as a higher probability of intrastate conflict. Under this scenario, the increase in global HDI was predicted to be eight per cent lower than in the “base case” scenario, and twelve per cent lower in South Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa.
Under an even more adverse “environmental disaster” scenario, which amplified the magnitude of the impacts modelled, the global HDI would be fifteen per cent below the “base case” scenario in 2050. The most dramatic impact of that would be on Sub-Saharan Africa which would fall 24 per cent below the “base case” scenario, and on South Asia, which would fall 22 per cent below.
Overall, these worst case scenarios see human development progress slow to a crawl, and actually regress in Sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia. There is, therefore, surely a compelling need for action at all levels to prevent this scenario materializing.
“Income inequality” has become a significant global issue, commanding attention at the highest multilateral and national levels. According to a report by Credit Suisse, the world’s richest one per cent held 43 per cent of the world’s total wealth in 2010, while the lowest fifty per cent held under two per cent. UNICEF estimates that on trends observed between 1990 and 2007, it would take more than 800 years for the poorest one billion people to achieve ten per cent of global income.
Although the global economy began to recover from the crisis during 2009, labour markets showed few signs of improving. Another 400 million jobs will be needed in the next ten years to keep up with new entrants to the labour market. Too many young people, including the highly educated, have poor or no job opportunities, and have become discouraged and distrustful of institutions and leaders. Today’s generation of youth is 1.2 billion strong, the overwhelming majority of which live in developing countries.
Thus, achieving sustainable development also requires us to tackle what is a global jobs and livelihoods crisis, and to pay particular attention to meeting the needs and aspirations of young people.
The series of Arab states uprisings of the past fifteen months have shown how global pressures, added to pre-existing economic and social exclusion, repression, and denial of dignity can create deep-seated instability, conflict, and crisis, including in what have been classified as upper-middle income countries.
Studies, including those conducted by UNDP, suggest that countries with high income polarization and inequality may be more likely to have social conflict and adopt unsustainable policies due to the influence and preferences of certain groups. Overall they are less likely to invest in policies which are in the wider public interest.
Yet, as the world population rises, if inequality expands, environmental degradation accelerates, and old economic models falter, sustainable development – far from being a distant ideal - is an opportunity to address urgent global challenges concurrently. That opportunity should be taken at Rio +20.
4. So what could Rio + 20 usefully focus on?
(a) Drawing on best practice in integrated policy-making for sustainable development
By implementing what UNDP describes as “triple win” policies and programming across the pillars of sustainable development, a number of countries are advancing their economic, social and environmental objectives simultaneously, and show the potential such initiatives have to go to scale. Some examples:
- The Government of India has in recent years adopted several rights-based laws which have had the effect of reducing poverty and inequity and boosting environmental protection. The most dramatic in scale is the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA).
MGNREGA is the world’s largest job creation programme, now benefiting some 55 million households each year. It offers rural poor people a minimum number of days of work a year, with a requirement that at least one third of those employed are women. In practice, the gender quota set has been exceeded, with women comprising almost fifty per cent of the programme’s workforce. Forty three per cent of participants come from historically disadvantaged groups.
The major objectives of MGNREGA include conserving natural resources and enhancing environmental services, sustaining food and livestock production, increasing water levels, reducing soil erosion, increasing soil fertility, conserving biodiversity, and sequestering carbon.
This visionary scheme is putting in place infrastructure for sustaining food production, livelihoods, and the environment.
- In Niger’s southern regions, trees are an important asset for local farmers, serving as windbreaks which protect crops from sandstorms, helping to retain moisture in soils, and drawing nutrients to topsoil. The government, in partnership with the development community, has supported locally managed reforestation initiatives which rely on traditional knowledge, local resources, and the experimentation and adaptation of farmers themselves. Thus far, under this initiative, local farmers have reforested five million hectares, or about four per cent of the country’s land area. The area which has benefited increased its cereal yields by 100 kilograms per hectare in 2009, improving livelihoods and food security for some 2.5 million people.
As growing numbers of households could see that these methods could make their farms more productive and resilient, they took their own individual and collective actions to scale up the initiative. Local governments then helped by reforming regulations and offering tangible support. This demonstrates the power and importance of community engagement and ownership.
In mid-February I visited Niger, which, like neighbouring countries in the Sahel, is currently experiencing an exceptionally severe drought. I saw there the stark contrast which existed between a village where basic water infrastructure had been installed and enabled food to be grown, even in severe drought conditions, and a village, only a few kilometres away, where the health clinic was overwhelmed by hungry and malnourished mothers and children whose food stocks had run low.
The UN is advocating that humanitarian responses to the current crisis in the Sahel need to be joined up with development initiatives which help build long term resilience to recurrent drought. That can mean “triple win” approaches which meet peoples’ immediate needs for food, income, and services, while also engaging them in productive and practical work in ecosystem repair and building water infrastructure.
- Energy policy is a rich area for exploring “triple win” approaches. By expanding sustainable energy for all, we advance the three pillars of sustainable development!
- the economic : by creating jobs and livelihoods and stimulating the economy;- the social : by lessening the burden of domestic chores on women, and bringing benefits for health status, education, and enabling economic empowerment; and
- the environmental: by reducing the reliance on traditional biomass for cooling and heating, we reduce deforestation, and through renewable energy overall we reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
2012 has been designated as the International Year of Sustainable Energy for All by the UN General Assembly. The Secretary-General has launched an initiative to that end with three targets :
- achieving universal access to modern energy services;
- doubling energy efficiency by 2030
- doubling the contribution of renewable energy contribution in the global energy mix by 2030.
Inspiration for achieving these targets can be found in many countries. In Nepal, the Rural Energy Development Programme, introduced in 1996, has brought modern energy services to some one million people, many of whom live in the most remote parts of the country.
It has provided reliable, low-cost electricity to rural communities through the construction of micro-hydropower stations, and brought improved cooking stoves and higher living standards. Average incomes in the households which benefited have increased by eight per cent annually, and average annual household spending on energy fell to nineteen dollars, compared to the 41 dollars spent by non-electrified households.
Started as a small pilot initiative in just five districts, the programme now reaches all 75 of Nepal’s districts and is expected to generate fifteen per cent of its electricity. A long list of countries has sought to learn from and replicate its success.
Nepal’s initiative was brought to scale, where many are not, in part because local communities, impressed by the success of their neighbours and equipped with new skills, assumed an ever greater proportion of the costs. By investing in extensive capacity development and training community members and public administrators, the government of Nepal and international donors played a critical and catalytic role.
- In Croatia, energy use in some 7,000 buildings, more than half of its public buildings, are monitored under systems introduced by UNDP’s energy efficiency programme. Over the course of six years, the programme produced over 18 million dollars US in cost savings and cut CO2 emissions by 63,000 tons . Standards for energy efficiency also spurred investment and the establishment of new businesses, including conducting energy audits, thereby creating hundreds of new jobs.
These examples demonstrate that there are many best practices from which we can learn and draw inspiration. To achieve a step change, however, and to make such practice the rule and not the exception, the capacity of countries and local communities to plan ahead and act must be strengthened. Putting incentives in place could help, and broad coalitions and new partnerships will be needed to mobilise and sustain action at the scale required. Rio+20 could usefully focus attention in all these areas too.
(b) Tackling the constraints.
Funding per se is not necessarily a major constraint to pursuing sustainable development. What matters more is whether or not governments are willing to embrace it and whether they, and development partners where relevant, invest in the capacity required to do so.
(i) Willingness to act…..
The willingness of governments to act, as I mentioned earlier, is often undermined by short-term political considerations, and by perceptions of the costs of taking integrated, whole-of-government approaches to policy making.
Rio + 20 could draw attention to the heavy costs of doing business as usual, and increase the understanding of sustainable development as a source of green and inclusive growth and innovation. By implementing ‘triple win’ approaches, we’ve learned that when benefits are widely seen and appreciated, they can gather a momentum of their own, and inspire others to work along similar lines.
To help maintain such momentum, UNDP will be releasing a set of case studies before Rio + 20 which illustrate how “triple win” policies work in practice and how they can be brought to scale. South-South co-operation will be important in sharing best practice widely.
In Rio +20 decision-makers could help facilitate such co-operation and knowledge sharing by establishing a globally recognised knowledge hub on sustainable development, which would:
- Gather and facilitate dialogue and research on existing initiatives;
- Foster innovation, and
- Broker partnership and co-operation frameworks between countries, local governments, and other stakeholders, matching demand with available technical and other types of support.
Governments, private sector, and civil society actors could use the hub to learn from each other’s experiences, identify people and partners with critical expertise, plan ahead, and design programmes and policies which anticipate the criteria for climate financing, about which I will say more shortly.
To this endeavour, UNDP can contribute its extensive networks of experience and expertise, long history of capacity development support, and established role as an impartial broker which can connect sustainable development initiatives with the financing they need to go to scale.
(ii) Building capacity…
Sustainable development demands forward looking and integrated decision-making, which ideally is led by a Head of State or Government, and involves all relevant Ministries.
The importance of capacity developing needs to be acknowledged in the Rio+20 action agenda. This is a development task, and needs to be funded as such.
UNDP is currently supporting 24 countries to establish low-emission sustainable development plans and actions. The integrated approach embedded in these plans recognizes that climate change responses need to be linked to broader development strategies and involve multiple sectors, stakeholders, and ecosystems.
Capacity building to this end involves training and support for Ministry officials to build scenarios in which development objectives can be achieved through actions which also have the virtue of reducing current or future carbon emissions.
Acting in this role now, UNDP works as a broker, helping countries identify and design policies and initiatives which will meet the criteria established for dedicated climate finance.
In some middle-income countries we have been able to bring government, private sector, and civil society representatives together to agree on specific measures and incentives which will simultaneously reduce emissions and achieve development targets.
Some of the US$10 billion per year which developed countries pledged at Copenhagen for low-emissions, climate -resilient development from 2010 to 2012 has been delivered. Climate finance is accessible now through more than fifty international public funds, sixty carbon markets, and some 6,000 private equity funds. Navigating through the plethora of diverse funding sources requires significant capacity.
By 2020 developed countries have committed to raising US$100 billion of climate finance each year. From that, much larger scale private investment for climate change adaptation and mitigation could be leveraged by developing countries. But, to do that, those countries will need the capacity to anticipate available financing, weigh multiple variables, and set up the incentives which can encourage shifts of resources and investments towards more sustainable ways of producing and consuming.
Without investment in strengthening capacities, countries and communities will not be able to tap the early stage climate finance from which larger scale investments can be leveraged. Hence, as with the Kyoto Protocol’s Clean Development mechanism, the poorest will continue to miss out. For all these reasons, a focus on support for building and developing capacity needs to be central to the Rio+20 outcomes.
This is also consistent with the need for official development assistance to become much more catalytic in nature. At around US$130 billion per annum, ODA constitutes a relatively small proportion of the total resources going into development. If it can focus on building institutional and other capacities, including for domestic resource mobilisation; leveraging large scale commercial finance for the investments which will support the transition to more equitable, low-emission, and climate-resilient societies; and establishing accountable and inclusive governance, then every dollar invested stands to have a multiplier effect.
(iii) Incentives and disincentives for sustainable development
Rio+20 could highlight the benefits of removing or redesigning those incentives which currently favour unsustainable expenditures. For example, governments spend nearly one trillion U.S. dollars annually on environmentally unsustainable subsidies, including for fossil fuel production. Abolishing or curtailing such subsidies would promote both economic and environmental sustainability, but the social impact on the poor would need to be mitigated for this approach to be acceptable.
Another example: governments spend nearly five trillion dollars per annum on public procurement. By adopting sustainable public procurement policies and setting social and environmental standards, they could ensure that a proportion of that vast sum is spent on sustainable products and services. Thus through their buying power, they could encourage the private sector to produce more sustainable goods and services. When I was Prime Minister in New Zealand, we were working on exactly such policies.
(iv) Acting at the global level
Rio +20 offers an opportunity to strengthen international governance for sustainable development. It could establish a mechanism to evaluate and review progress. UNDP has proposed, as an option, the creation of a Sustainable Development Council.
Such a Council, or some other appropriate mechanism, could be equipped with a universal periodic review mechanism, through which countries would review each other’s performance, on a voluntary basis, across the three dimensions of sustainable development. The review could be tailored to the specific circumstances and challenges of each particular country. It could also include an assessment of the international support being provided by the UN and the International Financial Institutions.
A voluntary review mechanism could also be a way of sharing best practice and lessons on how to advance sustainable development.
On-going reform of the UN development system would also offer better support for developing countries to design joined-up policies for sustainable development. A well co-ordinated UN Country Team can offer the integrated policy services which support countries to tackle cross-cutting issues. It is my hope that Rio+20 and the UN General Assembly’s Quadrennial Comprehensive Policy Review of the UN’s development operations later this year will both be catalysts for stronger and more effective co-ordination across the UN development system, enabling the UN to deliver as one for sustainable development.
(v) Achieving & setting goals for sustainability
The MDGs have been successful because they were time bound, specific, and easy to communicate. Their clarity helped them gain broadly-based support.
A global conversation is now underway on what a post-2015 development agenda could look like. At Rio + 20, support is likely to be given to the establishment of a set of Sustainable Development Goals. They could build on the success of the MDGs by linking the drive for poverty reduction and social goals with that for environmental sustainability. The MDGs were rather weak on the latter, but it would be unfortunate if SDGs which replaced them were weak on the former! The opportunity to craft a well-balanced development agenda post-2015 should be taken.
(vi) Measuring progress
The Global Sustainability Panel noted that “what cannot be measured, cannot be managed”. Rio+20 could provide the impetus for developing a new sustainable development index, or a set of indicators expanding on the Human Development Index, to enable progress on sustainability to be measured and transparent.
(vii) Rio can generate new partnerships for action
New partnerships for sustainability are needed going into and coming out of Rio + 20.
Fundamental shifts in attitudes across societies alike are required so that, as President Dilma Roussef has said, “the word ‘development’ is always associated with the term ‘sustainable’.” It is easier for governments to break out of the “short-term thinking” which follows political cycles if there is also an appreciation in civil society and the corporate sector of the need to act.
Sustainable development presents a challenge not only for developing countries. It is a global challenge. Clear responsibility rests with countries of the global north, to address their own social fractures, reduce their environmental footprint, and act in a way which supports the development of the global south.
The question being posed in the lead up to Rio, and indeed in the title of its proposed outcome document, is, “What kind of world do we want to live in?”
I personally want to live in a sustainable and equitable world, where decisions taken at all levels are driven by respect for and promotion of people’s choices, freedoms and opportunities, while also respecting the boundaries of nature.
I want to live in a world where the goals we aspire to and plan around are not only sustainable and equitable, but transformational, universal, and able to galvanize individual and collective action.
It is time to rebalance and reset. We should seize the opportunity presented by Rio+20 and the design of the post- 2015 development framework to recommit to equitable and sustainable human development, and to the expansion of people’s freedoms and choices without compromising those of future generations. Indeed it is our responsibility to future generations to do so.