June 22, 2012
United Nations Environment Programme
Rio de Janeiro - The Rio+ 20 Summit ended today with a range of outcomes which, if embraced over the coming months and years, offer the opportunity to catalyze pathways towards a more sustainable 21st century.
Heads of State and more than 190 nations gave the green light to a Green Economy in the context of sustainable development and poverty eradication.
Nations agreed that such a transition could be 'an important tool' when supported by policies that encourage decent employment, social welfare and inclusion and the maintenance of the Earth's ecosystems from forests to freshwaters.
The decision supports nations wishing to forge ahead with a green economy transition while providing developing economies with the opportunity for access to international support in terms of finance and capacity building.
Meanwhile the Summit also gave the go-ahead to a set of Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to bring all nations-rich and poor-into cooperative target setting across a range of challenges from water and land up to food waste around the globe.
The SDGs are expected to compliment the Millennium Development Goals after 2015: they reflect the reality that a transition to an inclusive green economy and the realization of a sustainable century needs to also include the footprints of developed nations as well as developing ones as they aim to eradicate poverty and transit towards a sustainable path.
Other potentially positive outcomes include a ten-year framework on sustainable consumption and production with a group of companies announcing initiatives to move forward, including in the area of sustainable government procurement of goods and services.
There was also a decision to work towards a new global indicator of wealth that goes beyond the narrowness of GDP, and encouragement for governments to push forward on requiring companies to report their environmental, social and governance footprints.
After some four decades of discussion and calls for the environment programme of the UN to be strengthened, governments agreed on an upgrading of the UN Environment Programme (UNEP).
Meanwhile the World Congress on Justice, Governance, and Law for Environmental Sustainability, supported by the Brazilian Supreme Court and UNEP among others, committed to use international and national laws to advance sustainability, human and environmental rights and the implementation of environmental treaties.
The Congress, involving some 200 delegates including senior judges, attorney-generals, chief prosecutors and senior auditors, called on governments to back an Institutional Framework for the Advancement of Justice, Governance and Law for Environmental Sustainability in the 21st Century backed by UNEP.
Achim Steiner, UN Under-Secretary General and UN Environment Programme (UNEP) Executive Director, said: "World leaders and governments have today agreed that a transition to a Green Economy-backed by strong social provisions-offers a key pathway towards a sustainable 21st century".
"Several other important agreements were also forged that can assist in enabling that transition, ranging from assessing the potential of a new indicator of wealth and human progress beyond the narrowness of GDP to increasing the level of accountability and transparency of companies in respect to their environmental, social and governance footprints," he added.
"The outcome of Rio+20 will disappoint and frustrate many given the science, the day-to-day reality of often simply surviving as individuals and as families, the analysis of where development is currently heading for seven billion people and the inordinate opportunity for a different trajectory. However if nations, companies and civil society can move forward on the positive elements of the Summit's outcome it may assist in one day realizing the Future We Want," said Mr. Steiner.
"Meanwhile after almost four decades of discussion, and for some disappointment, governments have decided to upgrade UNEP including in key areas such as universal membership and improved financial resources-this is welcome as one important way for improving the authority, the influence and the impact of the world's minister responsible for the environment in terms of moving development onto a more sustainable track," said Mr. Steiner.
Rio+20 addressed growing concern that Gross Domestic Product may have outlived its usefulness in a world where natural resource scarcity, pollution and social exclusion are also becoming drivers of whether a nation's wealth is truly going up or running down.
The Summit's outcome document requests the UN Statistical Commission to work with other UN bodies including UNEP and other organizations to work towards identifying new options for measuring progress.
The Commission's work will draw on a range of assessments and pilot projects on going across the globe.
UNEP and the UN University's International Human Development Programme at Rio+20 presented findings from an Inclusive Wealth Index (IWI) looking at several countries including Brazil.
Other pathways towards a new indicator include:-
Consumption and Production
Another potentially significant step forward was the adoption of a 10-year framework on sustainable consumption and production covering several sectors ranging from tourism to government procurement.
During Rio+20, over 30 governments and institutions including Brazil, Denmark, Switzerland and UNEP announced a new global International Sustainable Public Procurement Initiative (SPPI) aimed at scaling-up the level of public spending flowing into goods and services that maximize environmental and social benefits.
Studies indicate that sustainable public procurement, which represents between 15 and 25 per cent of GDP, offers a tremendous opportunity for green innovation and sustainability.
Examples from around the world show that sustainable public procurement has the potential to transform markets, boost the competitiveness of eco industries, save money, conserve natural resources and foster job creation.
An estimated 25 per cent of the 20,000 companies tracked by Bloomberg are reporting their environmental, social and governance footprints-but 75 per cent are not.
Such in-depth data offers the opportunity for pension funds to invest in companies with a long-term perspective of profits through sustainability reporting while assisting governments in measuring the contribution of multi-nationals towards national sustainability goals and progress beyond GDP.
On 20 June, several countries including Brazil, Denmark, France and South Africa-several of whom already have stock exchanges requiring better reporting- announced they would move forward on the issue with support from UNEP and the Global Reporting Initiative.
Rio+20 also agreed to 'upgrade' UNEP in order to strengthen the environmental pillar of sustainable development.
The decisions include addressing the limited membership of UNEP, which currently stands at 58 member states, into a body with universal membership of its Governing Council while increasing UNEP's financial resources by an increased allocation from the UN's regular budget.
The Rio+20 outcome also calls on the next General Assembly of the UN to strengthen and upgrade UNEP's ability to assist member states at the regional and national level and to build on its science-policy interface including through UNEP's flagship Global Environment Outlook process.
As part of this intensifying global relationship between scientists and governments, the International Council for Science led by Nobel Prize winner Yuan-Tseh Lee with UNEP and the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization also launched the 'Future Earth' initiative.
Ways to advance the participation of civil society including cities is also envisaged as part of the strengthening and upgrading process.
Governments, civil society and the private sector have been preparing for the UN Conference on Sustainable Development (Rio+20) for around two years.
Throughout the preparations and during Rio+20 the UN including UNEP have been providing assessments, studies and policy pathways aimed at supporting member states on the science and the options for transformational change.
UNEP's work on the Green Economy, in partnership with a wide range of UN and other bodies, has led to a range of supportive reports including:-
The flagship Green Economy Report: Pathways to Sustainable Development and Poverty Eradication
Measuring Progress Towards a Green Economy
The joint International Labour Organization/UNEP report Working towards sustainable development: Opportunities for decent work and social inclusion in a green economy
The UN's Environmental Management Group's
Working towards a Balanced and Inclusive Green Economy
Why the Green Economy Matters to Least Developed Countries
The Global Environment Outlook-5
During Rio+20 a further range of supportive reports and initiatives were launched on behalf of member states including:
Avoiding Future Famines: Strengthening the Ecological Basis of Food Security through Sustainable Food Systems
The Principles for Responsible Insurance
A UN Water survey of over 130 national governments on efforts to improve the sustainable management of water resources
A Global Initiative for Resource-Efficient Cities
Inclusive Wealth Report 2012
Global Environment Outlook 5 (GEO-5) for Local Government
The Business Case for the Green Economy: Sustainable Return on Investment
Building an Inclusive Green Economy for All
Notes to Editors
The UN Conference on Sustainable Development 2012 (Rio+20) concluded on 22 June 2012.
The Green Economy www.unep.org.greeneconomy
UNEP's activities at UNCSD 2012 (RIO+20) are at http://www.unep.org/rio20/