Important decisions on future course at Rio+20
Although Germany and the EU were unable to push through many of their objectives at Rio+20 (20 to 22 June 2012), the conference took important decisions on the future course for global implementation of the sustainability agenda.
In Rio, the international community acknowledged for the first time that greening the economy is a key to achieving sustainable development. This requires a paradigm shift to ease the transition to more sustainable economic practices worldwide. With developing countries eager to make progress in this respect, the call on the UN system to coordinate country-specific support in future can be seen as one of the conference's key results for forwarding implementation. In the run-up to Rio+20, some major German companies already committed to providing advisory services through the business initiative "Making it Happen".
The conference also agreed to draw up universally applicable sustainable development goals (SDGs) by 2014, and that countries should measure progress towards these goals with indicators and reports. The SDGs will cover the whole spectrum of topics contained in the outcome document. The EU particularly calls for goals in the areas energy, water, resource efficiency, sustainable land use, biodiversity and marine protection.
The issue of institutional reforms in the UN framework for sustainable development was also broached at Rio+20. It was decided
- to reinforce and upgrade the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) by introducing universal membership and strengthening its financial base
- to replace the inefficient Commission on Sustainable Development (CSD) with a higher-level UN Sustainable Development Council.
In Rio, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon also announced the appointment of a Special Representative for Future Generations. The outcome document invites the UN Secretary General to present a report on the needs of future generations.
In his plenary statement, Federal Environment Minister Peter Altmaier praised the positive results of the conference. He announced Germany's active participation in the SDG process and stressed that measures to protect the oceans need to be implemented far more quickly than envisaged in the outcome document.
Further positive developments laid down in the outcome document are:
- Sustainable consumption and production (SCP)
Adoption of the ten-year framework of programmes on sustainable consumption and production patterns which was negotiated in the last meeting of the Commission for Sustainable Development (CSD 19).
- Social aspects of the inclusive green economy
The document stresses the importance of exchanging knowledge, for instance on green jobs initiatives. The text contains a commitment to promote the generation of decent jobs.
For the first time at this political level, the international community reaffirms the human right to safe drinking water and sanitation, although the wording is not as strong as that of the last Resolution of the Human Rights Council. The document makes a commitment to realise access to safe drinking water and sanitation for all, but does not contain the EU's proposal of a deadline. The text stresses the need to adopt measures to significantly improve water quality, wastewater treatment and water efficiency and reduce water losses.
The outcome document highlights the value of biodiversity for social and economic development and the need to integrate biodiversity into policies and programmes at all levels. It affirms the importance of implementing the Strategic Plan 2011 to 2020 of the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD).
The outcome document notes the importance of forest protection, forest conservation and the restoration of forest resources as key components of sustainable development. The document emphasises the vital link between conserving biodiversity and combating climate change.
- Marine protection
For the conservation of marine biological diversity in waters beyond national jurisdiction the document commits to taking a decision on developing an international instrument under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea. This chapter also contains a commitment to restore fish stocks to sustainable levels in the shortest feasible time, where this has not been achieved by 2015 (target set at Johannesburg conference in 2002).
- Corporate social responsibility / Role of the private sector
The private sector was identified as a key player for sustainable development and in this context called upon to engage in responsible business practices and include sustainability criteria in their reporting cycles.
- Indicators beyond GDP
The document recognises the need to complement the indicator gross domestic product with broader measures of progress, in order to better assess the advances a society has made in prosperity. The United Nations Statistical Commission was asked to launch a corresponding programme of work.
- Other aspects
As another positive aspect, the conference also succeeded in anchoring key overarching issues such as human rights, gender equality and the rights of indigenous peoples in the outcome document.