Rio +20 Outcomes and Next Steps

By Dorothy Maxwell
Friday 29 June 2012


Twenty years on from the first Rio Earth Summit, the progress of international environmental policy making is as slow as always in the face of today’s sustainability challenges. But no one ever said negotiating a way forward with 190 governments was easy! However, the positives were that the conference focused on the right issues encompassed under the Green Economy headline and the business and civil society presence was significant with over 300 voluntary commitments put forward and a wealth of events held. Moving beyond GDP to measure our performance as humans nationally in government and in our business’s was a key discussion point finally bringing the sustainability conversation into a realm that has transformative potential vs. the traditional “sticking a Band-Aid on the problem” approach. Other issues focused on were the need to scale up solutions that really work and to use more multi stakeholder coalitions encompassing government, business and NGOs to define the “rules of the game” quicker than these stakeholders can achieve working alone. An overview of the key big picture outcomes from both the policy and business/civil society perspectives is below.


International environmental policy

An aspirational outcome document the Future We Want was negotiated by over 190 governments. As is the way in international policy making, it is an affirmation of the key sustainability challenges we face and the process agreed to take forward next steps vs. incorporating tangible commitments or targets itself. Key wins as perceived by the policy community include the following:-

  1. Agreement for the process of developing Sustainable Development Goal’s (SDG’s) to start and be in place by 2015 in key priority areas. These include: poverty eradication, food security, nutrition & sustainable agriculture, water & sanitation, energy, tourism, transport, cities & human settlements, health & population, employment & social protection, oceans & seas, Small Island Developing Nations, Least Developed Countries, Land Locked Countries, Africa, regional efforts, disaster management, climate change, forests, biodiversity, desertification, land degradation & drought, mountains, chemicals & waste, mining, education and gender equality. The intent is to provide cooperative target setting around the globe. The SDGs are to complement the existing Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) which expire after 2015. Like the previous MDGs the SDGs will be a voluntary benchmark only.
  2. SDG Process – A high level panel on development of the SDGs made up of representatives from the five United Nations regional groups has been set up. This will be chaired by the UK Prime Minister, the Presidents of Liberia and Indonesia. Members include: John Podesta (USA), Fulbert Gero Amoussouga (Benin), Vanessa Petrelli Corrêa (Brazil), Yingfan Wang (China), Maria Angela Holguin (Colombia), Gisela Alonso (Cuba), Jean-Michel Severino (France), Horst Kohler (Germany), Naoto Kan (Japan), Queen Rania (Jordan), Betty Maina (Kenya), Abhijit Banerjee (India), Andris Piebalgs (Latvia), Patricia Espinosa (Mexico), Paul Polman (Netherlands), Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala (Nigeria), Elvira Nabiullina (Russian Federation), Graça Machel (South Africa), Sung-Hwan Kim (Republic of Korea), Gunilla Carlsson (Sweden), Emilia Pires (Timor-Leste), Kadir Topbas (Turkey) and Tawakel Karman (Yemen).
  3. Operationalise a voluntary ten year framework on Sustainable Consumption and Production (SCP) focusing on a range of high impact sectors, products and services. Multi stakeholder collaborative action from business, policy and civil society is a key focus as is countries reaffirming to phase out harmful and inefficient fossil fuel subsidies. One initiative announced at Rio was the 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. It is designed to fast track a transition to a green economy using the power of public spending. This builds on existing Green Public Procurement programmes already underway in many countries e.g. the EU Member States and USA.
  4. Develop a new global indicator of wealth that goes beyond GDP. On next steps, the UN Statistical Commission is to continue its work with the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) and other organizations on the methodology/metrics for this. This is to draw on initiatives underway including:-
    • Inclusive Wealth Index- a more inclusive indicator of national wealth, covering produced capital, human capital, natural capital and critical ecosystems
    • UN new Systems of Environmental and Economic Accounts (SEEA)
    • World Bank Wealth Accounting for Valuing Ecosystems Services (WAVES)
    • EU Beyond GDP macro level indicators
    • National ecosystems assessments in countries including Brazil, Colombia, Germany, India and UK.
  5. Support for integrating sustainability in corporate reporting and encouragement for governments to push forward on requiring companies to report their environmental, social and governance footprints. Brazil, Denmark, France, UK and South Africa made supporting statements for this. Several already have mandatory reporting. The UK announcement on mandatory GHG emissions reporting for companies quoted on the stock exchange from April 2013 was a welcome addition to this, albeit planned for over a year anyway.
  6. Governments agreed on an upgrading of UNEP but not to the influencing level that the UN hoped for. Upgrades include enabling universal membership (vs only 58 current country members), improved financial resources from UN budget and a more leading role on the science –policy interface support to member countries from flagship UNEP initiatives e.g. Global Environment Outlook. One example launched at Rio was the Future Earth initiative by the International Council for Science led by Nobel Prize winner Yuan-Tseh Lee with UNEP and the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization.

Business and civil society

Engagement of business and civil society stakeholders was significant including attendance by over 800 business leaders. Over 300 voluntary business and civil society commitments were proposed. The key asks from business were the need for more multi-stakeholder coalitions in particular to drive government to make stronger, clearer commitments on defining the green economy “rules of the game”, more Public Private Partnerships to finance sustainability initiatives and scalability of initiatives that work. Key priority themes in the voluntary commitments were not dissimilar to those in the Future we Want with a major focus on corporate reporting, valuation of natural capital, sustainable consumption, food security, green economy and environmental technologies. Prominent business representatives were Business Action for Sustainable Development led by World Business Council for Sustainable Development, UN Global Compact, Aviva & Global Reporting Initiative led Report or Explain campaign, UNEP Finance Initiative, Global Canopy & FGV led Natural Capital Declaration, Business 4 Environment platform and Sustainia on sustainable technologies. The multi-stakeholder Green Economy Coalition aim to provide an ongoing platform to take Rio+20 Green Economy business and civil society approaches forward.

Blog by: Dr. Dorothy Maxwell, Director, Global View Sustainability Services Ltd.