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Rio+20 – What happened? What is next?

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The Rio+20 Conference on Sustainable Development, hosted by the Brazilian Government 20-22 June 2012, has widely been seen as a failure. After 20 years since the historic Earth Summit was held in Rio, expectations were high that progress to protect the biosphere while eradicating extreme poverty could be made in unison under the conference themes of (a) a green economy in the context of sustainable development and poverty eradication; and (b) the institutional framework for sustainable development.


Global Young Greens and our involvement in Rio+20

The Global Young Greens is a global network guided by our shared principles of ecological sustainability, social justice and peace and non-violence. As a passionate and visionary group of young people with a global vision, we are actively involved in advocacy and campaigning for an ecologically just world within our communities and at the global level.

At Rio+20, the Global Young Greens participated in numerous side events and within the people’s summit. Our members were guided by a resolution which was adopted at our 3rd Congress held in Dakar, Senegal earlier in the year titled ‘Global Youth for Sustainable Development in Rio+20’.

This is a report back to our network and interested individuals and organisations about what happened at Rio+20 and what the next steps are for the Global Young Greens.


Conference Outcome Document, The Future We Want
Global Young Greens response

The Future We Want conference document covers many topics but unfortunately commits little in the way of concrete actions going forward. While there is certainly ambition from governments around the world to develop and implement policies which promote a green economy, it does not appear as though these policies are aimed at transforming the existing economic system, but will rather act as separate policy initiatives. While positive when considered on their own, collectively they fall short of the paradigm shift many were hoping for at Rio+20.

The Future We Want focuses on reaffirming existing commitments while positioning neoliberal capitalism through expanding markets and continued economic growth as the ultimate solution to the multiple environmental, social and economic crises facing the planet. The document thus avoids any exploration of their role in contributing to these crises in the first instance and seriously limits any opportunity for deeper critical reflection on the way the global economic system is structured. This is a major missed opportunity of Rio+20.

Environmental and social crises are taken for granted as issues which need to be managed through the existing paradigm of expanding markets and statistical targets. The absence of any considered philosophical exploration of the human relationship with the planet and between each other sends a strong signal that world governments are not fully aware as to why extreme poverty or environmental crises should be avoided in the first instance. This creates a situation where world governments are able to side step any accountability and continue to rely on existing frameworks to develop solutions that will almost certainly make things worse in the long run.

This has resulted in a historical missed opportunity to address the compounding environmental, social and economic crises which continue to persist globally.

Refer to points 56-59 – The Future We Want


Main official outcomes of Rio+20 Conference on Sustainable Development

High-Level Political Forum

An inter-governmental high-level political forum will be established to follow up on the implementation of sustainable development with the eventual aim to replace the existing Commission on Sustainable Development. Among other things, the high-level political forum will consider the promotion of intergenerational solidarity for the achievement of sustainable development.

The Global Young Greens will actively follow the development of this forum and engage in constructive dialogue to ensure youth perspectives are mainstreamed. Additionally, opportunities for engagement will be publicised within and outside of the Global Young Greens network.

Refer to points 86 – The Future We Want


Sustainable Development Goals

A decision was made to create Sustainability Development Goals through a regionally balanced open working group to be defined by the 67th Session of the General Assembly in September 2012. This working group will report to the 68th Session of the General Assembly 2013.

Recently the Secretary General appointed a high-level panel to prepare a post 2015 development vision. This Panel will draw on the Rio+20 Outcome Document as part of this process and is tasked to report to the 68th Session of the General Assembly 2013 also.

It is likely that both processes will be brought together at the 68th Session of the General Assembly 2013. This underscores the importance of engaging with the development of the Sustainable Development Goals.

The Global Young Greens will follow the development of the open working group tasked with creating Sustainability Development Goals and contact members once they are announced to seek opportunities for the Global Young Greens network to be involved in their development.

Alongside this, the Global Young Greens will continue our involvement in the post 2015 development agenda aware that these processes are likely to merge in 2013.


United Nations Environment Program

The Conference agreed to recommend to the 67th Session of the General Assembly in September 2012 to strengthen the role of UNEP (United Nations Environment Program) as the leading global environmental authority that sets the global environmental agenda. Unfortunately the proposed changes fall short of creating a standalone World Environment Organization, however within the context of the conference it is a step forward.

The Global Young Greens will follow closely the changes that are adopted at the 67th Session of the General Assembly in September 2012 and the impact this may have on global environmental governance.

Refer to points 88 – The Future We Want


Voluntary Commitments

The Rio+20 Conference saw over 700 voluntary commitments and pledges made throughout and after the Conference totalling more than $500 billion in action towards sustainable development. Unfortunately it is not possible to truly distinguish which commitments are additional to initiatives and projects that would be underway regardless, so this amount cannot be independently verified.

Although the concept of voluntary commitments alongside the Rio+20 Conference allowed for greater bottom-up involvement, there are parallels with the ongoing climate negotiations which have seen a move away from redistributive multilateralism to a voluntary pledge and review framework.

Redistribute multilateralism is based on the principle of equity and historical responsibility while voluntary pledge and review frameworks backgrounds justice concerns. However, the development of the Sustainable Development Goals during the next year do provide an opportunity for a redistributive multilateral regime to emerge.

The Global Young Greens will continue to engage in this process with an aim to promote the use of policies and frameworks which take into account historical responsibilities of developed nations and move beyond voluntary commitments and pledges.


Peoples Summit Outcome Report, Another Future Is Possible

Global Young Greens response

The Global Young Greens are encouraged by the alternative Peoples Summit which was organised by civil society groups as a counter mobilising force to the Rio+20 conference. The Peoples Summit exemplifies the mobilising and networking opportunities which large international conferences provide and illustrate how diverse groups can come together make progress on significant global issues facing humanity.

The outcome report from the Peoples Summit, Another Future is Possible, outlines in significant detail an alternative vision for the future of sustainable development and this planet. The stark difference in approach and language used in Another Future is Possible, compared to the Rio+20 conference report, The Future We Want, sends a clear signal to civil society and governments that there is much more work to be done to bring both views together.

Although the Global Young Greens endorse the concept of people’s summits organising alongside significant international events like Rio+20, we caution that they could be seen as ways to organise dissent by conference organisers which may then make decisions against the will of the people.

The Global Young Greens calls on civil society to step up their involvement in the post Rio+20 processes to ensure the views and voices of the people are coordinated and visible within the formal processes to influence and shape their outcome.


Next steps for the Global Young Greens

  • Write to members of the High-Level Political Forum once they are announced to open an intergenerational dialogue and investigate opportunities for further engagement
  • Write to members of the open working group tasked with developing the Sustainable Development Goals  to seek opportunities for the Global Young Greens network to be involved in their development
  • Engage with International Youth NGOs and broader civil society organising around Sustainable Development Goals and the post 2015 development agenda

Additional links:

The Future We Want – Rio+20 Conference Proper Report

Another Future is Possible – Rio+20 Peoples Summit Report

Rio+20 United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development Website

Peoples Summit website

Voluntary Commitments

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