The Contested Legacy of Rio+20
September 26, 2012  //  By:   //  Blog Post  //  1 comment

Prof. Maria Ivanova, Co-Director of the Center for Governance and Sustainability at UMass Boston and Director of the Global Environmental Governance Project published an article for the International Institute for Sustainable Development (IISD) about the results of the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development Rio+20.

The article explains how the high expectations established for this global summit were unmet by the results of the meeting and the international community’s inability to reach an effective consensus. Expert analysis quickly pronounced the conference a disappointment, criticizing the outcome document, “The Future We Want,” as absent of the required mechanisms to solve contemporary environmental challenges. However, Prof. Ivanova’s assessment brings some positive conclusions and presents some aspects that evidence specific lines of actions in the evolution towards sustainable development.

These conclusions are based on three observations: the increasing complexity of global problems which require collective action; the difficulties achieving global consensus in the current international context; and the need for a new adaptive policy environment and specific solutions that keep up with changing circumstances. Despite political constraints and predictions of imminent failure, Prof. Ivanova argues that Rio+20 offered an agenda for the next few decades for global environmental and sustainability governance through five major developments:


  •  A shift in the narrative of sustainable development: the Rio+20 process substituted “three dimensions” of sustainable development for the traditional “three pillars,” recognizing the connection between economic, environmental, and social issues.
  • Reform of international institutions: expansion of UNEP’s Governing Council to universal membership, expanding its role in capacity-building and implementation, and the addition of “environmental and related fields” to the functions of the United Nations Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC).
  • Rethinking of resources: governments committed to assessing financing requirements, evaluating the effectiveness of existing financing instruments, and outlining a Sustainable Development Financing Strategy by 2014. In addition, non-government sources pledged over US$513 billion to support their commitments.
  • Launch of the sustainable development goals process: agreement on a process to set global Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), which will focus on priority areas for sustainable development and cover both developed and developing countries.
  • Integration of participation as principle and practice: Rio+20 evidenced an increasing global engagement around environmental issues, and the full and effective participation of both governments and civil society representatives.
In short, the article explains how despite the fact that Rio+20 could not tackle many issues and produce the far-reaching reforms that were expected, significant progress was achieved in some key areas. Governments, businesses, civil society groups, and universities registered over 713 voluntary commitments and mobilized over US$513 billion to meet them. Most importantly, Prof. Ivanova calls for the continued mobilization of young generations and leaders in the process of global environmental governance.
Other authors in this IISD series include Julia Marton-LeFevere, Director-General of the International Union for Conservation of Nature;  Timothy Wirth, President of the United Nations Foundation; Achim Steiner, Executive Director of United Nations Environment Programme; and John Scanlon, Secretary-General of Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora.
 For more information click here
About the Author :

Natalia Escobar-Pemberthy joined the GEG team in September 2011as a research assistant for the UMass Center of Governance and Sustainability. Natalia graduated from the London School of Economics and Political Science in 2005 and its currently a PhD Student in the Global Governance and Human Security program at UMass Boston

1 Comment to “The Contested Legacy of Rio+20”
  • Hasrat Arjjuemend
    December 3, 2012 -

    As Professor Maria Ivanova has rightly said, the complexity of problem as well as interests of negotiating countries is increasing day by day. In recent Doha deliberations it is seen apparently once again. The impasse is continuing between the blocks of G-77 group and the combine of US, EU, etc. When the developed North is reluctant to announce further reduction in emissions, the developing South, except several upfront nations, is playing diplomatic. This time agriculture has emerged as one of the most contentious sector in which the emission reduction talks have freezed and postponed.

Leave a reply