The Contested Legacy of Rio+20
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.