Rio+20 conference a groundswell for putting world on sustainable track: UNDP Chief

Tuesday, August 21, 2012
Christchurch/New York: The outcome document of June’s “Rio+20” UN Conference on Sustainable Development reinforced global commitment to tackle social, economic and environmental challenges together, Helen Clark, former New Zealand Prime Minister and current head of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), has said.

“The more polluted and unequal our world becomes, the more Governments will tend to view environmental and social protection systems not as luxuries to be acquired when countries become wealthy, but as necessities, vital to sustain development and meet the needs of citizens,” Helen Clark said, giving Lincoln University’s annual “State of the Nation’s Environment” address.

Rio+20 ranked as the largest ever UN gathering, including some 100 Heads of State and 40,000 individuals and representatives of civil society, communities and businesses.

“The outcome document from Rio+20 is a solid foundation on which to build,” Helen Clark said of the text that resulted from negotiations among the UN member states, highlighting the importance of sustainable development that is equitable and profitable for all

Rio+20’s key outcome was the 700 formal, voluntary commitments made not by national governments but by businesses, development banks, cities and regions, UN agencies, non-governmental organizations and civil society, along with the more than US$500 billion of pledged support. These include:

The 1,800 largest companies on the London Stock Exchange promised to begin disclosing their greenhouse gas emissions;
A number of major cities—including Beijing, Cairo, Moscow and New York—committed to reducing a gigatonne of carbon emissions;
Eight multilateral development banks committed to spending $175 billion in grant and loan funding by 2020 to support sustainable, low-carbon transportation;
The United Nations Volunteers registered 64 million individual volunteer actions through its Volunteer Action Counts initiative, tied to the Rio+20 Conference.

“They are not waiting for Governments to act—nor should they,” Helen Clark said, referring to nongovernment organizations.

Participation of and commitments made by small businesses, medium-sized enterprises and global corporations in Rio+20 was notable, given past tension between supporters of economic growth and supporters of environmental protection.

“Rio turns such thinking on its head, encouraging us all to identify how entrepreneurship, job creation and social protection can be generated through and linked to environmental protection,” said Helen Clark.

Rio+20 also called on member states to eliminate or sharply reduce fossil fuel subsidies.

In 2010, the world spent roughly $409 billion subsidizing fossil fuels; in some countries these subsidies now exceed the total budget allocated to education, health and social programmes.

Ending fossil fuel subsidies would represent the kind of “triple win” policy called for by the Rio+20 outcome document, promoting energy conservation, increasing investments in renewable energy and freeing up significant funding for social policies to benefit the poor.

UNDP committed to bringing forward the UN’s Sustainable Energy for All initiative—which calls for universal access to modern and renewable energy services by 2030—in the 55 countries that have signed onto the initiative thus far.

As part of the legacy of the conference, Brazil and UNDP will establish the Rio+20 World Centre for Sustainable Development, to promote implementation of the outcome document, share best practices and support national policy solutions leading to sustainable development.
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