What is Rio+20?

The world meets in June 2012 for Rio+20, the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development. It marks 20 years since the Rio ’Earth Summit’, and it will be the biggest global environment and development conference since Copenhagen in 2009. It’s a big chance to put forward solutions for a planet in crisis. Poor and marginalised people must be at the heart of any definition of sustainable development. 

The Conference will try to agree on two themes:

  • green economy in the context of sustainable development and poverty eradication
  • stronger institutional framework for sustainable development

What is at stake at Rio+20?

Rio+20 is a not-to-be-missed opportunity to renew worldwide political commitment to sustainable development and speed up progress towards a global green economy, in order to

  • eradicate poverty
  • stimulate low carbon and resource-efficient growth and generate jobs
  • preserve the Earth’s natural capital. 

Rio+20 is likely to create a mandate for Sustainable Development Goals that will set clear targets from 2015 onwards, when the Millennium Development Goals are reviewed.

It's also a great chance to make stronger more effective international institutions that can make sure governments do what they have agreed to do, especially for environmental sustainability (such as a stronger United Nations Environment Programme).

And a chance to agree that global corporations must report on their environmental, social, and economic impact, including full water accounting and foot printing.

Why do we need to Waterproof Rio+20?

Water is essential to the green economy. Water is essential for poverty and hunger eradication, not only through clean drinking water and sanitation, but also because of the importance of water for livelihoods that lift people out of poverty.

  • Rio+20 needs to actively promote – through funding, international agreements, capacity building, science, and good practice private sector investment – participatory water governance at different levels, especially the participation of poor and marginalised communities in water management. 
  • Rio+20 needs to recognise women’s role as water, food and energy managers, and specify ways to include women locally and nationally in resource management, and strengthen women’s access to land and water. 

Water, energy, food, and climate change are tightly interconnected. The Rio+20 draft highlights the importance of water, but fails to propose substantial mechanisms for solving conflicts among big water users, including energy generators, agriculture, cities, and industries. Many local communities see only so-called “green” developments that take away their land and water: biofuel plantations, hydropower dams, and privatised too-expensive water services. 

  • Rio+20 needs to have clear Green Economy Principles that recognise the interdependencies of water, energy, and food security. Nations need to address how water, food and energy are connected both within their countries and with other countries, and make policies that improve security and efficiency of all three, instead of making one problem worse through trying to solve another.

Forests are vital for protecting water resources, ensuring clean, regular river flows, and protecting farmland from floods and erosion. Logging and deforestation are causing huge problems for poor farmers all over South and Central America. The Rio+20 draft recognises the importance of forests, but it fails to mention the fight against illegal logging. 

  • Rio+20 needs to address measures to fight illegal logging: importing nations need to implement their new legislation, increase corporate and consumer responsibility, and support better governance of forests in exporting nations.

How can I find out more?

Read our briefings in our Rio+20 policy section.

Follow our progress and news from our partners on our stories about Rio+20 page.

What does the UK Government need to do for Rio+20?

The UK negotiates in Rio+20 as part of the European Union. Caroline Spelman is the Secretary of State for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs. It’s her role to articulate the UK’s position to the EU and participate in the Rio+20 negotiations. But a Green and Fair Economy needs cross-governmental commitments and therefore cannot be achieved by Defra and DfID on their own – it needs joined-up action and commitments from across government – the Treasury, BIS, CLG, DECC, and all.

We welcome the preparations made by both the government and opposition to date ahead of Rio+20. Given the importance of this moment, we encourage UK government to engage strongly with Rio+20, to push for a strengthened, far more ambitious outcome. 

Why are the Sustainable Development Goals important?

The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) have been proposed as global targets for achieving sustainable development and poverty eradication. The SDGs will be a key tool to help the international community agree, plan and measure progress on sustainable and fair development. There is widespread agreement that the SDGs should be universal (apply to all nations), and set common overall goals, but also set specific goals that correspond to nations’ different responsibilities. The goals will need to be clear, simple, and measureable.

The Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) have galvanised unprecedented support and joined up action from major donors, international financial institutions, the UN, governments, and civil society, to try to achieve the targets by 2015. They are contributing to saving the lives of millions of men, women and children as well as lifting millions of people out of poverty. 2015 is the end of the timeline for the Millennium Development Goals. This presents an opportunity for the world to make sure the MDGs are met by 2015, while at the same time creating a post 2015 global development framework. How can the SDGs build on the MDG successes and not repeat the failures?

How is Progressio supporting the Sustainable Development Goals?

Progressio is participating in research to support the SDG initiative, and we are working with partner networks including Beyond2015. The UK and the European Union are supporting the Colombian government’s SDGs initiative, as are many other nations and groups. So we are asking them to ensure that:

  • The SDGs are holistic: they recognise and respond to the complex interrelations between global development challenges, such as the connections between our food, energy, and water security, and the impacts of climate change. At the same time they will need to be clear, simple, and measureable. Water must be central to the SDGs, and poverty eradication must be an essential element. 
  • The SDGs are equitable: they ensure that the targets achieve reductions in inequality both within and between nations, give priority to meeting the challenges faced by the most disadvantaged within each nation, and that fair allocation of resources is given to both poor people and poor countries to allow a just transition to a developed world.
  • The process of building global consensus on the SDGs needs to be participatory, inclusive and responsive to the voices of those directly affected by poverty and injustice.
  • The process must be recognised as being fair. 
  • Rio+20 should urge continued momentum and action to achieve the Millennium Development Goals by 2015. 

What is the possible timeline to the SDGs?

May 2012 - UN task team report their roadmap for post-2015 agenda

June 2012 - Rio+20 agrees mandate to create SDGs in the post-2015 framework

During 2013 - High-level expert panel consults widely and researches possible SDGs

During 2013 - global consultation project led by UNDP stimulates national debates

September 2013 - UN General Assembly holds MDG Review Summit

January 2015 - Panel presents complete SDGs proposal (this could include ways to measure progress and a baseline from which to measure)

December 2015 - UN General Assembly agrees on SDGs