RIO + 20 One Year Later… Where Are We?

One year ago at RIO + 20, the UN Conference on Sustainable Development in Rio de Janeiro, UN Member States decided to launch a process to develop a set of Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), which would build upon the Millennium Development Goals and converge with the post-2015 development agenda. Rio + 20 did not elaborate specific goals, but stated that these goals should be limited in number, easy to communicate, and that they should address in an integrated fashion the three essential dimensions of sustainable development – social, environmental and economic.

A 30-member Open Working Group has been established to prepare a proposal on these Sustainable Development Goals. The Open Working group has had four sessions thus far. Among the themes addressed were poverty eradication and sustainable development; food security and nutrition; sustainable agriculture, desertification, land degradation and drought; water and sanitation; employment and decent work; social protection; education and culture; health and population dynamics. At these sessions, Member States submit statements on the particular topics being addressed. Let me give you an example.

This is an excerpt from His Excellency, Mr. Robert Aisi, the Ambassador of Papua New Guinea, speaking on behalf of the Pacific Small Island Developing States (PSIDS). This cluster includes the tiny island nations of Nauru, Palau, Fiji, Marshall Islands, Micronesia, Samoa, Solomon Islands, Tonga, Tuvalu and Vanuatu. Many of us have probably never heard of some of these places; and they are barely discernible on the map. However, as the Earth’s atmosphere continues to warm, and global climate patterns continue to change, these tiny islands are the ones who will suffer irreversible damage.

Here, in part, is Mr. Aisi’s statement:

“As examples of the social, economic and environmental challenges of development and the impact posed by water and sanitation issues in the PSIDS region, in October 2011, after 6 months of no rain, Tuvalu and Tokelau declared a state of emergency as a result of fast depleting fresh water supplies. Schools had to be closed as residents conserved what little water they had. Fresh water was imported from New Zealand, together with desalination units, hand sanitizers and water tarpaulins to catch rainwater.

Today, Marshall Islands has had no rain over the last 6 months and a serious drought has set in. It has impacted severely on all aspects of life. The depletion of supplies of safe drinking water; limited financial resources diverted to import water and desalinate salt water into safe drinking water which is proving costly due to high energy costs of imported fossil fuel; loss of arable land for cultivation of crops and subsistence agriculture which is causing food insecurity, hunger, health concerns and loss of export revenue. The growing humanitarian needs are placing further strains on the environment.

These issues are not confined only to Small Island States (SIDS) like ours but increasingly becoming a reality worldwide. Is this the signs of the times?

It is a stark reminder to us in our region and beyond of the future that awaits us and our future generations if we do not act now…”

Besides Member States, representatives from the nine Major Groups also submit statements. The plan of action established at the 1992 Rio Earth Summit, entitled “Agenda 21,” called for nine Major Groups, designated to represent civil society’s concerns in the ongoing evolution of a sustainable development agenda. These groups are: business and industry; children and youth; farmers; Indigenous Peoples; local authorities; NGOs; scientific and technological community; women; workers, and trade unions.

If you follow the links, you will be able to read two interventions made at the Open Working group sessions: one made by the Mining Working Group at the UN—which represents a coalition of NGOs challenging the unsustainable practices of the mining industry—and another by the NGO Sub-Committee for Poverty Eradication, addressing the issues of food security and climate change.

It is ultimately the task of the Open Working Group to synthesize all the input into a manageable set of Sustainable Development Goals—goals that are people-centered, and planet-sensitive. More on this future briefings…