Clean Tech 101

A Guide to the History and Aims of the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development

Rio+20 is the shorthand name for the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development, which is being held 20-22nd June 2012 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. With the world population predicted to reach nine billion by the middle of the century, it is seen by the UN as the opportunity of a generation to achieve a sustainable future for mankind.

It will mainly be tackling issues regarding sustainable development and greener industry policies for large businesses. Other topics on the table at Rio+20 are the eradication of poverty, a focus on emerging global problems and international unity on important global issues.

It is the largest summit United Nations Summit ever held, with attendance expected from a huge range of politicians, and countless members of Civil Society Organisations and world press. The UN has stressed the importance of this conference on several occasions. Ban Ki-moon, the UN secretary general, said recently that Rio+20 was “too important to fail”.

History of Rio+20

Rio+20 is not the first UN conference to focus on sustainable development.

In 1972, the United Nations on the Human Environment was held in Stockholm from June 5-16th.

This conference aimed to discuss the global environment on an international scale for the first time and was attended by 133 countries. It is thought by some that this conference had a significant effect on the environmental policies of the European Union.

The United Nations Earth Summit was held in Rio, Brazil June 3-14th 1992, and was organised by the United Nations.

Here the pioneering ‘Agenda 21’ was adopted by many UN nations, which aimed to change atitiudes towards several major humanitarian issues, including environmental protection and social equality.

In many ways this was the precursor to Rio+20, and now twenty years on the policies and promises made in Rio can be assessed and amended.

Other important sustainability conferences have been held over the last twenty years, such as the Johannesburg Sustainable Development Summit (dubbed ‘Rio+10 by some) held in 2002 in South Africa. Here, the important principals from United Nations Earth Summit were reemphasised and progress on these ideas was reviewed.

The Kyoto protocol came into force as of 16th February 2005, which is a UN treaty which aims to dramatically reduce the impact of humans on global warming.

What will be discussed at Rio+20?

There are two predominant themes that are the focus of Rio+20, according to the United Nations website. Firstly, “a green economy in the context of sustainable development poverty eradication”. Secondly, “the institutional framework for sustainable development”.

Press conference on Ocean, Coasts and Small Island Developing States in the Post Rio + 20 World: Advancing the Outcomes of The Oceans Day at Rio + 20.

Press conference on Ocean, Coasts and Small Island Developing States in the Post Rio + 20 World: Advancing the Outcomes of The Oceans Day at Rio + 20. Image Credits:

From these fundamental principles stem the seven primary areas of focus. These are:

  • Jobs
  • Energy
  • Cities
  • Food
  • Water
  • Oceans
  • Disasters

Large companies will also be under scrutiny to make good on promises regarding sustainable business practices.

Ultimately the overall aim of Rio+20 is to ensure a good standard of living for everyone in the future whilst not endangering our planet's resources and ecosystems. It is a big ask, but it is achievable!

Who is Attending Rio+20?

As mentioned previously, a wide range of politicians and heads of organizations will be attending.

Some of the most important global political figures on the planet will be attending Rio+20, and all major nations will be represented at some level. Overall, more than 130 leaders will be in Rio for the conferences.

Among the leaders attending are:

  • Francois Hollande-President of France
  • Vladimir Putin-President of Russia
  • Julia Gillard-Prime Minister of Australia
  • Mariano Rajoy-Prime Minister of Spain
  • Manmohan Singh-Prime Minister of India

Some leaders will not be present however, including David Cameron (UK), Angela Merkel (Germany) and Barak Obama (USA).

The United States is sending a team headed by Hillary Clinton (Secretary of State) and Britain will send a delegation including Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg.

How can the General Public Get Involved in Rio+20?

There have been many initiatives set up in preparation for the Rio+20 conference, many of which the public can easily get involved in.

For example, ‘Volunteer Action Counts’ allows the general public to submit anecdotes about how they are personally trying to live in a sustainable manor. The most impressive of these stories will be displayed at the conference in Rio, to a crowd of 50 000 attendees.

‘Global Rockstar’ is a music completion that allows the winner a chance to attend Rio+20 as a performer.

Using ‘A Date With History’, young people from across the globe can upload a video speech to the site, of which the best ones will be heard by those attending Rio+20.

Other initiatives include; ‘Pledge for a Better Planet’, ‘The Future We Want’, ‘Speak Up For Children’, ‘Rio+Vos’, Making Rio+20 Plastic Free’, ‘My City +20’ and ‘Earth Summit Watch’. All of these initiatives are open to the general public and easy to get involved with.

Sources and Further Reading

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