The objective of the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development in June 2012 in Rio de Janeiro, also called Rio+20 to mark the 20 year anniversary from the first conference in this series, is to secure a renewed political commitment for sustainable development. The landmark Conference also aims to assess the progress and failures in global sustainable development to date. Among the successes are the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), among the failures are a lack of an international framework to address climate change mitigation and adaptation. As the largest global gathering of water professionals, the World Water Forum served as an important place to discuss goals for Rio. Sustainable development requires discussions about water in infrastructure, energy production, access, reuse and consumption. A number of panels were organized to facilitate the Rio discussion: Brazil’s Minister of Environment, Ms. Izabella Teixeira, delivered the Keynote speech at one such panel entitled “The Way Towards Rio+20”. The Minister called on everyone attending the Rio Conference to be more ambitious and asserted that the Rio conference should be more action oriented.
Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) she said were one way to further this agenda. While the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) have inspired global cooperation and coordination, its framework expires in 2015. The SDGs are designed to build on the progress from the MDGs and ambitiously reach for new areas of development. For example, the MDGs included seven goals such as the empowerment of women, water and sanitation access, child health and more, but did not cover areas such as sustainable cities. Colombia and Guatemala prepared a draft proposition for the Rio Committee that officially supports SDGs. Additionally, 17 draft SDGs have also been proposed by Civil Society Organizations (CSOs). The content of the new goals will be decided by governments and are expected to cover priority areas such as oceans, water, energy and sustainable cities.
While advancing the SDG agenda the Minister was mindful that equity issues such as the rich-poor divide and developing-developed world relationship require more attention. She recognized that equity issues require real obligations – obligations which would need to be sorted out in Rio. She also noted that the opportunity at Brazil is a chance to build bridges not just between the North and South but also to further South-South cooperation. To that end, the Brazilian Government wants a series of high level panels before the Rio Conference to discuss matters related to water and the oceans.
Another ambitious item on the Minister’s agenda included green growth. The Minister explained that a negotiation process on the “green economy” should address the stability and creation of jobs, and how a green economy would apply to agriculture. Other speakers also discussed the green economy; the UN Executive Coordinator for Rio+20, Mr. Brice Lolande, explained that a commitment to a green economy will require determination and dedication to work through negotiations. In order to ensure success, sustainable development should be viewed on par and as important as trade. Julia Marton-Lefevre of IUCN advocated for a more holistic approach in trade and development that values nature. She argued that nature is our basic infrastructure and one should think of nature as a solution for the water crisis.
So far Ministers from 80 countries have confirmed their attendance at the Rio+20 Conference. Nations have endorsed the concept of “sustainable development” but have yet to ensure that goals include real obligations. SDGs hold great promise but have not been adopted at the levels needed. Countries have still not explicitly endorsed the CSO version or proposed their own. Even though budgetary constraints may exist, low-cost and unique solutions for some water issues have been found and this knowledge should be shared at the Conference to help advance the SDGs.
At the end of her speech, the Minister extended invitations to everybody to join her to drink Caipirinhas (a Brazilian cocktail). A good drink might help Ministers relax and relieve them of their inhibitions to agree to a solid political commitment.