Rio+20 must ensure a future that is both sustainable and fair



Posted on 12 June 2012
A farmer rests while standing in his organic vegetable plot.
© Brent Stirton / Getty Images / WWF-UKEnlarge
Gland, Switzerland - On 20-22 June world leaders will gather at Rio+20, the UN Conference on Sustainable Development in Brazil, in what presents a unique opportunity to develop and plan a sustainable future for all. Decisions made in Rio can shape the global environment agenda for the next decade and beyond. The Earth Summit, in 1992, delivered important commitments – yet since then not enough has been achieved and environmental progress has been slow.

Financial crises worldwide have cast a shadow over this conference but Rio+20 is a chance for leaders to commit to a sustainable future for generations to come, and one which puts the wellbeing of humans at the heart of the agenda.

“Over the past few years we have seen how reckless mismanagement of the world’s financial capital can wreak havoc in society, and yet we are treating the Earth’s finite natural capital in a similarly dangerous way,” said Jim Leape, Director General of WWF International. “Rio+20 needs to set a new course for the global economy, sustaining the natural capital we will require to meet the food, water and energy needs of the future.”

Food, water and energy security

Central to the discussions in Rio will be the need to address the inter-linkages between food, water and energy. Despite some progress since the Earth Summit in 1992, environmental threats are far outpacing solutions. WWF’s Living Planet Report 2012 shows we are already overusing our planet’s resources and that nations need to react immediately to reduce a dangerously ever-rising ecological footprint.

Basic services are not available to a large proportion of the world’s population. Around 0.9 billion people lack access to water for basic needs, 2.6 billion lack access to safe sanitation and clean water, close to 1 billion are undernourished and 1.5 billion are without access to modern forms of energy. Demands for food, water and energy continue to rise while climate change and population growth take their toll.

“To meet the challenges we have to conserve the Earth’s natural capital – the wealth of its biodiversity and ecosystems,” said Lasse Gustavsson, Executive Director of Conservation, WWF International. “For years, organisations, governments and businesses have seen food, water and energy security as distinct issues. But if we are to achieve access to adequate and safe food, water and energy, we need to take an integrated approach.”

The links between food, water and energy are multiple. Growing the food needed to feed people will require energy and water. Providing some forms of energy requires water, and making water safe for consumption requires energy to clean it and then to distribute it. Climate change – caused by our unsustainable use of fossil fuels and deforestation – affects food production and the availability of water. WWF points to the need for a better management of the world’s natural resources including the protection of freshwater systems, a reduction in waste in the production and distribution of food and a more informed use of water, land and other resources. There needs to be stronger political commitment and an enabling framework to carry out this transformation.

In particular, WWF calls for access to food, water and energy security for all by 2030, with ambitious goals underpinned by social, economic and environmental considerations. These could include:
  • Affordable and fair access to a safe food supply
  • Additional investment and policies on sustainable agriculture and food
  • Well-managed freshwater and related ecosystems
  • Affordable and fair access to safe water and improved sanitation
  • Policy measures aimed to deliver sustainable access to energy for all by 2030, including at least 40% of sustainable renewable energy in the global energy mix by 2030, and renewable, reliable and affordable energy to those who live in energy poverty.
Urgent action is needed to protect our planet and deliver a credible vision and plan for a sustainable future. A strong and ambitious agreement must come out of Rio+20 with clear timelines and goals.

“We can build a prosperous future for people and planet, but only if everyone steps up to do their part – community leaders and heads of state, consumers and CEOs,” said Leape. “At Rio+20, we look to world leaders to come together in a shared commitment to set the world on a different path. And we look to leaders of all kinds to come together in coalitions of the committed, finding ways to drive sustainability into their regions, their industries, their cities and all of our lives.”

Valuing Nature

Rio+20 presents leaders with a pivotal opportunity to recognise and better embed the value of natural capital into our global economic development. We need to “measure what we treasure”:
  • Rio+20 should deliver a set of clear, transparent and comparable indicators to measure the quality of the environment. Indicators currently exist for two of the three dimensions of sustainable development (social and economic) but not for the environment.
  • Leaders in Rio should “green” Gross Domestic Product (GDP) by putting an economic value on natural capital. Companies and governments must be required to report and reflect the environmental costs of their activities into national accounts and corporate balance sheets.
Sustainable Development Goals

WWF welcomes the concept of Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) as a means to address the critical and interlinked challenges facing the development agenda to 2030. The new goals should cover a number of priority areas such as oceans, food, water and energy and apply to all countries. The goals would be the drivers of sustainability and should clarify how the three dimensions of sustainable development – economic, social and environmental – depend on each other.

The SDGs would follow on from the Millennium Development Goals, which are due to end in 2015. They would need to have time-bound targets for implementation to address the challenge of food, water and energy security in the context of a healthy global environment – and have indicators that countries can put into practice according to national circumstances.

Perverse Subsidies

All subsidies that negatively impact the environment should be eliminated; particularly those that drive fossil fuel production and use, and unsustainable agriculture and fisheries. The process of elimination should include transparent annual reporting and review and should result in elimination by 2020 at the latest. 
A farmer rests while standing in his organic vegetable plot.
© Brent Stirton / Getty Images / WWF-UK Enlarge