Though two months away, the UN Conference on Sustainable Development’s Earth Summit, better known as Rio+20, has already been labeled vital,momentous and historic. And while delegates, students and activists have yet to arrive in Brazil, we already know that Rio+20 has the potential to be a “big deal.”
It all begs the question, can the people engaging in Rio+20, in-person or remotely, really change the world? My sage and inspiration for answering this question is Margaret Mead who said, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”
Simply, Rio+20 is about being part of that thoughtful group committed to "getting it right" for future generations. The outcome and commitments of the Conference will affect us all, from the farmer in Iowa to the IT specialist in India, and whether you attend the conference or not, your voice can and needs to be heard.
The first Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro in 1992 wasn’t a quiet affair by any means. An estimated 172 governments (108 heads of state), 2,400 NGO representatives and 17,000 attendees of the parallel Global Forum participated in the originalEarth Summit. Additionally, the 1992 conference yielded vital, momentous and historic gains, including Agenda 21 (the action plan supporting sustainable development goals through government engagement at all levels), the UN Convention on Biological Diversity and the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), from which all of our climate negotiations stem.
Rio+20 is estimated to eclipse the original Earth Summit in both size and breadth. The actual conference, which will take place June 20-22, will be preceded by over a week of civil society days and pre-conference events. In addition to buy-in from governments, industry and non-governmental organizations, Earth Summit 2.0 is posed to make an even bigger splash than the original.
Here are the top three reasons how Rio+20 can change the world:
3. Growing Green from the Ground Up
We usually look to our national leaders to make commitments on global policy; however, lack of consensus and cooperation has led to stalemate in negotiations. Rather than wait for a top-down climate regime, cities have emerged as the new leaders on climate change and sustainability. Local action is critical in our ability to meet global goals and cities have the authority to affect infrastructure, building and local development decisions in order to meet these goals. The current Rio+20 zero draft includes one paragraph on the role of cities:
“We commit to promote an integrated and holistic approach to planning and building sustainable cities through support to local authorities, efficient transportation and communication networks, greener buildings and an efficient human settlements and service delivery system, improved air and water quality, reduced waste, improved disaster preparedness and response and increased climate resilience.”
Though brief at this stage, I see this paragraph as a positive first step. We need to accelerate the development tools and resources to enable local governments to continue their inspiring work.
2. Empowering All to Shape the Future We Want
The themes of Rio+20—the green economy in the context of sustainable development and poverty eradication and the institutional framework for sustainable development—have universal importance and deserves the attention of all populations. The scope of climate change is not discriminatory, though its most adverse effects tend to affect vulnerable populations and regions. Rio+20 offers the chance to address climate change, sustainable development, poverty, world hunger and more in order to realize a brighter and more prosperous tomorrow.
The outcomes of Rio+20 affect every one of us. Like movements before us, we need to make Rio+20 the culmination of our fight for social equity, economic freedom and quality of life. We need to speak up and advocate for the future we want, but step one is to raise awareness and to educate our peers.
1. Unleashing a New Generation of Leadership
By leveraging the media tools of today, we all can engage in the 2012 Earth Summit. The profound equalizing effect of Facebook, Twitter and other social media platforms has helped forge a next generation of leadership that will be on full display at Rio+20, inspiring engagement, amplifying the urgency for action and driving commitment. Join the conversation on Twitter by using the hashtags – #RioPlus20 and #FutureWeWant – and the handles – @UNEP and @UN_RioPlus20. Go even further and spread the word on Facebook. Don’t just write and call your leaders to act in Rio, organize and mobilize. Take the lead and unleash your own movement.
I genuinely believe that Rio+20 has the potential (excuse the cliché) to change the world. However, it requires the attention and interest of all of us. Let’s make Rio+40 a celebration of what we accomplish this June, not another attempt to address the same issues. Join me in fighting for the future we want.