18.01.2012 - Natural Sciences Sector

Rio+20: harnessing the potential of science to build green societies

© CDC/ Hsi Liu, Ph.D., MBA, James GathanyBiologist working in a Biological Safety Cabinet (BSC), (USA)

The outcome of Rio+20 –the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development (UNCSD)– will be of capital importance for the global environment in the coming ten years. It is a Conference at the highest possible level, including Heads of State and Government representatives, as part of a continuing dialogue to secure renewed political commitment for sustainable development, assess the progress to date and the remaining gaps in the implementation of the outcomes of the major summits on sustainable development, and address new and emerging challenges.

Despite substantial improvements over the past 20 years in many key areas of sustainable development, the world is not on track to achieve the goals adopted in Rio de Janeiro in 1992. Increasing disparities, inequalities and social inequity, growing deterioration of the environment and resources, as well as concurrent energy, food and financial crises, reflect the inadequacy of the world’s current development paradigm.

Change in climate could jeopardize the conservation of natural ecosystems and the sustainability of socioeconomic systems. Climate change is already adversely affecting many areas, including biodiversity and ecosystems, freshwater resources, human health, human settlements and migration patterns, the conservation of natural and cultural world heritage properties, and peace and prosperity.

‘Rio+20 must be remembered as a turning point – the beginning of a global green transition. This is UNESCO’s vision, and this guides all of our work to harness the power of education, the sciences, culture, information and communication for a more sustainable future,’ stated UNESCO Director-General Irina Bokova. Blue-green economies are an important means to achieve what sustainable development ultimately aims at: the wellbeing of people while respecting the environment, including ocean and water-related aspects. But the complex, multifaceted challenges and risks ahead call for a response which addresses the social, economic and environmental issues facing the world today in an integrated and comprehensive manner. It calls for building green societies: fair, equitable and inclusive societies that foster innovative and creative solutions to today’s global challenges.

Science holds many of the answers to these complex challenges. Science, technology, research and development capacities for sustainable development must be strengthened to develop innovative, green solutions to address the climate, food and energy crises facing the world today, to mitigate threats and reduce vulnerability. Scientific evidence and ethical principles should inform behaviours, policy action and governance decisions to strengthen sustainable development agendas.

Healthy ecosystems generate social, economic and environmental benefits; they are also an essential part of mitigating risks from natural disasters and global change. Biodiversity itself is crucial to human life and to the reduction of poverty, in view of the basic goods and ecosystem services it provides. More than 1.3 billion people depend on biodiversity and on basic ecosystems goods and services for their livelihoods. Biodiversity and human well-being are inextricably linked. There is a clear link between poverty eradication, sustainable development, and better protection and restoration of our marine habitat and biodiversity.

However, a lack of dialogue between decision-makers and managers has contributed to the serious degradation of the world’s natural resources. Through its unique programmes and networks, UNESCO provides platforms to bridge the gap between policy-makers, managers and other stakeholders, along with policy-relevant, timely and reliable scientific information, data and statistics in such fields as the ocean, freshwater, biodiversity and ecosystems, science and technology. In the areas of science and engineering, UNESCO promotes capacity-building and mobilizes international communities to collaborate around scientific challenges that cannot be addressed by any one nation alone.

Rio+20 offers the world a unique chance to advance the sustainable development agenda, and UNESCO is engaged in the preparations for the conference, using its unique expertise to provide valuable inputs and urging discussions on emerging issues of special interest. We must enhance human resources development; increase education for green technologies, including renewable energy and energy efficiency; and leverage the transfer of scientific knowledge, thus bridging the knowledge gap between developed and developing countries.

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