From Rio to Rio+20: Twenty years of commitments for sustainable development

The Global Community will meet in Rio de Janeiro in June 2012 to define a plan for the future we want in terms of sustainable development. Rio+20 is part of a process of global awareness that led to calls for action. In the past decades, Earth Summits have brought together heads of states, the international community, NGOs and key actors of the private sector to agree on targets to achieve sustainable development.

1972: An increasing awareness of our planet’s limitations

In 1972, the Club of Rome’s Brutland report ‘Limits to Growth’ defined sustainable development as ‘development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs’.

The United Nations Summit on Human Environment also took place in 1972. For the first time, environment and development related-issues were address at the global level. Despites few concrete outcomes, this summit laid the foundation for a reflexion on our path to sustainable development. 

1992: A turning point

The Rio Earth Summit or UN Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED) took place in Rio de Janeiro, bringing together representative of 178 countries and over 1,500 NGOs with 5 major outcomes:

2002: Focusing on implementation

The World Summit on Sustainable Development (WSSD) in Johannesburg was an opportunity to take stock of the situation. The assessment of achievements was modest, not to say alarming, in terms of both environment protection and human development. Its Johannesburg Plan of Implementation (JPOI) detailed necessary actions and set new targets and commitments, such as reduction significantly the current rate of loss of biological diversity by 2010. The importance of UNESCO-IOC ‘to build national and local capacity in marine science and the sustainable management of oceans and their resources’ is highlighted.

2012: The Future We Want

Twenty years after the first Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro, the stakes are high for the UN Conference on Sustainable Development (UNCSD) in June 2012. Despite a growing awareness of our negative impacts on the planet since the 60s, it is now imperative that we address the resulting environmental issues. The global community’s choices regarding the ocean will be critical to the welfare of future generations, in supporting poverty reduction, economic growth and environmental improvement.

The 3 main objectives of the Rio+20 Conference are:

  • securing renewed political commitment to sustainable development,
  • assessing the progress and implementation gaps in meeting already agreed commitments, and
  • addressing new and emerging challenges.

The ocean is one of seven critical issues identified, with jobs, energy, cities, food, water, and disasters.

The preparation for Rio+20 is an on-going country-led process coordinated by the United Nations over two years, including 3 rounds of Preparatory Committee Meetings, Intersessional Meetings and ‘Informal-informal’ Consultations. The resulting inputs were compiled to serve as a basis for the zero draft of the Rio+20 outcome document.

In January 2012, the presentation of a zero draft for discussion began a series of negotiations on the outcome document, leading to the UNCSD in June 2012. The objective is to build a goal-oriented framework that would help guarantee the implementation of Agenda 21 and the JPOI, through the definition and adoption of Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). One of these 17 SDGs concerns ‘Healthy Seas and Oceans (Blue Economy)’. If adopted, it would set specific targets for ocean protection.

UNESCO-IOC is taking an active role in the Rio+20 process, to raise awareness of the threats looming over our common ocean. The ocean is an integral part of our planet, and is an absolutely essential component of human lives, livelihoods and the environment that sustains us. Our well-being depends on healthy oceans, and today the ocean needs our help.

Every helping hand counts!

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