Social science support to policies promoting the social dimension of sustainable development in a changing climate – a Rio+20 side-event

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As part of the official programme of the UN Conference on Sustainable Development to be held in Rio, Brazil, from 20 to 22 June 2012, this side-event, which will gather Ministers and high-level researchers, will contribute to agenda-setting about the importance of social science to support sustainable development policies.

The event, which is organized by the Norwegian National Commission for UNESCO and UNESCO’s Management of Social Transformations (MOST) Programme, will be opened by the UNESCO Assistant Director-General for Social and Human Sciences and closed by the Director-General of UNESCO.

The importance of the social pillar of sustainable development is widely accepted, as well as the need for informed policy-making to achieve the future we want. What is less clear is how to reach these goals. The social and human sciences have an essential, and still insufficiently recognized, role to play.

This conference, chaired by the Vice-President (Norway) of the Bureau for the MOST Intergovernmental Programme, representing Europe and North America, will focus precisely on the need for policy-making informed by the social sciences to strengthen the social pillar of sustainable development.

Decision-makers will present their policies focusing on the social dimension and their views on the needs for social science to support policy formulation. Research presented by the main scientific partners of UNESCO’s Management of Social Transformations (MOST) Programme will be presented and research gaps will be discussed and identified. This side-event of the UN Conference on Sustainable Development will shape agendas by bridging the gaps between research and policy – which is the rationale of the MOST Programme.

The event will be organized by the Norwegian National Commission for UNESCO and the MOST Programme, which encourages the development and consolidation of policy-relevant knowledge networks, focusing especially on social inclusion and on the social transformations arising from global environmental change.

Speakers will include Ministers of Environment, Ministers of Social Development, the Executive Director of the International Social Science Council, and the Director of the United Nations Research Institute for Social Development.

The background to the side event is provided by over 20 years of debates on what sustainability means and how it might be achieved, the importance of which is heightened by current social, economic and environmental crises.

In 1987 the Report “Our Common Future”, prepared by the Brundtland Commission (the World Commission on Environment and Development), which strongly influenced the Rio Earth Summit in 1992, defined sustainable development as “Development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs”. This is still the most prevalent definition of sustainability.

The Secretary-General of the UN has stressed that “sustainable development recognizes that our economic, social and environmental objectives are not competing goals that must be traded off against each other, but are interconnected objectives that are most effectively pursued together in a holistic manner”.

The Preamble of Agenda 21 states “Humanity stands at a defining moment in history. We are confronted with a perpetuation of disparities between and within nations, a worsening of poverty, hunger, ill health and illiteracy, and the continuing deterioration of the ecosystems on which we depend for our well-being. However, integration of environment and development concerns and greater attention to them will lead to the fulfillment of basic needs, improved living standards for all, better protected and managed ecosystems and a safer, more prosperous future. No nation can achieve this on its own; but together we can- in a global partnership for sustainable development’’.

The need to give high importance to the sciences and the social dimensions are already recognized in the Rio Declaration and Agenda 21. As stressed in Principle 1 of the Rio Declaration on Environment and Development “Human beings are the centre of concerns for sustainable development. They are entitled to a healthy and productive life in harmony with nature”. Furthermore, principle 3 of the Rio Declaration stresses that “The right to development must be fulfilled so as to equitably meet developmental and environmental needs of present and future generations”.

Finally, and most recently, the “Report of the High-Level Panel on Global Sustainability” set up by the Secretary-General of the UN (in 2010) and entitled “Resilient People, Resilient Planet: A Future worth choosing” (published in 2012), also recommends that measures be taken to strengthen the interface between policymaking and science in order to facilitate informed political decision-making on sustainable development issues.


Type of Event Meeting by Member States or Institutions
Start 20.06.2012 08:00 local time
End 20.06.2012 09:30 local time
Date to be fixed 0
Focal point Golden, Cecilie
Organizer Norwegian National Commission for UNESCO in co-operation with UNESCO’s MOST Programme
Country Brazil
City Rio de Janeiro
Venue Rio Centro, room P3-B
Permanent Delegation Contact
Major Programme
Language of Event English
Estimated number of participants 100
Official Website Programme
Link 1 UNESCO's contribution to Rio+20: Building Equitable, Inclusive, Green Societies
Link 2 UNESCO Management of Social Transformations (MOST) Programme
Link 3 Norwegian National Commission for UNESCO
Link 4 Rio+20 - United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, 20-22 June 2012