The United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development, or ‘Rio+20’ as it’s being called, is the first Earth summit to take place since the 1992 Rio conference, which resulted in landmark conventions on climate change and biodiversity. However, despite being twenty years on since the 1992 summit, the environment has continued to deteriorate, as reported in the timely release of WWF’s Living Planet report. Urgent action on climate change, sustainability and resources will be needed if the UN is to continue to advance the shared principles of sustainable development and protect the environment for future generations.
The Conference will focus on two themes: how to build a green economy to lift people out of poverty (including support for developing countries to develop without harming the environment); and how to improve coordination between countries to improve and govern sustainable development. Whilst organisers hope that the conference will result in a ‘focussed political document’, in the weeks running up to 20 June even UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon expressed doubts about the conference. He was quoted as saying that pre-conference negotiations had been ‘painfully slow’ and that it was unlikely to reach the kinds of breakthroughs achieved in 1992, especially with political leaders engaged elsewhere – Obama with the presidential election and European leaders with the Eurozone crisis.
However, the Secretary General did indicate that the tens of thousands of business leaders, activists and environmentalists that would descend on Rio could make the most significant progress, as they make their cases for change and a more sustainable model of development.
WWF Living Planet report: Call to action
The WWF’s Living Planet report, published every two years, is a science-based analysis of the health of the planet and the impact of human activity, which measures the state of our biodiversity and the ecological footprint of all countries. This year the report was published just over a month before Rio+20, to signal a clear call to action for the leaders that will gather in Rio.
The report states that the global population has more than doubled since 1950 – to 7 billion in 2011, and is forecast to reach over 9.3 billion by 2050. By 2030, the report predicts it will take the equivalent of two planets to meet the current demand for resources.
The report has also found that our ecological footprint is increasing while natural capital is declining. Rising consumption in high-income groups around the world, and in emerging economies such as Russia, India, China and conference host Brazil, threatens to bring about even larger ecological footprints in the future.
And yet despite this rapidly increasing depletion of our resources, one in six people remain undernourished.
"The Rio+20 conference… is an opportunity for the world to get serious about the need for development to become sustainable. Our report indicates that we haven't yet done that since the last Rio summit," said David Nussbaum, WWF-UK chief executive in the Guardian.