Thursday, June 21, 2012

Rio+20 UN Conference on Sustainable Development

United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development (Rio+20) is taking place this week, June 20-22, 2012 in Rio de Janeiro Brazil to mark the 20th anniversary of the 1992 United Nations Conference on Environment and Development in Rio de Janeiro, and the 10th anniversary of the 2002 World Summit on Sustainable Development in Johannesburg. Sustainable development’s goals are to meet the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs. It is an ideal that is seen as the guiding principle for long-term global sustainable development and consists of three pillars: economic development, social development and environmental protection.  

The first UN Conference on Environment and Development was held in Rio de Janeiro in June 1992 and adopted an agenda for development in the 21st Century, “Agenda 21 : A Programme of Action for Sustainable Development.” Agenda 21 is the integration of environment and development concerns to fulfill the basic needs of all people (very broadly defined), improved living standards for all, better protected and managed ecosystems and a safer, more prosperous future for all. The plan was to achieve this in a global partnership for sustainable development paid for by the first world nations of 1992. The economic development principals detailed in the Agenda tend to sound like world socialism, but that happens when the goal is for every human being to share equally in food, water, wealth and to use the minimum resources to maximize the number of people who can live on the planet. I expect that the Rio +20 conference will fail with European nations currently under economic stress back peddling on the developing world’s expectations for aid and China and India not using their resource to solve their own problems. The U.S. is sending Secretary Clinton and hosting a U.S. Conference Center.

U.S. EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson is participating in the Rio +20 conference and has a US Center set up to hold events related to climate change, green economies, sustainable agriculture and sustainable cities. Events at the US Center will be live streamed at if you want to watch the events the U.S. is hosting. The UN proceedings are being streamed at this link if you prefer to watch those. Live streaming is a nifty opportunity for those of us who will never have the opportunity to attend the live conference.

While the stated objectives of Rio+20 are grand and broad. The most basic need is for every human to have access to clean drinking water and adequate sanitation. According to Rose George in her book “The Big Necessity,” there are 2.6 billion people on earth without a toilet. The lack of sanitation is the real cause of most dirty drinking water, and results in the death of 1.8 million children each year.  “The…2006 Human Development Report, and annual publication of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), wrote that ‘when it comes to water and sanitation, the world suffers from a surplus of conference activity and a deficit of action.’” The need to improve the level of basic water and sanitation services and the management of the world's water resources as well as wastewater has been emphasized at both previous Earth Summits, Rio (1992) and Johannesburg (2002). These conferences called for actions to improve the way water is managed and used, but has diluted the message with other agendas. Water and especially sanitation services for the poor are lagging behind in key regions of the world and are being buried at the pre-conference meetings by other agendas.

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