Civil Society and Rio + 20

By Golmohammadi, Bonian | UN Chronicle, March-June 2012 | Go to article overview

Civil Society and Rio + 20

Golmohammadi, Bonian, UN Chronicle

The 20 years following the original Rio conference in 1992 have not raised high hopes for the Rio process. Priorities have shifted back to business as usual, environmental goals, and the implementation of Agenda 21 are advancing too slowly, economic instabilities dominate the public discourse, and global climate negotiations are continually on the verge of collapse. However, we have not abandoned ship.

We are again going to Rio de Janeiro this year, and those of us who will be there--more than 110 Heads of State, negotiators, experts, and tens of thousands of civil society rep-resentatives--owe it to the rest of the world to deliver progress and restore the faith.

Sustainable development is more critical now than ever. We face increasing income inequalities within and between States. Over 1.4 billion people continue to live in extreme poverty while resource depletion and climate change impacts continue to threaten development. (1) As former United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan said, we face increasing "problems without passports"--global challenges that can only be addressed through concerted action. (2)


Rio+20 does not aim to produce as much as its predecessor in terms of outcome texts, but it does aim to rejuvenate old promises. First and foremost, it aims to renew global commitment to sustainable development. As Rio+20's Secretary-General Sha Zukang frequently reminds, Rio+20 aims to be the "conference of implementation". (3)

The Global Sustainability Panel4 argues that effective implementation requires a new political economy that incentivizes political will by rewarding long-term policymaking and incorporating benefits of action into macroeconomic management. United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon highlights the need for a new economic paradigm that recognizes the parity between the three pillars of sustainable development". (5) So how can we achieve this new modus operandi?

The key to unlocking this new system and reversing political will is an informed, active, and engaged civil society that is able to articulate its needs. Civil society must continue to clearly signal to governments and corporations that it wants a new, fair, and green economy with policies that ensure the prosperity of future generations. It must also play an active role in securing and sustaining this future.

A report from the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) Foresight Process involving 400 leading scientists and experts ranks rapid changes in human behaviour towards the environment as a top emerging issue.[degrees] Policy and economic incentives can encourage sustainable consumption, but those incentives only arise through public awareness and public demand.

The World Federation of United Nations Associations (WFUNA) and its member United Nations Associations (UNAs) work to create an informed, active, and engaged civil society. WFUNA and its UNAs work at the grassroots level worldwide to effectively raise awareness in civil society and to contribute to the positive feedback loop of asking for policy changes that will encourage behavioural change.

Through live, online seminars from its New York office, WFUNA has contributed to closing the information gap by sharing expert information and updates on the negotiations with individuals in more than 45 countries.

From Australia to Zimbabwe, UNAs spark dialogue about sustainable futures envisioned in communities around the world. UNAs work to reconnect people to their environments through community clean-ups, tree planting, and sensitization campaigns in Ghana, Sao Tome, and elsewhere. In Bulgaria, Canada, Cuba, and Denmark, Model UN debates on sustainability propel youth into the complexities of global decision making. The Melbourne Declaration, the product of public consultations by UNA-Australia, articulates a clear, people-and-planet-centric, vision for the future. …

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