Though the next Earth Summit, Rio+20, will take place next June, few governments have started to seriously assess their progress towards achieving the internationally agreed upon sustainable development goals outlined in the Rio Declaration and Agenda 21, according to a recent survey from the Access Initiative.
Time is running short. In order to have a successful Rio+20, governments must submit meaningful and ambitious goals to the Zero Draft of the Outcome Document by November 1, which will outline the agenda and discussion points for Rio+20.
At the 1992 Earth Summit, governments gathered to rethink economic development, protection of the environment, and empowerment of people. Two of the most notable outcomes were the Rio Declaration, which outlined the principles needed to support sustainable development, and Agenda 21, the action plan for reaching these sustainable development goals (see box).
The 1992 Earth Summit was a great success in that it established a new perspective on the relationship between humans and the environment, however its legacy has been waning. Monetary policies have not balanced environment and development concerns, capacity building is a sidelined pillar of sustainable development, and governments have not progressed consistently in implementing refined ecosystem management practices.
The inability of the international community to implement the environmental and development objectives laid out 20 years ago in the Rio Declaration and Agenda 21 requires governments to critically reflect on why these internationally-agreed upon objectives were not or could not be fulfilled.
The 5 Questions Campaign
In late spring 2011 The Access Initiative (TAI), a network of civil society organizations promoting the implementation of Principle 10 of the Rio Declaration, submitted five questions to governments focusing on how states were progressing in their preparations for Rio+20 and implementing this principle nationally. The “5 Questions Campaign” asked 24 governments questions related to Rio+20; governments were given 60 days to respond. Fifteen of the 24 governments responded with information directly related to the questions; most provided indefinite progress reports and were non-committal in their preparation efforts. (A detailed write-up of each of the countries’ responses can be found on the TAI website. Eight Latin American, three African, three European, and one Asian country responded.) In summary governments:
- Made broad statements supporting citizen participation, information access, and justice but did not provide examples of how Principle 10 had been implemented, practiced, or protected, making no reference to improving commitments for Rio+20.
- Advocated the importance of a “green economy” and “sustainable development,” but warned against a conference dedicated to the issue of the green economy which would derail the theme of improving the institutional framework for sustainable development.
- Acknowledged that they had not yet begun forming committees or councils to reach out to the public about Rio+20; some cited resource constraints, while one government department responsible for the environment acknowledged they were unaware of Rio+20.
The 5 Question campaign illustrates that governments’ preparations for Rio+20 are insufficient; if Rio+20 is going to implement legitimate action plans on goals for sustainable development, governments need to quickly begin:
- Reflecting on internal progress on Agenda 21 and the Rio Declaration.
- Articulating to stakeholders how to become engaged with Rio+20 preparation process and how the government itself is preparing for next year’s summit.
- Outlining their national, regional, and international goals relating to both Rio+20 themes with a specific focus on strengthening the institutional framework for sustainable development.
TAI maintains that there will be a missed opportunity at Rio+20 if governments do not carefully address improvements needed to national environmental governance. TAI’s ultimate goal is getting governments on record stating specific, measurable objectives, such as implementation of access laws or opening up more space for public participation. TAI wants governments to articulate how they will capitalize on Rio+20 to achieve their national-level goals– and to hold these governments accountable for action (or lack thereof) taken.
TAI partners will work with governments who have acknowledged civil society’s important role to discuss improving implementation of Principle 10 of the Rio Declaration. TAI also seeks to use Rio+20 as an opportunity to raise awareness of the importance of civil society participation to governments who have yet to formerly recognize the role of civil society. National-level preparation and goal-setting is essential for serious international action and a successful Rio+20.