Rio+20: Dancing to the tune of the green economy


The Rio Earth Summit in May 2012 will try to set a global vision on greening the economy, with France leading European calls to establish a brand new World Environmental Organisation (WEO).

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The 2012 UN Conference on Sustainable Development (UNCSD) – or 'Rio+20' summit – is being held exactly two decades after a landmark international conference in Rio de Janeiro.

Nicknamed the 'Earth Summit', the 1992 conference agreed on a plan of action (Agenda 21) and a declaration setting out the principles underpinning sustainable development.

A follow-up meeting ten years later in Johannesburg recognised that fundamental changes in the way societies produce and consume were essential to achieving global sustainable development. All governments were invited to promote sustainable consumption and production and a plan to reinforce the implementation of the Agenda 21 was adopted.

Hosted by Brazil, the 2012 summit will seek to secure a renewed commitment to sustainable development and assess progress made over the past two decades. Its two main areas of focus are:

  • The green economy in the context of sustainable development and poverty eradication, and;
  • the institutional framework for sustainable development.

A May 2010 UN report provides an assessment of the progress and gaps in implementation of sustainable development decisions since 1992 and reviews the two themes of the 2012 conference.

At European level, the EU's Sustainable Development Strategy (SDS), adopted in 2001, provided a long-term vision and the overarching framework for sustainable environmental, economic and social development in Europe.

The EU's climate change and energy policies are evidence of the impact that the SDS has had on the political agenda, with the EU emissions trading scheme (EU ETS) established as the cornerstone of EU policy to combat climate change.

But the Union's efforts did not stop there and the bloc has now started to integrate the sustainability dimension into many other policy fields as well, such water efficiency in agriculture, the use of renewable energies in transport and sustainable consumption and production.

To complement the EU SDS, the bloc’s core priorities are set out in the flagship 'Europe 2020' strategy, which seeks to promote smart, inclusive and sustainable growth by developing a more resource-efficient, greener and competitive economy.

Today, almost all EU member states have their own national sustainable development strategies (NSDS) in place. But comparing national strategies is complicated by the fact that they vary widely from country to country. A recent report by the European Sustainable Development Network (ESDN) provides a comprehensive update on national strategies in the EU 27.