Rio+20: UN hears fresh ideas to ‘green’ economy


A United Nations meeting this week saw stakeholders voice their expectations for the Earth Summit in 2012, which takes place twenty years after 1992's landmark summit in Rio de Janeiro. Among the wildest ideas are plans to introduce personal carbon quotas and birth control as means of reducing global consumption.

A UN meeting this week took stock of stakeholders' expectations for the Rio+20 summit on sustainable development, set to take place in 2012.

The 2012 summit is expected to agree on a political document that will guide action on sustainable development policy for decades to come and give birth to a World Environment Organisation. 

Contributions to the summit's discussions were submitted by UN member states, major stakeholders and international organisations ahead of the meeting.

Personal carbon quotas

report summarising the submissions suggests that the green economy will rely on "rigorously enforced environmental laws, taxation based on environmental impact" and "personal carbon quotas".

Personal carbon quotas relate to the maximum quantity of CO2 each of us may emit into the atmosphere per year without increasing the level of current global emissions.

Talks on such personal quotas have already taken place in the UK, where former Environment Secretary David Miliband talked about "carbon credit cards". In his view, carbon could potentially become "a new currency". 

In 2008 the UK Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra), however, dropped plans to trial a "carbon card" scheme after a feasibility study found the idea "ahead of its time in terms of its public acceptability and the technology to bring down costs".

In the summary report, stakeholders also unearthed the idea of a "Robin Hood tax" on all conversions of one currency into another and noted that customs duties should be established to prevent unfair competition from exporting countries which have lower environmental regulations.

Green governance

As for international environmental law and green governance, stakeholders backed the establishment of a World Environment Organisation (WEO) by significantly upgrading UNEP.

Other intriguing ideas include setting up an International Court for the Environment (ICE) as a way to deal with disputes related to international environmental law.

To improve enforcement of international sustainable development commitments, stakeholders suggest giving the International Court of Justice compulsory jurisdiction on matters concerning sustainable development and expanding the mandate of the UN Security Council to include "environmental issues and their security related issues".

Challenges to green growth, emerging issues

On the economic aspects of green legislation, stakeholders admitted that "a transition to a green economy will involve some winners and some losers".

As jobs and methods of production change, many jobs are expected to be lost and – despite the obvious opportunities, "there is no guarantee that a green-based economy will provide sufficient replacement jobs".

Looking to the future, stakeholders expressed fears that inaction on climate change will lead to increased conflicts related to food and water insecurity. Meanwhile, expected rising occurrences of natural disasters may make parts of the world uninhabitable, fuelling rising levels of migration, which the United States believes will emerge as a security threat.

Some stakeholders even called for political commitments to stabilise the world's population to deal with increased pressure on natural resources. In late 2009, a UN report suggested that halting the rise in Earth's population would be a major help in the fight against global warming.


In December 2009 the UN General Assembly adopted a resolution to hold the UN Conference on Sustainable Development (UNCSD) in 2012.

This conference is referred to as 'Rio+20' or the 2012 Earth Summit, as it is being held exactly two decades after a landmark international conference in Rio de Janeiro, called the 'Earth Summit'. The 1992 summit agreed on a plan of action (Agenda 21) and a declaration setting out principles supporting sustainable development.

Hosted by Brazil, the 2012 summit will seek to secure renewed commitment for sustainable development and assess progress done. Its two main focuses are the green economy in the context of sustainable development and poverty eradication, and the institutional framework for sustainable development.

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