OP-ED: Rio+20 is Everyone's Conference

  • by Sha Zukang* (united nations)
  • Inter Press Service

Over 135 heads of state and government and up to 50,000 participants, including business executives and civil society representatives, will be present when the conference opens on Jun. 20. Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon calls it 'one of the most important conferences in U.N. history'.

Make no mistake, the world is watching. With today's unprecedented interdependence, sustainable development is the only way to address the inter-locking economic, social and environmental challenges that confront billions of people, and threaten our shared planet.

Progress on sustainable development means meals on the table for millions who suffer from hunger; decent work opportunities; access to clean water; taking a deep breath of clean air; or walking through a forest teeming with life.

Furthermore, sustainable development is ensuring that every woman has equal opportunity and that every child has the chance to go to school; has basic sanitation; grows up in a socially inclusive environment, and can look forward to a promising future.

In fact, these foundations of 'sustainable development' may be something many of us are fortunate enough to take for granted. But should we? Our overburdened planet is facing a host of challenges: the fallout of a global economic recession, energy insecurity, water scarcity, high food prices, and vulnerabilities to climate change and increased frequency and severity of natural disasters, among others.

The nature of these challenges reminds us of an important truth: we are one and we are interconnected in countless ways. These challenges don't affect just one country or one region. They are global in nature and impact all of us.

In today's world, what happens on one side of the globe can easily reverberate on the other. Living on borrowed time and consuming resources as if there were five planets, we can no longer afford a business-as-usual attitude.

Rio+20 is not 'just another U.N. conference'. So why is the United Nations convening this conference? It is not about enforcing rules or regulations at the cost of quality of life, but rather to encourage and facilitate better, wiser choices by individuals, local communities, businesses and governments.

Combined, our choices determine the health of our economies, our planet and our society. Rio is an important opportunity to ensure world leaders stand by their commitments to a sustainable world — economically, socially and environmentally, and that they are choosing policies that are pro-people and pro-planet.

One opportunity that is finding increasing support is for sustainable development goals (SDGs) to complement and reinforce the Millennium Development Goals. SDGs that are actionable and measurable would give concrete expression to renewed high-level political commitment for sustainable development.

At Rio, I hope to see action on how to advance a green economy in the context of sustainable development and poverty eradication. Indeed, action on a range of issues are calling for attention: decent jobs, especially for the nearly 80 million young people entering the workforce every year, social protection schemes, social inclusion; energy access, efficiency and sustainability; food security and sustainable agriculture; sound water management; sustainable cities; protection and management of the oceans; and improved resilience and disaster preparedness.

Governments will also need to decide what institutional framework can best advance the sustainable development agenda, and provide space for civil society and the private sector to play their role.

Indeed, all sectors of society can and must engage on these issues. Business and industry can develop technologies that help transform the world for the better, generate green jobs, and positively influence society through corporate social responsibility.

Civil society can hold governments to account and ensure that the voices of the most vulnerable are represented. Scientists can develop innovative solutions to sustainability challenges. And every single one of us also has a part — in the decisions we make each day — to make informed choices.

Rio+20 is everyone's conference, just as it is everyone's planet. Its goals, aspirations and its outcome will belong to all of us.

Lastly, let us not forget that Rio+20 is also a conference for future generations. A famous Native American proverb says, 'We do not inherit the land from our ancestors, we borrow it from our children.'

Together, by engaging in creative thought, forward-looking initiatives and voluntary commitments, we can build consensus and strive for a world that will make our descendants proud. Let's work together to create the future we want.

*Sha Zukang is U.N. under-secretary-general heading the Department of Economic and Social Affairs, and was the secretary-general of the 1992 U.N. Conference on Environment and Development, also known as the Earth Summit.

© Inter Press Service (2012) — All Rights ReservedOriginal source: Inter Press Service