Since last week, thousands of government officials, scientists, environmental and development activists, business people, indigenous peoples, and ordinary citizens have been converging in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, for the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development.
The conference is also popularly known as Rio+20 because it is being convened 20 years after the Earth Summit (the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development or UNCED) that took place in the same city. The Earth Summit in turn was organized to celebrate the 20th year anniversary of the United Nations Conference on the Human Environment, held in Stockholm, also June in 1972.
All these summits are designed to build on each other with, to use language from the 1992 Rio Declaration on Environment and Development, the goal of establishing a new and equitable global partnership for the protection of the integrity of the global environmental and developmental system. In coming together, according to that declaration, all countries and peoples recognize “the integral and interdependent nature of the Earth, our home.”
Although the official summit begins only today, Monday June 17, 2012, many participants have been here since last week, among others, to work on the “outcome document,” a text that is being negotiated by governments to capture the progress that has been made since 1992 and to map the next steps for a world that is still struggling to implement sustainable development.
Others also came early to join the hundreds of “side events” – parallel conferences, summits, meetings, forums and other activities where citizens all over the world exchange views and ideas on a range of sustainable development issues.
Later this week, I will reflect on the progress in coming out with the outcome document as well as lessons that can be learned from the parallel processes. I have been participating and following these conferences and processes since 1992 and it never ceases to amaze me how challenging it is for the world to get its act together.
At the same time, there is no option but to try to in fact find consensus. Otherwise, we doom future generations to a destroyed world where nature is an enemy, always a threat and never again a beauty to behold or an opportunity to maximize.
In the week ahead, I will also report on the work of the Philippine Delegation in the Rio+20 conference. It is a lean but strong delegation headed by Dr Arsenio Balisacan, the newly appointed Director General of the National Economic Development Authority (Neda).
Other high-level officials and technical staff from the Department of Environment and Natural Resources, the Climate Change Commission, the National Anti-Poverty Commission, the Department of Foreign Affairs, and other agencies are also in the Philippine Delegation (PhilDel).
In addition, representatives from citizen organizations active in the Philippine Council for Sustainable Development (PCSD) have been included in the PhilDel while I am a member in my capacity as an adviser of the PCSD.
I feel confident that our delegation will have an influence in the official process because of the excellent preparation conducted by the staff of Neda and PCSD and because of the preparatory work done by the citizen organizations.
As the Rio +20 process, which has lasted two years, enters its decision phase, I propose that we recall the most important statements that governments agreed to in 1992, all of which are codified in the Rio Declaration. We should then judge whether we have made progress or not by looking at how far we have come in relation to these principles and objectives. For me, these are:
- Human beings are at the center of concerns for sustainable development. They are entitled to a healthy and productive life in harmony with nature.
- The right to development must be fulfilled so as to equitably meet developmental and environmental needs of present and future generations.
- In order to achieve sustainable development, environmental protection shall constitute an integral part of the development process and cannot be considered in isolation from it.
- All States and all people shall cooperate in the essential task of eradicating poverty as an indispensable requirement for sustainable development.
- States shall cooperate in a spirit of global partnership to conserve, protect and restore the health and integrity of the Earth's ecosystem.
- States should reduce and eliminate unsustainable patterns of production and consumption and promote appropriate demographic policies.
- Environmental issues are best handled with the participation of all concerned citizens, at the relevant level. They must be assured of access to information, public participation and environmental justice.
- States shall enact effective environmental legislation.
- States shall develop national law regarding liability and compensation for the victims of pollution and other environmental damage.
- In order to protect the environment, the precautionary approach shall be widely applied by States according to their capabilities.
- National authorities should endeavor to promote the internalization of environmental costs and the use of economic instruments.
- Women have a vital role in environmental management and development. Their full participation is therefore essential to achieve sustainable development.
- The creativity, ideals and courage of the youth of the world should be mobilized to forge a global partnership to achieve sustainable development and ensure a better future for all.
- Indigenous peoples and their communities and other local communities have a vital role in environmental management and development because of their knowledge and traditional practices.
- Peace, development and environmental protection are interdependent and indivisible.
If the world can show we are making progress in these areas, then we can be confident of a sustainable future for our children and their children. But for now, we should not despair. Instead, let’s resolve to work harder until we secure such a future.
We owe future generations that.
*Dean Tony La Viña, an international environmental lawyer and expert, writes from Rio de Janeiro, Brazil where he is participating as an adviser to the Philippine delegation to the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development.
By Dean Tony La Viña*
18 June 2012