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Staffan Nilsson's Comment (former EESC President 2010-2013)

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Rio+20 – what worked well (I)

3 Jul 2012 By: Staffan Nilsson 1 Posts

Last month was marked by the Rio+20 global summit on sustainable development. At the EESC we were committed to contributing to the EU’s position and to mobilising EU civil society in order to push EU and world leaders towards an ambitious Rio+20 outcome. An agreement has been reached and this is an achievement. It’s better than nothing! However I can’t help seeing the huge discrepancy between the aspirations, ambitions and commitments which were visible in the myriad Rio+20-related events and statements from civil society and the actual wording of the outcome document which the heads of states and governments agreed on.

I will go into more detail in one of my next comments about this discrepancy between civil society’s aspirations and political will. Now I want to point out what did work well.

Even though the UN Rio+20 outcome document does not reflect the sense of urgency felt by civil society, and concrete action-oriented decisions and precise timelines are missing, some of the key messages that the EESC pleaded for are reflected in the document: the social dimension, food security, the Sustainable Development Goals (despite the failure to decide on explicit themes), the 10-Year Framework programme on sustainable consumption and production, an agreement on the green economy as an essential tool for sustainable development, the limitations of GDP. On top of this, there is broad recognition of the role of civil society despite the lack of new binding institutional mechanisms.

Assessing Rio+20 goes beyond the outcome document and the negotiations. For instance, I have been actively supporting the idea of an Ombudsman for future generations in order to bring more long term-thinking and to ensure intergenerational solidarity when deciding on our future. Negotiators haven't agreed on that function, yet they have asked the UN Secretary-General to follow-up on this question. So we will keep on promoting the idea of having an institutional mechanism to ensure long-term intergenerational solidarity at all adequate levels.

We were impressed by the volume of side-events, voluntary commitments from different stakeholders and different thematic initiatives from groups of states, all showing that the Rio+20 Conference has managed to re-invigorate the engagement for sustainable development and has created a momentum which should outlive the three days of the conference. Over 10 000 registered participants from civil society make Rio+20 the UN Conference with the biggest civil society participation ever. The Brazilian government took the unique initiative of organising “Sustainable Development Dialogue Days” (on-line and on-site) in preparation for this Conference, to which a large number of civil society actors contributed with concrete proposals. A selection of these was discussed with high-level experts and then voted upon.

The Conference was still going on and all participants were already in implementation mode, continually stressing the need to take the Rio results further, with the help of all stakeholders. The importance of civil society involvement was the common message of many of these discussions.

The EESC is an advisory body not directly involved in the negotiations, so the purpose of its contribution to Rio+20 was two-fold: to promote the role of civil society and to engage in a dialogue with the EESC's third country partners to explain and share European values and positions. 

It is important to grasp the momentum generated by Rio and to continue both the sustainable development agenda and the involvement of the EU’s economic and social players represented in the EESC and in other structures in the Rio+20 follow-up. We will do this internally by continuing to mainstream sustainable development in more policy areas, reinforcing coordination of our policy work, and externally by working closely with the European Commission and other EU institutions on a solid and coherent EU follow-up to the Rio+20 summit. With this purpose, we also intend to work on better defining the sustainable development goals by again hosting a broad and inclusive dialogue with civil society stakeholders at EU and international level. I will write about this point later in the autumn.

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  • 8 Jul 2012 17:35
    Posted by Georges Cingal

    As i said in Brussels, it seems more and more obvious that some leaders would need some training in education in environment. This would enable them to realise that the Crisis is a Global crisis, therefore a Sustainable Crisis with the kind of growth nobody should be looking for : more unemployed, more degradation of our soils...

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