A Vision for a Different Earth Summit – STRUCTURING THE RIO+20 SUMMIT FOR SUCCESS

In June 2012, Presidents, Prime Ministers, and other top government officials will come to Rio de Janeiro for the UN Conference on Sustainable Development, which will be the centerpiece of a week of events attracting more than 50,000 participants and attention worldwide. This will be the 20th anniversary of the historic first Earth Summit held in Rio in 1992. The Rio+20 gathering will determine whether or not we can move the world onto a green growth trajectory and truly strength global governance for sustainable development.

Often overlooked is that Earth Summit 2012 itself will be an important milestone in global governance. The summit process will involve thousands of officials, business and civil society leaders throughout the world and a collective investment of hundreds of millions of dollars. We need to ensure that Rio+20 will be transformative, if we are truly going to start the “free-market revolution for global sustainability” called for by the UN Secretary General this year. This is particularly important after the perceived failure of the Copenhagen climate summit and growing skepticism worldwide about the ability of such international negotiations and gatherings to do anything worthwhile on the huge environmental and economic challenges we face. Learning from previous UN gatherings, here is our initial vision for the Rio+20 Earth Summit.


The official high-level Rio+20 meeting from June 4-6 must be different than earlier summits. There is no need for another long Plan of Action or the addition of another treaty to the hundreds that have already been adopted. The three-day meeting should instead put the spotlight on individual and collective actions of presidents and prime ministers to move toward sustainable development goals. These sessions should:

● Encourage all presidents and prime ministers to use their allotted time for speeches – usually about 5 minutes – to present on the specific sustainable development initiatives, challenges, and needs in their respective countries

● Create the expectation for new or substantially scaled-up commitments from all countries, which are specific and short-term; and identify partners for technical assistance and coordinating actions

● Produce a politically-binding outcomes document of not more than ten pages that recognizes the imminent threat of exceeding our planet’s natural boundaries, the need to move to a new green economy, and recommits governments to act on their promises to move towards sustainable development

● Generate an appendix of country commitments to the outcomes document that is the foundation for a global registry of sustainability actions


The period of four days (May 31-June 3) following the final preparatory meeting and before the official summit provides an unprecedented opportunity to engage sub-national governments, businesses and civil society on an equal footing. These sessions should be coordinated closely and in parallel with the official meeting; they should:

● Invite CEOs of major corporations, local government officials, and civil society leaders to give presentations on sustainable development challenges and opportunities in their sectors

● Create the expectation for commitments from all major businesses and local governments that are specific and meaningful, and complement or exceed national goals

● Produce a registry of major stakeholder commitments, which includes robust monitoring and reporting provisions, and is in parallel with the national registry above

Race to Rio campaign: http://switchboard.nrdc.org/earthsummit.php

Earth Summit deliverables: http://docs.nrdc.org/international/int_11060601.asp

Article originally published at uncsd2012.org

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