The 1992 Rio United Nations Conference on Environment and Development established the paradigm that Sustainable Development must be holistic and incorporate social, economic and environment imperatives. For the first time, developed and developing countries agreed to a framework based on mutual rights and obligations. The Rio Declaration on Environment and Development affirmed the “polluter pays”, “common but differentiated responsibilities,” and precautionary principles as essential concepts underlying this framework.
Already ahead of the 2002 Johannesburg Summit, it was acknowledged that progress in implementing Sustainable Development has been extremely disappointing since the 1992 Earth Summit. The hope, born in Johannesburg, that the numerous voluntary multi- stakeholder partnerships, together with governments’ aspirational targets on sanitation, chemicals, fish stocks, and biodiversity, would succeed in implementing Sustainable Development, clearly has failed to deliver in the ten years since.
The environmental crisis is indeed worsening, with the imperious and yet unsolved threat of climate change already impacting the most vulnerable and yet least responsible communities. Positive trends regarding poverty eradication are still contradicted by the persistence of severe inequality between and within states. The partial progress that has been achieved is threatened by the confluence of global crises in food, energy, climate, finance and the economy.
The Rio+20 Conference is thus a key opportunity to perpetuate the legacy of a historical international Declaration and Agenda 21 action plan, which paved the way for the implementation of Sustainable Development policies, and to give a structural answer to the current challenges. It is also an opportune moment for the international community, twenty years after the first Earth Summit, to push forward a credible and efficient pathway towards Sustainable Development and poverty eradication.
CIDSE is an international alliance of Catholic development agencies working in the north and with partners in the south to promote global social justice and solidarity. CIDSE advocates a shift from models that encourage a material conception of being, illustrated by resource and carbon-intensive consumption along with extreme profits and inequalities, to models that work in favour of human well-being, living simply, in community, giving priority to equity, sustainability, and responsibility. CIDSE’s vision of sustainability is founded on the principle that human beings are stewards of creation, called to care for the environment in a responsible way so as to pass it on to future generations. New models of economy and society need to integrate the concept of finitude. There is a limited quantity of energy and material and a need to share the natural resources that we have both equitably and sustainably. One element to be explored is reorienting consumption and production to the local scale, reflecting the need to consider our ecological footprint, as well as our connection to the environment and to our local region.
A fundamental recognition of the dignity of every human being, with particular attention to the poorest and most vulnerable, is also central to our vision of sustainability. This obligation goes beyond the individual aspect and requires a broader commitment: that each individual contribute to the common good. The common good is the sum of all those conditions of living in community – economic, political, social and cultural – which make it possible for women and men readily and fully to achieve authentic human development. We are meant to be one human family that lives in peace, justice and solidarity.
The need for new models has also been highlighted by efforts to redefine measure of economic performance and social progress (alternatives to GDP), such as the Sustainable Economic Well-being Index, and similar initiatives in Germany and Italy, as well as Bhutan’s Gross National Happiness Index.
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