Tag Archives: Rio+20

Cities Are Where the Action Is, Post-Rio

First posted on the Earth Institute’s State of the Planet blog on Aug. 16, 2012

Rio, sustainable development

Rio has undertaken a major renovation of its port to create a sustainable development, encompassing residential, commercial and industrial uses, along with improved public transportation, green spaces and other public services. Photo: City of Rio

Two months after the UN’s landmark conference on sustainable development in Rio de Janeiro, has anything changed?

For many, the official document that was a principal outcome of “Rio+20” is an extreme disappointment – little more than a reaffirmation of the problems and desires stated at the first Earth Summit in Rio 20 years ago, with no firm commitments, no tangible goals and no timetables.

Its defenders note that the document, titled The Future We Want,” sets the stage for further deliberations on a set of sustainable development goals, and that it makes important statements about protecting oceans, providing people access to energy, and establishing human rights to food, safe drinking water and sanitation. In the midst of financial crisis, they say, it’s too much to expect 190 nations with often diverging economic interests to agree on what to do – but at least, those nations are still talking.

And indeed, the UN secretary general has appointed a special panel to begin the debate over sustainable development goals, and launched a new project, the Sustainable Development Solutions Network, to focus research worldwide on solutions to some of the daunting social, environmental and economic problems we face. Earth Institute Director Jeffrey Sachs will lead that effort.

The real bright spots in Rio, however, had more to with what happened outside the formal UN conference June 20-22, in meetings of ordinary citizens, corporations, non-governmental organizations and local government groups. There, the sense of urgency about the world’s social and environmental problems resolved into action, including a long list of voluntary commitments.

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Goals for Rio: A Path to Sustainability

First published on the Earth Institute’s State of the Planet blog on June 8, 2012

World leaders and thousands of citizens representing public and private sectors will convene in Rio de Janeiro next week for Rio+20, the UN Conference on Sustainable Development. The goal: to exchange ideas for solving some of the world’s most pressing problems; and, to create a roadmap for the future.

India, drinking water

Pupils in India drinking rainwater from an underground store. Photo: Dieter Telemans/Panos Pictures

The agenda is broad: economic development, environmental sustainability, social inclusion. The participants in the formal talks June 20-22 are hoping to produce a document outlining how the world should move ahead to achieve these things. That could include a set of “sustainable development” goals and commitments – ways to help people climb out of extreme poverty, and to keep our growing population from consuming the planet’s natural resources at an unsustainable rate.

Perhaps even more important will be all the interactions going on around the formal talks – meetings of business and civil society groups, non-governmental organizations, local government representatives and others. They will exchange ideas and policies, make their own commitments to move ahead, and forge new and productive partnerships.

In an article published today in The Lancet, Earth Institute Director Jeffrey Sachs outlined his own ideas for sustainable development goals – the SDGs. He writes about how these goals can build on the Millennium Development Goals, the UN’s set of targets that aim to reduce extreme poverty and boost social well-being in many other ways by 2015.

“The SDGs are an important idea, and could help finally to move the world to a sustainable trajectory. The detailed content of the SDGs, if indeed they do emerge in upcoming diplomatic processes, is very much up for discussion and debate,” Sachs writes. “Their content, I believe, should focus on two considerations: global priorities that need active worldwide public participation, political focus, and quantitative measurement; and lessons from the MDGs, especially the reasons for their successes, and corrections of some of their most important shortcomings.”

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For Rio+20, a Call to Preserve Biodiversity

First posted on the Earth Institute’s State of the Planet blog on June 6, 2012.

Deforestation, biodiversity


An estimated 9 million species of living things inhabit the Earth — plants, animals, fungi and micro-organisms such as algae and bacteria. But those species are disappearing at an alarming rate, and this loss of biodiversity appears to be a major driver of environmental changes that can affect the biological and chemical processes that humans rely on, according to a new paper in the journal Nature.

“No one can agree on what exactly will happen when an ecosystem loses a species, but most of us agree that it’s not going to be good. And we agree that if ecosystems lose most of their species, it will be a disaster,” said Shahid Naeem of Columbia University, who was one of 17 scientists from around the world who worked on the paper, a review of 20 years of ecological research published this week.

The 7 billion people living on the planet now depend on those ecosystems, and the diverse array of life that comprise them, for our own existence: for food, water, fertile soil, fuel, clean air and protection from pests and disease. The ways that those organisms absorb, utilize and recycle nutrients also play a key role in our climate.

“There is now unequivocal evidence that biodiversity loss reduces the efficiency by which ecological communities capture biologically essential resources, produce biomass, decompose and recycle biologically essential nutrients,” the authors write in the paper, “Biodiversity loss and its impact on humanity.”

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