Twenty years have gone by since world leaders gathered in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, for the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development, then a ground-breaking summit on these issues. This week, on June 20-22, around 130 representatives from over 190 countries are meeting again for the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development, known as Rio+20.
As the high-level discussions and treaty signings happen at Rio+20, it is only natural to question how much progress we have or have not made in the past 20 years. Unfortunately, the response seems bleak. AllAfrica.com stated in an article “The United Nations Environment Program has provided some in-depth answers to this question in the fifth edition of its Global Environmental Outlook (GEO-5). It’s not a pretty picture: of 90 important environmental goals and objectives that were assessed, the report finds that “significant progress” has only been made on four: eliminating the production and use of substances that deplete the ozone layer, removal of lead from fuel, increasing access to improved water supplies and boosting research to reduce pollution of the marine environment. Some progress has been made on 40 of the goals, and little or no progress on 24 others, including climate change, fish stocks, and desertification and drought.”
Expectations are low for Rio+20 from the global community amid weariness from the European debt crisis, economic slowdown and many other global distractions. Even with these conditions, the Rio+20 Earth Summit provides a huge opportunity for African leaders to gain international support for building a green economy, increasing technical capacity to expand access to sustainable energy and strengthening partnerships between development partners and the private sector.
Sustainable development has three pillars: economic, environmental and social. Harmonizing national and international social and economic policies can have a significant potential benefit to African countries; with additional resources these countries can work towards sustainable development and address the converging food, water and energy challenges to achieve the MDG goals.
We have been especially interested in Africa-related events surrounding the summit, including:
- Financing sustainable development in Africa, Sunday 17 June
- Promoting a green economy, Monday 18 June
- Africa Day, Tuesday 19 June
- Recognising Africa’s ecological footprint, Thursday 21 June
- Sustainable energy for all, Thursday 21 June
in which global leaders have made firm commitments to policies that will address unjust inequalities and hunger and environmental destruction affecting millions. Only time will tell if the aftermath of this Summit will follow in the same footsteps as its predecessor or if it will indeed usher in a new era of sustainability.
For further reading, here is the outcome document which was shared with all the heads of state and government officials – The Future We Want. Also, follow the latest Rio+20 conference updates on Africa, follow this special section of Africa Renewal.