Voluntary Commitments, More than Final Outcome at Rio+20, Give Hope
The recently concluded United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development (Rio+20) prompted a variety of reactions from observers around the world. While its final outcome document titled The Future We Want received criticism for lack of leadership and progress, some praised the large-scale exchange of ideas and global participation at Rio+20, including the 715 voluntary commitments from governments, civil society, NGOs, the private sector, and others forged at the conference.
The final outcome document was signed by world leaders last Friday. The 53-page document was prepared beforehand by diplomats and 193 Member States of the United Nations under the leadership of the Brazilian government.
The outcome document called for a wide range of actions such as establishment of sustainable development goals, support for UNEP, improvement of gender equality, and promotion of corporate sustainability reporting measures among others. According to UN News Centre, $513 billion was pledged towards sustainable development at Rio+20.
Yet the outcome document and the conference in extension was a disappointment for many. Barbara Stocking, chief executive of Oxfam GB, expressed her disappointment at the lack of leadership and action at the conference. Stocking told BBC “We had the leaders of the world here, but they really did not take decisions that will take us forward.” WWF Director General Jim Leape stated that Rio+20 was a conference to address the challenge of building a sustainable future, but world leaders lost sight of this “urgent purpose.”
Nevertheless, the level of participation and exchange of ideas from governments, NGOs, as well as from online participants in Rio+20’s associated events gives hope to many. Brazilian environmentalist Tasso Rezende de Azevedo declared “…Rio+20 is an immense success. What’s happened around it is very rich,” as reported by NG News. UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon stated that he is encouraged by the more than 700 concrete commitments registered at Rio+20. Sha Zukang, Secretary General of the Rio+20 Conference, stated that the voluntary commitments complement the official Conference outcome and are a major part of Rio+20’s legacy.
Voluntary commitments cover 23 areas of sustainable development, including water, education, poverty eradication, sustainable transport, and others. Stakeholders and individual organizations are encouraged to register commitments and pledges, provided these are specific and measurable as well as able to specify at least one tangible deliverable.
The UN page registered 715 voluntary commitments in all, including 14 from governments, 30 from the UN System and IGO, and 96 from the private sector among others, all via SE4ALL (Sustainable Energy for All Initiative). 100 million trees were pledged by 2017, as well as recycling of 800,000 tons of PVC per year by 2020. Scores of school and universities made Higher Education Sustainability Initiative (HESI) voluntary commitments. Commitments on biodiversity, electricity access, and carbon footprint reduction were also registered.
It is the increasing worldwide recognition of key issues, very much evident in the massive participation and amount of voluntary commitments made in the conference, that gives hope and encouragement perhaps more than the final outcome of Rio+20 itself. More than “complementary”, voluntary commitments and the ‘ordinary’ people behind them may very well turn out to be the main drivers of a sustainable future for our planet.
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