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Rio+20: Great opportunities ahead, church NGOs say

31 May 2012

Photo Credit: UN.

Jessica Nitschke

Almost 1.4 billion of the world’s people of the world live on less than US$ 1.25 on day.  In Latin America and the Caribbean, 0.5 per cent of forest cover is lost each year.  Given these developments, policy makers and civil society organisations on a conference that will take place in Rio de Janeiro from 20-22 June 2012 under the auspices of the United Nations Department of Economics and Social Affairs.  It has become known as Rio+20, since it takes place on the 20th anniversary of the 1992 United Nations Conference on Environment and Development or UNCED.  NGOs, government representatives, and others will discuss two main topics: a green economy in the service of sustainable development and poverty eradication; and the institutional framework for sustainable development.

At Rio in 1992, states adopted the so-called Agenda 21, a blueprint to rethink economic growth, advance social equity, and ensure environmental protection.  The new meeting is also concerned with social equity and environmental protection, but now explicitly links these aims with poverty reduction, in the context of an ever more crowded planet.

In view of these challenges, CIDSE, an international alliance of 16 Catholic development agencies from Europe and North America, has taken up position.  In their report The Changes we Need for the Future we Want, the member organisations of CIDSE, which work in over 120 countries around the world, argue that Rio+20 should launch international action in the spheres of food security, climate change, equal access for women and men, and the private sector and finance, in this way addressing the structural conditions for sustainable development.  In the case of food security, for example, one such essential condition is to monitor and regulate those practices of industrial food production that cause significant environmental damage, including climate change.  CIDSE argues that placing the food sector more fully at the service of society entails a greater emphasis on local systems of food production, and local markets.

A second condition pertains to the finance sector.  Speculation in financial markets needs to be regulated, and the entire sector reoriented, so that finance can provide credit for activities that promote sustainable development.  In this context, CIDSE believes it crucial to develop a framework for cooperation on international banking supervision for the regulation of commodity markets.  It is also necessary that the small-scale private sector be promoted, as this will continue to offer employment and income for hundreds of millions of poor people.

CIDSE argues the need for to agree by 2015 a robust framework of sustainable development, to be implemented in a manner that is binding under international law, and which can therefore assure the human rights of future generations.  Only in this way can Rio+20 achieve its twin objectives, of promoting both sustainable development and poverty reduction.

Jessica Nitschke

The author is a team member of the Jesuit European Social Centre.

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