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International Community urged to address social dimension of sustainability, ahead of Rio+20

UN Conference on Sustainable Development (Rio+20)Ahead of the UN Conference on Sustainable Development (Rio+20), to be held in Rio de Janeiro, from 20-22 June 2012, the international community has been urged to finalise their positions in time and to ensure that common grounds are established at the last meeting ahead of the conference. Experts have also warned that if the summit is to truly reflect a significant way forward in the promotion of sustainable development, its social dimensions should be taken fully into account.

The next round of preparatory meetings for Rio+20, which is expected to establish a global sustainable development agenda, is to be held from May 29 until June 2. The meeting was added to the preparatory agenda earlier in May, as participants continue to be divided on key issues, such as the introduction of Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Whereas some countries have called for concrete goals and targets to be agreed at Rio+20, others have claimed that the conference should first set a common agenda for the introduction of such goals, with concrete measures to be discussed at a later stage. During a General Assembly Thematic debate, entitled “The Road to Rio+20 and Beyond”, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon urged the members to overcome the deadlock in negotiations and to establish common grounds, in order to ensure a successful outcome of the summit. “The current pace of negotiations is sending all the wrong signals. We cannot let a microscopic examination of text blind us to the big picture, we do not have a moment to waste”, he warned.

Recent negotiations have sent worrisome signals on how sustainability is to be promoted at the conference, with members expressing their wish to further involve the private sector, and to remove references to the right to development in the outcome document. Experts have warned that such an approach could undermine the social dimensions of sustainable development and have therefore increased their advocacy in favour of a social approach to sustainability, in recent weeks. In light of discussions on the promotion of a ‘green economy’, experts have warned that such a model should challenge current consumption and production patterns in a drastic way, if sustainable development is to benefit all people alike. Therefore also a letter by Eurostep, the Arab NGO Network for Development, Social Watch and ALOP inter alia sent to European Environment and Development Ministers reads that “the green economy as presented by the EU, while promoting more ecological practices, still relies on an unsustainable model based on materialistic consumption growth and insufficiently regulated and equitable financial and economic activities. These issues need to be addressed to ensure the link between the green economy and the three core dimensions of sustainable development”.

One future challenge is said to be the need to make the management of natural assets more socially accountable, transparent and inclusive for poor people. “Without strong and effective governance mechanisms for negotiating across and between competing needs and interests, much of the efforts to “go green” will either stymie or fail, particularly in the face of persistent fiscal constraints, economic crisis and rising inequality in the industrialised countries of the north”, warned Leisa Perch, Policy Specialist at the UNDP-Brasilia based International Policy Centre for Inclusive Growth (IPC-IG).

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