With 178 national delegations, the election of 39 conference Vice-Presidents, over 1,400 officially accredited NGOs, unknown numbers of journalists and 30,000 individuals in attendance at the parallel Global Forum conference, Rio 1.0 set the standard for collective global work on sustainable development.
Remembering the results of Rio 1.0
Hot on the heels of Bhopal, Chernobyl and the Exxon Valdez, Rio 1.0 exercised the creativity and cooperation of global experts to construct global principles for sustainable development, culminating in the 27 Principles of the Rio Declaration. The Conference also sought agreement on seven key areas — atmospheric protection, high seas fisheries, biotechnology safety concerns, technology transfer, institutional arrangements, poverty and consumption, and financial resources. These areas of interest were not the only ones addressed by the conference, but simply those on which the preparatory committees (who had worked for two years leading up to Rio 1.0) had not reached agreement. In other words, this was the mother of all sustainability conferences.
A catalyst for two decades of change
Twenty years later Rio+20 demands our attention and respect. The Rio Declaration’s 27
Principles have successfully moved human beings to the centre of sustainable development debates, and we have seen the gradual but progressive improvement in social, environmental and economic sustainability initiatives by governments and corporations.
Two decades is not so long in the scheme of things (although my crimped orange hair seems light-years away), but the Rio Declaration has arguably catalysed several vital global initiatives and sparked numerous commitments to social and environmental responsibility. We can see in the Rio Declaration the DNA of such major advances as the UN Global Compact, ISO 26000, the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) and the Ruggie Principles. At industry levels, Rio 1.0 undoubtedly influenced the Fair Trade movement, the International Council on Mining and Metals 10 Principles for Sustainable Development and the OECD Sustainable Manufacturing Initiative.
What to watch for at Rio+20
Since 1992 there has been a significant shift in our understanding of sustainable development to unquestioningly incorporate social and community issues, as well as environment. Rio+20 reflects this shift in its inclusion of corporations and a focused discussion on discerning best practice for sustainability reporting.
Rio+20 strongly demonstrates movements in the corporate world to both acknowledge and address responsibility for sustainable development. Over 1,000 corporations, including giants like Cisco, Disney and HSBC, are in attendance at the Corporate Sustainability Forum this week. With so many firms making public commitments, such as Microsoft’s to achieve zero emissions, a great deal of attention is already turning to questions of accountability to ensure such public commitments are upheld.
Other central goals include establishment of an institutional framework for sustainable development; concentration on disasters, oceans, food, jobs, cities and energy; and the potential adoption of universal ‘sustainable development goals’, modelled after the MDGs.
While much work remains to achieve universal commitments to sustainable development and related initiatives concerning corporate social responsibility, the advances made since the year I bought some Keith Haring AirWalks, saw Bill Clinton stump for President, and fell in love with a tragic hero called Kurt are extraordinary. I hope Rio+40 provides us with similarly positive points of reflection.
With thanks for historical data to Elliot, L. (2004) From Stockholm to Rio to Johannesburg, In: The Global Politics of Environment (an excellent and still relevant read, btw).