World leaders met in Rio Janeiro, Brazil, last month for the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development. Dubbed Rio+20 to mark the twentieth anniversary of Earth Day that was held in Rio de Janeiro in 1992. The conference brought together more than 40,000 representatives from government, business, civil society, and multilateral development banks to discuss and build consensus for action and financial commitments to address a range of global issues that include access to clean energy, food security, water, sustainable transportation, and healthcare care.
“Rio+20 has given us a solid platform to build on,” UN Secretary‐General Ban Ki‐moon said, in a June 22, 2012, UN press release. “Rio+20 has affirmed fundamental principles—renewed essential commitments—and given us new direction.”
World leaders approved the outcome document for Rio+20, entitled “The Future We Want.” The outcome document calls for a wide range of actions, including: beginning the process to establish sustainable-development goals; detailing how the green economy can be used as a tool to achieve sustainable development; strengthening the UN Environment Program; promoting corporate-sustainability reporting measures; taking steps to go beyond gross domestic product to assess the well-being of a country; developing a strategy for sustainable-development financing, adopting a framework for tackling sustainable consumption and production; focusing on improving gender equity; recognizing the importance of voluntary commitments on sustainable development; and stressing the need to engage civil society and incorporate science into policy. “The outcome document provides a firm foundation for social, economic and environmental well‐being,” Ban said in the UN release. “It is now our responsibility to build on it. Now the work begins.”
Beyond the negotiated document, voluntary commitments played a key role in the outcome of Rio+20, with an estimated $513 billion mobilized from the 13 largest commitments alone, according to the UN release. More than 700 voluntary commitments by civil society groups, businesses, governments, universities and others were reported during the conference. The total included more than one hundred commitments and actions in support of the UN’s "Sustainable Energy for All" nitiative in achieving three objectives: ensuring energy access, doubling energy efficiency, and doubling the share of renewable energy by 2030. More than 50 governments from Africa, Asia, Latin America, and Small Island Developing States have engaged with the initiative and are developing energy plans and programs. Businesses and investors have committed more than $50 billion to achieve the initiative’s three objectives.
Additionally, eight multilateral development banks announced they will provide financing of more than $175 billion through 2020 to support sustainable transport in developing countries. The World Bank announced that more than 80 countries, civil society groups, private companies, and international organizations have declared their support for the new Global Partnership for Oceans. Ban also issued a Zero Hunger Challenge, calling on all nations to be boldly ambitious as they work for a future where everyone enjoys the right to food and all food systems are resilient. The challenge aims to provide 100% access to adequate food year round while increasing small-farm productivity and zero loss or waste of food. Several countries have already taken up the challenge. For example, the United Kingdom pledged £150 million ($234 million) to help smallholder farmers. The Brazilian government also announced the creation of the Rio+ Center, the World Center for Sustainable Development, which will facilitate research, knowledge exchange and international debate about sustainable development. Its partners include the State Government of Rio de Janeiro, the Rio Municipality, and several UN agencies, as well as academic institutions, businesses and civil society groups.
Pharma companies advance sustainable water
More than 200 commitments to sustainable development by businesses were announced at the conclusion of the UN Global Compact’s Corporate Sustainability Forum, which also was held last month. The forum, organized by the UN Global Compact, in cooperation with the Rio+20 Secretariat, the UN System and the Global Compact Network Brazil, brought together 2700 business leaders, investors, academics, government officials, environmentalists and grassroots activists. Among the decisions taken at the forum were: an offer by business leaders to be a part of the creation and promotion of new sustainable development goals; a communiqué signed by 45 CEOs of major corporations, including pharmaceutical companies, to outline ways that governments can improve water management and set frameworks that will help businesses to scale up their role in reducing usage and restoring natural sources; and an endorsement of nearly 300 institutions of higher learning of a plan to place sustainable development at university curricula.
The 45 CEO signatories on the communiqué to advance corporate water-management practices include executives from Allergan, Bayer, Dow Chemical, DSM, GlaxoSmithKline, and Merck & Co. The communiqué highlighted the urgency of the global water crisis and called on governments to step up their efforts and to work more actively with the private sector, civil society and other stakeholders. The CEOs of the communiqué, which also are endorsers of the UN Global Compact’s CEO Water Mandate, outlined a range of public policy actions they believe governments should undertake to make meaningful progress on water and to better leverage the resources and capabilities of the international business community. These include:• Developing policies and incentives to improve water productivity and efficiency in all sectors, especially agriculture.
• Establishing fair and appropriate valuation of water for agriculture, industry, and people while at the same time ensuring water and sanitation access in accord with the UN human right to safe water and sanitation.
• Increasing investment in infrastructure and developing policies to accelerate progress on access to and ensuring efficient and reliable delivery of, water, and sanitation services.
• Sharing policies, innovations, and tools among governments and other stakeholders to scale up good practice and to improve general efficacy over time.
• Working more actively with the business community, private finance and civil society.
Through the CEO Water Mandate, the signatories committed to advancing the concept of corporate water sustainability by developing, implementing, and disclosing policies and practices in relation to six key areas: direct operations; supply chain and watershed management; collective action; public policy; community engagement; and transparency. Actions being undertaken by endorsers of the CEO Water Mandate include setting targets on water efficiency and waste-water management in factories and operations; working with suppliers to improve their water practices; and partnering with NGOS, UN agencies, governments and public authorities, investors, and other stakeholders on water-related projects and solutions.
The "Future We Want" outcome document, adopted by world leaders at the UN Conference on Sustainable Development, also included a continued pledge to improve healthcare. “We recognize that health is a precondition for and an outcome and indicator of all three dimensions of sustainable development,” stated the report. “We understand the goals of sustainable development can only be achieved in the absence of a high prevalence of debilitating communicable and noncommunicable diseases, and where populations can reach a state of physical, mental and social well-being. We are convinced that action on the social and environmental determinants of health, both for the poor and the vulnerable and for the entire population, is important to create inclusive, equitable, economically productive and healthy societies. We call for the full realization of the right to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health,” according to the document.
In making that recognition, the leaders recognized the value of universal health coverage to enhance health, social cohesion, and sustainable human and economic development and pledged to strengthen health systems toward the provision of equitable universal coverage. The leaders in signing the document also recognized that HIV and AIDS, malaria, tuberculosis, influenza, polio, and other communicable diseases remain serious global concerns and pledged to redouble efforts to achieve universal access to HIV prevention, treatment, care and support, and to eliminate mother-to-child transmission of HIV, as well as to renew and strengthen the fight against malaria, tuberculosis and neglected tropical diseases.
The representatives agreeing to the outcome document also recognized the global burden and threat of noncommunicable diseases as one of the major challenges for sustainable development in the twenty-first century. They committed to strengthen health systems toward the provision of equitable, universal coverage and promote affordable access to prevention, treatment, care, and support related to noncommunicable diseases, especially cancer, cardiovascular diseases, chronic respiratory diseases and diabetes.
The leaders also supported in the outcome document access to medicines, particularly in offering assistance to developing countries. The outcome document also called for further collaboration and cooperation at the national and international levels to strengthen health systems through increased health financing, recruitment, development and training and retention of the health workforce, through improved distribution and access to safe, affordable, effective and quality medicines, vaccines and medical technologies, and through improving health infrastructure. The outcome document also affirmed a goal to reduce maternal and child mortality and to improve the health of women, youth and children, including with respect to women’s reproductive health.