As the Rio+20 United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development comes to a close, we leave this city with a positive spirit and expectant hope for the future of people and our planet.
While participants arrived with modest expectations, viewed in the context of the Conference’s purpose and goals, Rio +20 delivered on its stated intent in the negotiating halls and produced some important and hopefully lasting results outside of the government delegates’ forum.
Of greatest importance was the fact that for the first time we saw both governments and businesses explicitly recognizing that natural capital (biodiversity and ecosystem services) is the essential core element of sustainable development and that healthy ecosystems must be the foundation of human well-being. This is an extraordinary and transformative change in mindset, as it finally moves the environment from a marginal issue to a central component of future development strategies.
Additionally in Rio, the role and voice of business and civil society moved from the margins to the center, with the corporate world taking on a leadership role as a community unlike anything we’ve seen before. The green economy was embraced, not as a constraint on development, or an alternative to economic and social well-being, but rather as a fundamental underpinning — an imperative for the wealth and welfare of all generations and life on our precious Earth.
Over and over we heard global leaders strongly affirm that natural capital (biodiversity and ecosystem services) is central to sustainable development, and the fact that countries have now committed to implementing it through their national accounting systems is a major consequence that we will likely view as historic in years to come. We must now address the issues of perverse incentives and subsidies and begin to account for negative externalities, or the hidden social and environmental costs of business as usual on our balance sheets.
As always, the diverse voices of civil society were heard, both dissenting and supporting, but now more than ever before because of the new social media order. Their demand for action and commitment to hold leaders accountable is vital and valued.
This Rio+20 summit will be regarded as a moment when the global community — as a collective — chose not to allow the desire for a perfect political outcome to prevent progress and action and when we recognized that prior agreements on climate, biodiversity and poverty alleviation must simply be implemented with greater urgency. It has provided new tools and a new affirmation that nature is an essential ingredient if development is to be truly sustainable over the long term.
Leaders have set the table for the kind of development redesign we now need to follow. How will we respond to it? The Future We Want
depends on urgent, smart, collective action. It is now up to all of us to get to work to deliver the future we, our planet, and our children all need.