Cooperation in Rio Sets Table for Transformative Action


Conservation International Statement on the UN Conference on Sustainable Development

Rio de Janeiro, Brazil - 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.  
Rio+20 will also be remembered as a moment when 10 African nations, united under the Gaborone Declaration, emerged as global leaders to take the first steps to correct what has been up until now, a misguided development trajectory.  They were followed by 49 other nations, developed and developing alike, which collectively underscored the importance of natural capital to development, in supporting the Communiqué on Natural Capital of the World Bank with some 100 public, private and civil society partners.
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. Also unique to the summit, non government organizations were included as active and valued participants - not mere observers - in defining a new development agenda. The green economy was embraced, not as a constraint on development, or an alternative to economic and social wellbeing, but rather as a fundamental underpinning – an imperative for the wealth and welfare of all generations and life on our precious Earth.
Also of enormous importance was that, for the first time, the official and unofficial side events at this huge conference – an estimated 6,000 in all, became the main event, thanks to the great advances in social networking to amplify impact and ideas since Rio ‘92. The outcomes that were not explicitly written in the outcome text paragraphs were, in many ways, the main accomplishments of this meeting, and the sum total of all of those side events will multiply to deliver action in years to come.
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.
The role of protected areas also emerged in a major way, especially in the marine realm, where progress in the past few years has been little short of amazing.  Countries like Kiribati and the Cook Islands in the Pacific have created marine protected areas of 410,000 km2 and 1 million km2 respectively – highlighting these Small Island States’ globally important roles as Large Ocean Nations whose ecosystem services we all need. Australia, long a leader, has increased its protected areas coverage from 800,000 km2 to a staggering 3.1 million km2.   This has brought the blue end of the Green Economy concept into strong focus, and must also be seen as a new development stimulated in part by the buildup to Rio + 20.
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 us to get to work to deliver the future we, our planet, and our children all need.