Rio+20: UN and partners hold global online forum on sustainability issues

Administrator of the UN Development Programme (UNDP), Helen Clark (right), is interviewed during Rio+Social. UN Photo/F. Soto Nino

19 June 2012 – People from all over the world today took part in an all-day online forum discussing how technology and social media can be used to achieve progress on the economic, environmental and social issues at the heart of the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development (Rio+20), taking place in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

Through Rio+ Social, UN senior officials, members of the social media community, and civil society and private sector representatives were able to hold a direct dialogue with a global online audience on how technology – and online platforms in particular – can help citizens come up with solutions and innovations on sustainable development issues.

“Back in 1992, we used snail mail and faxes. There was no Facebook, no Twitter, no Tumblr,” Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon told Rio+Social participants in a video message, alluding to the first Earth Summit, held twenty years ago.

“Now, people around the world can connect like never before. We can learn from each other. We can push for action, and we can challenge leaders to live up to their words. That is what Rio+ Social is all about,” Mr. Ban added.

Rio+20 follows on from the Earth Summit in 1992, also held in Rio de Janeiro, during which countries adopted Agenda 21 – a blueprint to rethink economic growth, advance social equity and ensure environmental protection.

The Rio+Social event takes place before the start of the high-level meeting of Rio+20, from 20-22 June. The meeting is expected to bring together over 100 heads of state and government, along with thousands of parliamentarians, mayors, UN officials, chief executive officers and civil society leaders to shape new policies to promote prosperity, reduce poverty and advance social equity and environmental protection.

Among the UN officials who took part in the event were the UN Development Programme (UNDP) Administrator, Helen Clark; the UN High Commissioner on Human Rights, Navi Pillay; the Executive Director of the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF), Anthony Lake: and the Executive Director of the UN Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women (UN Women), Michelle Bachelet.

Throughout the event, individuals watching online could take part by asking questions and adding comments to the live discussions.

The event was organized by the UN Foundation; Mashable, the social media blog, and 92nd Street Y, a New York-based civil society organization, to help amplify awareness on the issues being discussed at Rio+20 this week, such energy, health, food security and access to water.

“This is a remarkable gathering of 21st century thinkers, intellectuals and groups from around the world and should be very, very helpful for getting the message of sustainability all around the world,” said the President of the UN Foundation, Tim Wirth, in an interview. “It will help spread the word about Rio+20 and most importantly spread the word about sustainable development and put it on the top of the agenda for countries all around the world.”

Other participants included the chairman of the Virgin Group, Richard Branson; a French aquatic filmmaker, Fabien Cousteau; and two members of the American rock band Linkin Park, Mike Shinoda and Dave Farrell.

In an interview, the founder of Mashable, Pete Cashmore, emphasized the importance of establishing links between the technology and the development communities.

“We are here in Rio to talk about how we can bring social media into sustainability issues,” Mr. Cashmore said. “How we can bring bloggers in, and how can we can make it more accessible. This is really a key thing, because you have people talking about the big problems of the world, but how can you give them a voice and make a difference?”

“People have realized that revolutions happen around the world powered by social media,” Mr. Cashmore added. “Political and power structures are being upturned, so I think people are beginning to see that social media can drive a change in action and not just create buzz.”


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