The world is counting down to one of the most important events of our times, the UN Conference on Sustainable Development. “Rio+20 needs to show how we can move faster towards sustainable development, before it is too late”, says Rio+20 Secretary-General Sha Zukang in an exclusive interview for DESA News. “My message is: come to Rio ready to commit.”
World leaders and stakeholders of the nine Major Groups will gather in the Brazilian city of Rio de Janeiro on 20-22 June with the ultimate goal of securing a sustainable future for our shared planet. Leading the preparations for this milestone event is Sha Zukang, who is also UN DESA’s Under-Secretary-General. In the midst of intense preparations, he shares his visions and hopes for the conference and the remaining work leading up to it.
With less than 16 weeks to Rio+20, what is your message to different stakeholders around the world preparing for this historic conference?
“As noted by the Secretary-General, we need to make Rio+20 a great advance for human well-being. How is this done? By delivering actions, not more words. Rio + 20 needs to show how we can move faster towards sustainable development, before it is too late. It needs to secure strong political commitment at the highest levels of government and among all sectors of business and civil society, and re-energize the global partnership for sustainable development. My message is: come to Rio ready to commit. I encourage Major Groups and other stakeholders to announce at Rio+20 over one thousand new voluntary commitments for a sustainable future.”
There are a few preparatory meetings prior to the Conference, what do these sessions need to accomplish for a successful Rio+20?
“These sessions need to achieve convergence on all elements of the zero draft of the outcome document so that heads of state and government can adopt it at Rio+20. The outcome document must provide a clear direction to guide action for sustainable development. The convergence of views needs to provide clarity on such issues as sustainable development goals, a sustainable development council, the strengthening of UNEP and a road map for the green economy in the context of sustainable development and poverty eradication.”
Were you pleased with the zero draft of the outcome document and do you think it will serve as a catalyst for a successful conference?
“I am pleased with the zero draft document that the Co-Chairs have shared with Member States. It is a balanced text that seeks to take into account the diversity of views expressed in the more than six thousand pages of inputs from Member States, Major Groups, international organizations and other stakeholders. The zero draft represents the middle ground on which an ambitious outcome document can be built. I am encouraging all parties to be bold and to push the envelope as far as politically feasible to deliver an outcome document that heads of state and government would be proud to come to Rio to support.”
We know that there are challenges ahead, but what are the main advantages the world has now in creating a sustainable future?
“It is not a question of advantages but of dire necessity. Sustainable development is not optional. Over one fifth of humanity is severely deprived, lacking basic goods and services, including food, water and energy. Yet, on the other hand, some 20 percent of the world population is consuming 80 per cent of the natural resources. Collectively, the seven billion people on Earth are consuming each year more than 1.3 times the natural resources than the Earth can replace. This unsustainable consumption pattern must stop. The future we want is a world free from these deprivations where humanity as a whole lives within the planetary boundaries of one Earth. The long term survival of humanity requires us to commit to a sustainable future at Rio+20 and to launch concrete actions and initiatives to take us there.”
What makes Rio+20 different from other major international conferences?
“The Secretary-General has called Rio+20 a once-in-a-generation opportunity. Indeed, this will be an international conference like none other before. We are expecting some fifty to sixty thousand people to come to Rio de Janeiro for the Conference. The main difference will be the sharp focus on renewing political commitments and on implementation. In addition, the Conference will be characterized by the size and the unprecedented and strong engagement of the Major Groups of society – the non-state actors whose role is fundamental in building the future we want.
Furthermore, Rio+20 will differ from UNCED in 1992 in that Major Groups are now a part of the official proceedings, intervening and taking part in round tables alongside Member States and international organizations. At Rio 1992, Major Groups were largely confined to a global forum for civil society in Flamengo Park. The large gap between non-state actors and Member States has now been largely bridged.”
What would you like to say to citizens around the world aspiring to contribute to a sustainable future for themselves and generations to come?
“The Rio+20 Conference concerns every woman, man and child on this planet and also those yet to be born. This is your Conference, even if you are not physically present in Rio. Join the global conversation. Connect with the Conference through social media and our website. Make your opinions known to your official delegations and to your favourite Major Groups organizations. Launch initiatives of your own for sustainable development, no matter how big or small. Pitch in to build the sustainable future we all want.”