On 12 February, the first in a series of Google+ Hangouts was hosted by DESA’s Division for Sustainable Development, outlining key outcomes of the Rio+20 Conference and the actions taken to realize promises made. “The message of inclusion, engagement, integration of decision-making, all that came out very strongly from Rio,” said Nikhil Seth, Director of DESA’s Division for Sustainable Development.
As the first panelist to take the stage in this online discussion, Mr. Seth, who also headed the Rio+20 Secretariat, described the event in Rio de Janeiro as one of the largest UN conferences ever, bringing together 50,000 people representing governments, civil society, media and academia. “The major concern that came out at Rio, was the fact that we are heading towards a set of economic, social and environmental crises,” he said. “The only way to change things is to rethink development. That was the fundamental message from the Rio outcome,” Mr. Seth added.
He underscored the importance of engagement of people in the follow up process. “We need to give it real meaning in the way we work and the way we focus on implementing, to realize the future we want,” he said.
Mr. Seth also highlighted one of the main messages conveyed, namely that people are important, “but equally important is the planet on which the prosperity of these people depends,” he said. The role of young people as “architects of the future we want”, as well as the significance of developing the so called sustainable development goals were other outcomes underlined by Mr. Seth.
Challenges of Small Islands Developing States
Elizabeth Thompson, former Minister for Energy and Environment of Barbados and the Executive Coordinator for Rio+20, outlined some of the main challenges that Small Island Developing States (SIDS) face and what the conference has meant for them. “The Rio conference was very important for SIDS, as one of the outcomes was an agreement to host a UN conference specifically for Small Island Developing States,” Ms. Thompson said, referring to the event scheduled to take place in 2014.
“The challenges that small island developing states encounter are very, very difficult and complex and there are a number of items on the agenda at Rio which treat particularly to their issues – climate change, issues of oceans and the blue economy, marine biodiversity and sustainable energy,” she explained, underscoring particularly the vital role of sustainable energy.
In addition to outcomes related to sustainable agriculture, sustainable tourism, water and sanitation, Ms. Thompson underlined the importance of capacity building in order to make SIDS competitive, as well as partnerships. “I hope that we will see coming out of this, an increasing number of partnerships as part of the mechanism in which the benefits for small islands developing states can be achieved and can be leveraged,” she said.
Supplying real time information
Kimo Goree, Vice-President of the International Institute for Sustainable Development Reporting Services (IISD), shared his perspective covering the conference. IISD provided real time information on the negotiations and most other events taking place in Rio. “IISD continue to track the negotiations after Rio and we’ve been providing reports on the negotiations taking place in the General Assembly and the establishment of the open working group for the development of sustainable development goals,” Mr. Goree added.
“Rio+20 builds on 20 years of involvement via NGOs, now referred to as Major Groups in international discussions on sustainable development,” he said. He shared his experience, dating back to the preparations for the first Earth Summit in Rio in 1992, when Mr. Goree was one of the handful of NGOs participating in a preparatory meeting in Nairobi.
Mr. Goree also explained that it was at that meeting in Nairobi 23 years ago, that a decision was made allowing NGOs to attend. “It set precedent for unprecedented NGO access,” Mr. Goree explained. “NGOs were at the table and not in the streets,” he added.
Commitments for specific actions
“I have seen the value and importance of these big international gatherings in stimulating attention to probably the biggest challenges we as humans face,” said Jacob Scherr, Director of global strategy and advocacy for the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC). An environmental lawyer and advocate for many years, Mr. Scherr attended the original Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro in 1992 and he also took part in preparations for last year’s event.
“Some of these commitments were real game-changers,” he said, mentioning multilateral development banks, which made a commitment to invest 175 Billion USD to green urban transportation and the pledge of 40 of the world’s largest manufacturers and retailers, to make their supply chain deforestation free within the next eight years. “Microsoft, which has operations around the world, said that they would make their own facilities carbon neutral by the end of next year,” Mr. Scherr further added.
“In addition to the negotiated outcome document, The Future We Want, there were hundreds of these commitments for very specific actions,” he explained. “And those are the ones that we think will be the real legacy of Rio.”
Stay tuned for more hangouts
Moderated by John Romano, Social Media Focal Point within DESA’s Division for Sustainable Development, the discussion also responded to online questions posted via social media.
Some concerned the progress of the Sustainable Development Goals and the possibility for civil society to interact in the process. Others focused on how we could make local actions impact on an international level for the future we want.
After the hangout had concluded, Mr. Seth shared his thoughts saying, “the Google+ format helps you have a conversation. And if we are hoping to change things, if we are hoping to inspire people, we have to talk to them, and listen to their concerns and be responsive to them,” he said, also pointing out that his Division looks forward to hosting more of these events in the near future.
For information about this and upcoming hangouts: