Leading the way to a sustainable future

“I believe that Rio+20 is one of the most important events of this decade. It is an event for the whole world; it is about tomorrow, about the future. And sustainable development should be our common future. History has given all of us an opportunity to make a difference. Let us do it, together,” says Sha Zukang, Secretary-General of Rio+20, in an exclusive interview.

A career diplomat with extensive experience in multilateral organizations and international conferences, Sha Zukang has been the Under-Secretary-General for DESA since 2007. In addition, Mr. Sha serves as Secretary-General of the 2012 UN Conference on Sustainable Development. Exclusive for DESA News, Mr. Sha shares his experience, vision and hopes as he leads the work culminating in this milestone event taking place in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil on 4-6 June 2012.

What is your vision as Secretary-General of the 2012 UN Conference on Sustainable Development?

“I am a strong advocate of sustainable development and I think, if there is a future for our civilization, it will be through achieving sustainable development across the globe.

As a conference dedicated to sustainable development, I hope Rio+20 will re-launch our world on a sustainable trajectory. That, in short, is my vision.”

What message would you like to convey to governments and organizations around the world, as we prepare for Rio+20?

“I believe that Rio+20 is one of the most important events of this decade. It is an event for the whole world; it is about tomorrow, about the future. And sustainable development should be our common future. History has given all of us an opportunity to make a difference. Let us do it, together.

Rio+20 can be captured in 1, 2, and 3:

– One focused political document on the outcome;

– Two themes – a green economy in the context of sustainable development and poverty eradication and the institutional framework for sustainable development; and

– Three objectives – renew political commitments, assess gaps in implementation and identify new and emerging challenges.

Overall, I would like to see governments and organizations produce two kinds of results – at the political level, renewing their political commitment to sustainable development; at the action level, launching concrete initiatives in support of implementation. These initiatives could be country-led, supported by multi-stakeholders; or led by UN organizations; or by business and civil society.

Rio+20 should be a milestone event, with broad participation at the grass root level. We owe it to ourselves and to future generations.”

What are the chances for success in Rio? Are you optimistic?

“A large international conference like Rio+20 is often a difficult and complicated process, because it is seeking to address broad, inter-linked challenges. But I am optimistic. I see enthusiasm and passion for Rio+20 on the rise. Governments are becoming more engaged. They are setting up national coordination committees or task forces. Businesses are also engaged. They have set up a dedicated mechanism for Rio+20. And civil society groups are active. Many are preparing to launch initiatives in the lead-up to Rio or at Rio.

Equally important, Rio+20 offers a timely opportunity to take sustainable development forward. Rio+20 can, and I hope, will live in history as an event that provided the momentum to re-launch the world on the pathway to sustainable development.

While gaps remain on how to proceed, Governments agree that the current international environmental governance is fragmented and there is need for a better balance between governance for the three pillars of sustainable development. While there is concern over green economy, in the area of trade, aid and capacity building, countries agree that a green economy in the context of sustainable development and poverty eradication can be an important avenue to accelerating sustainable development.”

What in your view are the new challenges?

“During preparatory discussions, delegates identified a number of new, emerging challenges.

Though many are long-known challenges, they have taken on new dimensions. One example is the need for enhancing disaster preparedness, in view of the increased frequency and severity of natural disasters.

Others include energy (energy access, energy efficiency, renewable energy), water (water stress and shortage), land degradation (soil loss), population dynamics, urbanization, sustainable agriculture, ocean and fisheries (the blue economy) and others.

I think Rio+20 will need to address these new challenges. Agreement is needed on measures and commitments that can accelerate implementation in meeting them.”

How is your job as Conference Secretary-General?

“Not easy. It is hard work, but I am not afraid of hard work. I do work hard. However, there are lots of frustrations. Lack of funding is an important one.

Despite frustrations, I also have a strong team working with me and supporting me, which makes this job more enjoyable.”

For more information:

The 2012 UN Conference on Sustainable Development, Rio+20: http://www.uncsd2012.org/rio20/

Sha Zukang, Secretary-General of the 2012 UN Conference on Sustainable Development and Under-Secretary-General of DESA: http://www.un.org/en/development/desa/usg/index.shtml